How to shop for and wear vintage like you know what you’re doing

18 November 2019

WORDS BY Fashion Quarterly New Zealand

Ella Barton Buchanan wearing a printed vintage dress and a head scarf

Cute, cool and sustainable, pre-loved clothing is more popular than ever. We talk to some stylish women about why they love vintage fashion, and explore why age is just a number when it comes to wearing it.

You don’t have to be young, dumb and broke to wear vintage. In fact, just as style can improve with age, so too can your clothing. The issue is, not all women feel confident enough to wear second-hand. And often, it’s depicted on hip, young, slim and quirky dressers. But it is possible to wear vintage clothing at any age and size, without looking like a Grease extra or Courtney Love double (although if that is your jam, go for it).

For those who do want to add a vintage jacket, dress or blouse to their outfit without looking “retro”, you’ll be happy to hear that vintage pieces can be formal, office-appropriate, special occasion-worthy and wearable into your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

A cool breed of older style influencers is leading the way, proving that if you put clothing – whether new or second-hand – together in the right way, you can wear whatever you want. Grece Ghanem, a personal trainer from Montreal in her 50s, likes to mix vintage pieces with contemporary items. “My personal style hasn’t changed a lot since my youth,” she told Refinery29.

“My pet peeve is the advice for dressing for particular ages,” fellow Instagram sensation and vintage lover Yasmin Furmie also told the website. The 50-something designer from Johannesburg says, “I wear what I like. If I like something a 20-year-old likes, so what? There’s no formula, no prescription any longer.”

Vancouver-based fashion blogger Melanie Kobayashi, in her late 50s, told website Sixty and Me, “I shop at all these vintage and thrift stores. The things I often find in there are old, like me.” She shops vintage for the uniqueness, the “sheer joy”, the cheaper price tag, and the smaller eco footprint. “Fast fashion can create enormous strain on the world’s resources and landfills,” she says.

Iris Apfel

The women of website Advanced Style, including Iris Apfel (pictured) and Linda Rodin, known for their vintage jewels and denim respectively, show that vintage clothing and accessories look stunning on women in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Dunedin’s style icon Barbara Brinsley, 80, is a local example, with her collection of kilts and glasses.

And while there is debate about what can be termed “true vintage”, you don’t have to delve into the depths of the 20th century to get the look. From the ’90s to the noughties, it’s all fair game. Lately, ’90s vintage has been having a red-carpet moment, with Kim Kardashian West (who’s 38 by the way) sporting a cut-out Thierry Mugler dress and a number of Versace and Azzedine Alaïa outfits from the era.

While we may not all have that type of budget or sway, some vintage designer pieces are more affordable than their modern-day peers, and local designer items are easy to find. But how to put the look together?

We asked three Kiwi women to share their love of vintage, and how they make it their own.

Ella Barton Buchanan wearing a pink vintage suit



Ella Barton Buchanan

Ella promotes her love of vintage through her modelling and styling work. “Styling with vintage gives you the opportunity to create more unique outfits,” she explains. “And it’s a simple way to reduce, reuse and recycle clothing.”

She suggests mixing designer clothes and accessories with vintage pieces to “avoid looking like you’ve just walked out of a period film”. To look more polished than scruffy, “it’s a must that the vintage pieces you buy are in good condition. Holes or stains are a no-go.”

Ella has worked around the world, from Sydney to Shanghai, Istanbul to Milan and home again. She’s currently enjoying the second-hand shopping back in Aotearoa.
“The vintage scene in Istanbul doesn’t compare to what we have in New Zealand. We are very lucky to be home to many fantastic vintage stores and op shops.”

She’s been trawling op shops since she was young, thanks to her “vintage fanatic” mother, Dr Margo Barton, professor of fashion at Otago Polytechnic, co-chair and creative director of iD Dunedin Fashion Week, and a fashion experimenter who wears mainly vintage clothing and accessories, save for underwear, socks and shoes.

As to whether she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps and continue to wear vintage as she gets older, Ella says, “Fashion has no age limit. Wearing vintage allows you to express your individuality at any age. I can’t wait to be a 70-year-old rocking vintage Emilio Pucci!”

Ella’s top shops:

  • Hunters & Collectors, Wellington
  • Thrift, Wellington
  • Two Squirrels Vintage Emporium, Dunedin.

Follow Ella: @_princessella

Maiko Miyazaki wearing a vintage kimono


Maiko Miyazaki

Maiko combines vintage and new pieces from Japan and New Zealand. The owner of Otherwayside, an online shop selling Japanese homeware and vintage garments, says that wearing vintage ensures “I can be who I am without following trends”.

Vintage selling runs in the family for Maiko, who moved to New Zealand as a teenager: her parents had market stalls selling clothing and collectables in Japan, and now, her mother helps Maiko source in between her visits back home.

The Tauranga local has loved second-hand clothing since she was a teen. “I used to love wearing my mother’s clothing and after arriving in Aotearoa I discovered vintage stores and op shops.”

Now she is passing this passion onto her daughter. “I always dressed her in vintage clothes since she was very young. Now she says they are more special than new clothes.”

Passing on the cultural significance of the kimono, haori, yukata and juban is important to Maiko too. “I’ve been obsessed with Japanese vintage textiles for many years and selling them has been the perfect way to connect with people and share my culture, art and history,” she says. “Even though it’s not from your culture, you can always own and wear items if you love and respect them.”

She sells her garments to a diverse range of ages, sizes and genders. “Because the garments are vintage, they all fit slightly differently. There aren’t really ‘sizes’ but some are short, long, wide and narrow,” she says. “I also have many older males and females buy kimonos from me and I see myself wearing them in the future too. “I think vintage fashion is ageless, especially when it comes to traditional authentic garments. Women and men of any age appreciate the wear and technique of the textiles.”

Maiko’s top shops:

  • Ooplah!, Tauranga
  • Wear Together, Mt Maunganui

Follow Maiko: @otherwayside

Megan Blenkarne wearing a vintage pink two piece


Megan Blenkarne

Lawyer and blogger Megan Blenkarne is passionate about dressing ethically, and incorporates a number of vintage outfits into her repertoire. “I love that vintage clothing gives me options beyond the current trends,” she says.

The Wellingtonian writes about creative, sustainable style at her website Mode & Methodology, on top of her job as a lawyer at NZX (the New Zealand Stock Exchange). She relishes “bringing a bit of pizzazz to New Zealand’s capital markets”.

Her advice to others wanting to wear office-appropriate vintage clothing: “Start with some really strong ‘professional’ items that will message to yourself and to others that even though the item you are wearing is old, you are still here to work – blazers and tailored skirts and trousers are great in a very corporate setting.”

Megan purchases the majority of her clothes from op shops, vintage stores and Trade Me, with the addition of a few thoughtfully chosen local designer pieces. “I try to mix vintage with more modern items or ideas to create something that is ‘me’,” she says.

She doesn’t believe age should affect anyone’s ability to wear vintage. “Getting dressed is about personal style. Vintage clothes are just a way to express your personal style.”

Megan’s top shops:

  • Painted Bird, Auckland
  • Ziggurat, Wellington
  • Savemart, Porirua

Follow Megan: @modeandmethodologystyle

How to shop vintage like a pro

  • Ensure you check garments thoroughly before purchasing – look for holes, stains, pilling or other defects. Small issues can be fixed, but items with bigger issues may not be worth investing in.
  • Check the fabric type: cheaper, more synthetic fabrics won’t wear as well.
  • If something doesn’t fit perfectly, take it to a tailor, or mend it if you have the skills. If you buy vintage shoes, they may need new heels or soles – take them to a shoe-repair shop before wearing to ensure they won’t break.
  • Vintage stores can be the best places to find special pieces, but don’t discount op shops, garage sales, markets and more. There’s a world of vintage online too, from Instagram to online stores and apps like Depop – plus Etsy, Trade Me and eBay.
  • Don’t forget to shop your closet. That 10-year-old dress can easily be classed as vintage. Shopping your friends’ closets, via clothes swaps, lending or hand-me-downs, can be worthwhile too.

How to ensure a perfect fit

One issue with vintage shopping is that it can often be hard to find larger sizes. For this reason, Corrine Lynskey (pictured right) launched her two online stores, Curated Curves and The Online Vintage Store, last year, specialising in new and second-hand plus-size clothing. “While I love to shop for plus-size vintage clothing, finding it requires a combination of luck and perseverance,” says the 31-year-old. “I wanted to take the hard work out of it. In many ways, I was trying to create the type of stores that I, as a curvy consumer, wanted to shop at.” The response has been fantastic, the Whakatane seller says. “Within a few months of launching Curated Curves, every single item I’d opened the store with had sold out.”

Words: Fiona Ralph
Photos: Supplied, Getty Images

This story originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 2, 2019

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