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Experts Tips on Shopping a Vintage Show

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This weekend, the Manhattan Vintage Show returns to Chelsea, with more than 80 vendors carrying everything from apparel, accessories, shoes, and textiles that come from more than a dozen decades — you can find something that's more than a century old at one booth next to another that carries retro MTV bomber jackets.

Coming into this huge space without much vintage knowledge can be a bit intimidating, but it shouldn't stop you from shopping here (or at any vintage event in the future). We tapped Lexi Oliveri, owner of vintage shop Antoinette in Williamsburg, to shop the show with us before it opened to the public and share her best tips.


Denim options at Spark Pretty

Shop the Original Pieces That Inspired Today's Trends

Fashion is cyclical, and nowhere is that more evident than at a vintage show — so instead of buying the 2016 take of a silhouette or style, find the original here. "Right now I'm looking for some great denim," Oliveri, who came dressed for the occasion in a Koos van den Akker jumpsuit from the 1970s, told us. "Embroidery and patchwork is so strong for the summer, whether it's on jackets or jeans." For pants, "you're going to see a ton of fray. It's nice to see real fray, not intended fray!" Jumpsuits are also plentiful, as are crop tops and high-waisted everything.

Oliveri also suggests finding some pieces that fit what she calls the "summer peasant girl" aesthetic — "these ethereal, sheer, embroidered pieces. Everybody needs a great white piece," which can be hard to find because they easily stain, turn yellow or "can have a tear, because a lot of those pieces have embroidery or crochet." Luckily, we spotted plenty of items that fall under this umbrella in very good condition.

Chanel Is Great, But It's Not Everything


Necklace, $1,675 at Amarcord

"My favorite timeless designer is Chanel, and my favorite booths always have at least one piece. $198 for a real Chanel top?" she said, pulling an off-white silk sheath with gold buttons off the rack at her friend Summer Mizera's booth "Not bad!"

Vintage designer pieces, of course, always come with premium price tags like these. The budget-conscious, though, shouldn't be obsessed with the tag on the back of of the garment. "My mother, Antoinette, grew up pretty poor and couldn't afford designer labels, but she has the best [vintage] collection that anyone has ever seen," Oliveri offered. "Are they designer? No. They're mostly ready-to-wear, lower-end designers. It's not important just to focus on designers — when you find that great vintage piece, that's timeless, you have to get it."

Don't Overlook the Unknowns

If you've only got a short window for browsing, "I would probably go with the most featured booths...or the heavy hitters in vintage, like What Comes Around Goes Around, or Amarcord. Those are the ones that you know you'll spend all your money on anyway." But it's better to leave yourself some time to explore the names you've never heard of.


Bottom left: Scarves at What Was Is Vintage; bottom right: Moeseph the dog at Templo

"Don't sleep on the small booths. There are so many that might be at their first show. They might underprice stuff, so you could get a $500 top for only $50. They're like the quiet storms — 'I've been collecting for years and I'm ready to go!' — and then they blow everybody away. And those are my favorite booths."

Look Out for 'Love Stains,' But Don't Discriminate Against Them

Vendors are usually bringing out the best of their collections at shows like this, so you don't need to worry about doing a full quality assessment on everything you're looking to buy. They'll make minor repairs on seams and such where needed, but sometimes purposely leave in what Oliveri refers to as "love stains." "If it's a silk piece that has a slight, slight tear in it, I usually leave it because somebody who really wants it is going to buy it anyway."

Depending on the seller, you can knock a few bucks off the price for imperfections like these, but Oliveri prefers not to worry about them. ""I wear vintage all the time that might be damaged — it doesn't matter to me."

Leave Time for the Fitting Rooms...


Oliveri's own Koos van den Akker with a belt ($375) and necklace ($95) from What Was Is Vintage

The older a piece is, the more necessary it is for you to try it on. "Everyone was tiny!" Oliveri exclaimed. "From their neck [circumference] to their wrists....they had shorter arms, and smaller feet, and were just shorter overall. Don't just assume it's going to fit — you have to see if you can get your head through it!"

And unless it's purposely oversized, jumpsuits must be worn to check for sizing, she insists. "If it's fitted, it might not fit in the bum or the bodice area, or if you have a long torso. I'm short (I'm 5 foot 2), but I have a long torso — I don't know what it is, but a lot of the 70s jumpsuits have a really long torso, so I know these would work for me."

...But Use These Fit Hacks If You're In a Rush

"For bottoms, you take the waist and put it around your neck. If it touches, it fits your true waist." Other common body measurements that you can use on the fly: The length of your forearm from your wrist to your elbow is roughly the length of your foot, and your wingspan from the tips of your middle fingers is about the same as your height.