Vintage Clothing: 'When I was 14, I swore I'd never wear high street clothes again...'

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Vintage clothing first stretched its wings as an ethical antidote to the high street's fast fashion initiatives. It was a cost-effective alternative for those who appreciated quality, as well as value and originality.

Since then, the vintage look has become a trend in its own right, with designers looking to the past for inspiration and streetwear taking on a more nostalgic sensibility in recent years, while shoppers have become more savvy about researching the "greatest hits" of their favourite labels. But it can be daunting, flicking through those crowded rails, at a loss as to whether that dress in your hand is someone's old tat or a long-lost gem. The answer is, it could be either. Vintage shopping is as individual an activity as those who practise it – so take your lead from three very different experts, each with their own take on trawling.

William Banks-Blaney

William Banks-Blaney is a globe-trotting vintage shopper, who seeks out priceless couture pieces for private clients and the boutique Browns. Wherever he finds himself, his emphasis is on silhouette, tailoring and texture.

What's the story behind your favourite vintage find?

In the US, as I was leaving a thrift store, the proprietor said: "Oh! I do have an old velvet coat if you want to see it?" As she started to unfold it, she explained she was about to cut it into squares to sell the fabric by the yard. As it unfolded, I realised I had just saved a 1954 Dior haute couture opera coat from being turned into cushions.

Where do you source your pieces?

They might be discovered in someone's attic or have been bequeathed to a lady's granddaughter. Equally I may strike lucky and see something magical languishing in a store or auction house.

What do you look for?

WilliamVintage is all about editing and I select very carefully. I buy pieces that I feel are still relevant, modern and wearable without looking like "dress-up".

How important are trends?

There are always trends, depending upon emerging TV series, blockbuster movies, the deaths of a legendary actress or designer. Many of the pieces I purchased because I adored them and had never seen anything like them before, end up being sold to creative directors to inspire their future collections. Identify what it is that you are drawn to and focus there.

What should we look for?

Fifties and Sixties pieces that feature structure, tailoring and strict form are proving popular, or slightly ethereal, ghostly pieces – chiffons, linens and silk in ombre, earl grey, rose and washed out tones.

What are your tips?

Search everywhere. Don't buy damaged goods – missing beads, buttons, belts and liners are generally irreplaceable. Don't be a label snob. Buy what you can wear and makes you feel good. If a high-value piece has been attributed to a designer, make sure it is labelled or has a concrete provenance.

Claire Stansfield

Claire Stansfield is co-founder of Rellik, a vintage store established in 1999 by three Portobello Market stallholders and located next to West London's Trellick Tower, specialising in the early days of the international avant garde, such as Vivienne Westwood and Yohji Yamamoto.

What's the story behind your favourite vintage find?

My favourite find was a bag containing five pieces of Celia Birtwell printed floral chiffon. I pieced them together and found I had two arms, a bodice, a skirt and a belt, which I restored into the most beautiful 1970s Ossie Clark chiffon wrap dress. It even still had the original label in it.

Where do you source your pieces?

Rellik has a lot of clients contact the shop to sell various items of clothing and accessories. Auctions are also a great source, but can be very time consuming and viewing is essential.

How did you start?

When I was 14 years old, I saved up for weeks for an electric blue ra-ra dress. The first time I wore it, someone was wearing the same dress and I was mortified. I swore I would never wear high street clothes again and began wearing vintage clothes or customised items. This passion naturally progressed from a part time hobby into a full-time career.

What are you favourite vintage shops?

Decades in LA for its Hollywood glamour, The Old Cinema in Chiswick for a mix of vintage jewellery and amazing furnishings, and Resurrection in New York.

How important are trends?

Vintage doesn't follow trends, it creates and inspires them. Trends will always be influenced by what you see on the big screen or on the latest catwalks.

What should we look for?

I think the direction will change to Japanese designers such as Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, who have a strong sense of hand-crafted and couture elements.

What are your tips?

Leave enough time to look through everything and extra time to try things on. If you find something that you love, buy it: chances are it won't be there later. And always check the condition thoroughly.

Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy is an author and vintage expert who lives in New York. Her book "Vintage Style: Iconic fashion looks and how to get them", which explores the timeless cool of figures such as Jackie Onassis, Brigitte Bardot and Debbie Harry, is out now.

What's the story behind your favourite vintage find?

The most beautiful things I ever owned were a pair of "gilver" (gold/silver) leather winklepicker stilettos, found in Scarborough when I was 17. They were way too big but I stuffed the toes and wore them with red and gold embroidered knickerbockers and a black, frilly pirate shirt. Even now I regret chucking out the remnants.

How did you start?

I saw two ultra-cool girls in a club in Hull in 1979, who told me all their clothes were second-hand. I jettisoned my Disco Dolly look pretty darn quickly, went out the next day with five quid and bought a whole new wardrobe.

Where do you shop?

My favourite store is Grape in the Shade in Washington Depot. The owner has supplied clothes for Sex and the City and has a fabulous vintage jewellery selection; I've seen well-known stylists and fashion editors in there, it's less than two hours drive from Manhattan.

How important are trends?

Vintage trends depend on films, fashion and music so they come and go much faster than runway trends. Just recently it's been about early 1960s looks, thanks to Mad Men and My Week with Marilyn, plus 1970s styles come and go constantly. Now it's about the 1940s, a trend recently cemented by Madonna's film W.E.

What should we look for?

Anything with a "Britain in the mid-1960s" feel, as London will be the focus of the world again this summer and sometimes I feel its spirit is locked in 1966, still our finest sporting hour. Look up old pictures of Jean Shrimpton and Cilla Black. Also the 1990s: combat looks, fitted denim Jean Paul Gaultier separates, anything by Versace or Alaïa.

What are your tips?

Do not pay OTT prices for vintage clothing: it should be affordable and wearable unless you are a top-bracket collector with an archive. You should be able to buy lots of things for not very much.

'Vintage Style', £20, Carlton Books

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