Vintage Shopping Tips from Sandra Michaan

In preparation for this weekend’s Alameda Point Vintage Fashion Faire, we picked up some serious vintage shopping know-how from vintage expert and event co-founder, Sandra Michaan. Read on for her tips on buying vintage, choosing the right era and mixing vintage and modern pieces.

Get ready for a chic Halloween with this two-day shopping fair at The O Club, where timeless looks from the prim Victorian-era to the day-glo 1980s will be on display. On sale starting with a “first stab” opening party (and costume contest) on Friday, October 21st and ending with an all-day event on Saturday, this extravaganza features 50 booths showcasing a wide array of clothing for women and men, couture, jewelry, accessories, textiles, fine linens and more.

What is a good way for someone to get introduced to buying vintage?

A good way for someone new to get introduced to buying vintage is to attend a vintage fashion faire or expo event. There are dozens of professional dealers vending all in one place. Many have been in the business for years and own shops. They are experts and can find the right styles for you to try and are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to eras, inventory  and sizing. It’s like having a mall of personal vintage shoppers who hand pick and select merchandise that is right for you. Also, if you don’t have a stylist, you can enlist a stylish friend who already wears vintage to go shopping with you. I always help my friends find pieces for their collections and show them new ways to mix vintage.

Any ideas for beginners who aren’t sure how to wear it?

Look at magazines and browse the internet to see how other stylish folks are wearing vintage. You can be inspired by style blogs, since many bloggers are savvy to mixing vintage with modern pieces. Also many celebrities are wearing vintage and they have stylists who are vintage collectors so they style them for appearances and photo shoots. I recommend starting with accessories like vintage scarves, hats, belts and jewelry and working your way into more adventurous looks as you get more confident with wearing vintage.

Can anyone wear any era of vintage or are certain eras more appropriate for different body types?

I believe you can wear any era of vintage and look fantastic, but certain eras have cuts that are more flattering to different body types. It’s all about finding the style that feels right for you.

How can one identify different eras of vintage? What distinguishes one era from another?

If you’re new at collecting vintage there are books to guide you. Also, at vintage shows, dealers can assist you with their knowledge. Watch TV and films from different eras. They depict very specific time periods and the costumers get it right. They win awards for their expertise. I’ve studied fashion history and it’s fascinating to go to fashion exhibits at museums. What distinguishes one era from another is fabric, length, fit, etc. and it will be easy to determine once you get the hang of it.

Is it ever acceptable to wear vintage from head to toe? What about mix-matching eras?

It is acceptable to wear vintage head to toe if you are re-enacting an era. Some people are vintage lifestyle enthusiasts and even wear authentic undergarments. They belong to vintage societies and are passionate collectors. If you do choose to wear vintage in that way you will look as though you stepped off a movie set and you will get noticed. However, a more modern approach is to mix modern and vintage. Also, it’s perfectly fine to mix vintage eras. I like to mix Victorian lace and 60s styles with modern pieces. It’s how you mix it that matters. Try to find eras that echo each other in tone. It’s an advanced styling technique but it looks fresh and unique when you see it.

How do you feel about recycled fashion (modifying a vintage piece into an updated or different look)?

Recycled fashion is an art form. I’ve seen some pieces that have been destroyed by time restored into a fabulous new garment that looks new and modern by some of my dealers at my shows. I have myself done this. Sometimes, an old garment just doesn’t work in it’s original form and needs a fresh update. Often, moths destroy sleeves, or silk disintegrates. Embellishments can be added to revive a tired gown. I love to recycle fashion that way and reinvent something. Even broken jewelry can be made new again and many dealers at my shows have achieved this beautifully.

Why are fashionistas drawn to vintage?

One of a kind looks are always a strong way to make a fashion statement. Stylish types love to go for fashion that they know others won’t have. No one wants to walk into a room and see another person wearing the same outfit! Not to mention that vintage garments are often couture quality for much lower prices.

Who are your favorite vintage designers?

Halston, Yves St. Laurent, Diane von Furstenberg, Oscar De La Renta, Pucci, Lilli Ann.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Flea markets, books, magazines, film, museums, art, nature, travel, music, the internet!

What are your tips for buying vintage: what should one look for, and what not to buy?

When buying vintage always look for good condition.  If you buy something that needs restoration, take that cost factor into consideration. Don’t pass on vintage items if they aren’t current designer names. Sometimes, lesser known labels can become collectible in the years to come. As for size, it’s always a good idea to go up in size since you can always get larger items altered to fit. Don’t rely on modern sizing since old labels have different sizing standards. Sizes vary from decade to decade and from manufacturer to manufacturers since they are from the past. Try every item on or get measurements to ensure a proper fit. Lastly, always buy what you love. Vintage is a good investment and is always in style.

More San Francisco vintage

Alexandra is a San Francisco writer with a passion for style and creativity. You can find her on Twitter @theTsaritsa
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  • Alexandra!  It was so lovely meeting you at my booth at the vintage fashion faire!  Stay in touch!

    • Anonymous

      hi jillian! glad you met alexandra – thanks for checking out SF Indie Fashion!

    • Anonymous

      Jillian! It was awesome to meet you, too! I had a blast just ogling all the fun fashions, and I would love to see more of your stuff. Send me an email: 🙂