Wednesday, 27 May 2015

How To Find Cool Vintage Menswear in Charity Shops (& How To Care For It)



Since I was a teenager I've been mad about vintage menswear, loving the quality & clever tailoring and selling my more outlandish finds to local bands. Jon's worn vintage since his early teens and gets a real buzz out of converting sceptical vintage virgins into dedicated wearers. 23 years later I still pinch myself at my good fortune of meeting someone with the same passion.

Photo of happy customer courtesy of Aspidistra Vintage
At most fairs you'll discover that true vintage menswear is in short supply. Finding vintage menswear isn't that difficult but finding vintage menswear in top condition is. Men have a habit of wearing their clothes to death and it's a full time job to keep our rails topped up with choice vintage finery.

Our lovely regular Phil (his wife Lynn blogs HERE) modelling his new-to-him Kinky Melon jacket
Unlike many of the female visitors to our pitch, men are generally much easier to sell to. They don't tell us that they're too old for vintage,that they can't buy it as they wore it the first time round, that they never go anywhere to wear it or they're the wrong shape. They see it, try it and buy it and that's that (unless they're married to a vintage-hater and that's a different matter entirely).

Vintage Hardy Amies three piece suit

These days most of our stock comes from private sales but we still find a fair few vintage gems in charity shops. Here's how:

Feel the quality - Harris Tweed stands out a mile from the contemporary suit jackets
On first inspection the menswear rails in chazzas can look a bit uninspiring but if you take time to look you'll find treasure. Run your hand along the rack and you'll find that the quality fabrics stand out a mile. Cashmere, Harris Tweed, cotton velvet and Merino wool have a completely different feel to the majority of modern, mass produced clothes. It's no wonder that men used to spend the equivalent of a weeks' wages on a suit. Quality stands the test of time.

Check out the rainbow lining in this 1950s cashmere coat designed by Hardy Amies for menswear chain Hepworths.

Know your labels. It helps that Jon & I are vintage so we're familiar with a lot of the now-defunct British menswear chains like Dunn & Co., Foster Menswear and John Collier that once traded in most major UK towns. Some brands like Aquascutum, Jaeger, Moss Bros and Burton (known as Montague Burton, pre-1960) have been going for years.  Familiarise yourself with their current labels so you can easily spot an older one.


The label on the left comes from a 1970s wool suit, the right is from a 2014 cashmere overcoat.


The St Michael label on the left is from an early 1970s jacket (the washing instructions indicate that the garment is post-1960s) whilst the St Michael for Marks and Spencer blazer (image from Google) is 1990s and as it is less than twenty five years old it is NOT vintage.

This stunner of a vintage Moss Bros velvet dinner jacket was labelled Size 16 and found on the womenswear rail recently
Don't be shy and do out check the women's rails. Some vintage menswear is so flamboyant that the charity shop volunteers can't get their heads round the fact it was designed for blokes. We've found frilled dinner shirts, embroidered waistcoats and braided evening jackets mixed up with the Per Una & Monsoon separates. Fringed Tootal scarves, pocket squares, bow ties and psychedelic cravats are invariably dumped in baskets along with the ladies headscarves.

1980s leather biker jacket - another mislabelled beauty.
Just because the charity shop has labelled it "vintage" doesn't mean it is. We've spotted ASOS & H&M in the vintage section whilst the genuine article often looks so sharp shop volunteers think it's modern and it gets missed . Vintage is something at least 25 years old, not something made in the style of a previous era. As a rule of thumb if something is labelled Made in West Germany (and, sadly, Made In England) then it is vintage and if it's Made in China then it isn't.



Discovering the age of this dinner jacket was easy - the tailor's label is dated 16th May, 1935. In the old days menswear was tailor made or bought off the rack and hand finished to fit. Check for an inner label in the inside breast pocket and you'll often find the tailor's (and the previous owner's) name.

If the cuffs are threadbare, the elbows are bald, the collar has worn thin, the fabric has gone shiny in places or there's visible fag burns then put it down and walk away. Repairing an item so far gone will cost more than the value of the garment. Torn seams and clapped-out pockets can be mended and, as they're on the inside, the repair doesn't have to be perfect if its something you're keeping (as opposed to reselling).

Boxed vintage Church's shoes - a similar pair now cost over £400
High end, British made shoes (vintage or not) are always a good buy. Church's, Loakes, Grensons, Crockett & Jones retail for hundreds of pounds. If you find a pair in your size then it's definitely worth snapping them up. Our local cobbler resoles shoes for £15 so, even if they need repairing, you're still saving loads of money. If they're a bit too big (or a bit tatty inside) get yourself some insoles from Poundland.


If there's a super cheap clearance rail in your charity shop it's worth snapping up tatty jackets and shirts to salvage the trims (jumble sales are great for this, too). Buying replacement buttons from the haberdashers can add £££££s to the cost of your bargain vintage find. I've collected so many over the years from unwearable vintage clothes I can find a perfect match to almost any item missing a button.

This vintage mac - with retro spy series The Game currently on TV, is one of our most requested items.
So how do we launder our vintage finds?


Most (shirts, acrylics, macs, ties, scarves and trousers) are washed on a 30 degree cycle with a tablespoon of Wilko soda crystals and then line-dried. Particularly grubby articles get a pre-soak with Poundland's Oxi fabric stain remover before going in the machine. Woollens are hand washed in baby shampoo (from the pound shop) and dried flat on a rack over the bath.

A filthy 1950s leisure shirt is transformed.

Coats and Jackets marked Dry Clean Only are spot cleaned with diluted baby shampoo and tumble-dried on a delicate setting for 10 minutes with a lavender bag (or a muslin cloth spritzed with some essential oil) to freshen them up.


We're off out on the hunt again today. We're in Bath this weekend and last time we traded there we were so busy that so that when Em & her mum came to visit they ended up serving customers and offering styling advice.


PS The internet /phone line has been horrendous after BT did some work in the street and managed to f*ck up our connection on Bank Holiday Monday. If I don't comment or reply to any messages it isn't through want of trying!

See you soon!

56 comments:

  1. Great tips. That rainbow coat lining is incredible!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a great lesson on how to take care of vintage clothing and what to look out for when it comes to labeling!

    ReplyDelete
  3. How generous of you to share all those great tips! My hubby happily wears vintage and not-so-vintage-just-old jackets. We also keep a keen eye out for leather shoes. Prices for these in thrift stores have gone up, up, up! Apparently other people have caught on.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "hey don't tell us that they're too old for vintage,that they can't buy it as they wore it the first time round, that they never go anywhere to wear it or they're the wrong shape." Even though I work at a repro-clothing store, we get the same thing. *Screams* Great article, I love menswear!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great tips and great cheap ideas for cleaning products too

    ReplyDelete
  6. We hardly ever see men's items in charity shops round here these days though we did used to see a lot, back when even I could go in to any shop and find at least one thing. Andy struck lucky last summer with his boots and pork pie hat though.
    I love that lining on the suit jacket.

    We saw a fabulously dressed man loitering round the vintage cars in town on Sunday, wearing head to toe seventies, he looked right out of Life on Mars xxx

    ReplyDelete
  7. such a great collection of tips and advice, I really believe mending and preserving our clothing as become a lost art. I have always enjoyed making my clothes last, its a challenge I enjoy, when I find something I like I keep it forever and proper care ensures a long life! Your Jon is such a handsome guy, he is a great model for vintage clothes, he wears them beautifully!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great post, thank you for all the wonderful info. I've sent my son the link to it as he is a great charity shopper and loves vintage. He bought a fab British made wool coat from a vintage place in France. Had the sleeves lengthened and dry cleaned at Sainsburys. It looks great.

    ReplyDelete
  9. wonderful post! The fellows are always overlooked. The Doctor loves to wear vintage suits to weddings and has a large collection of vintage sweater vests. It pays to check all the racks at the thrift store. You never know where something got hung or if somebody moved something. Remember: woman are always right and men are left over. That's how you tell if something is for men or women (the way the buttons go).

    ReplyDelete
  10. Here's a very useful posting of cleaning tips that shall immediately be printed out and shared on the bulletin board of the laundromat where I do my rugs and spreads! Conveniently located a few blocks from the Goodwill, the Thrifty Threads and Dollar Duds, it will be appreciated by the second-hand roses who bloom in this dusty patch on the planet. Thank you, Vix, for your valuable advice, given free!

    And, dear me, that shopper with the 40s hair-do wearing the fur...wow!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Beautiful burgundy velvet jacket. I have also noticed men's 70's velvet jackets in the women's isles at thrift shops. It's too bad, it's a sign of our preconceived notions of what the sexes should or should not wear.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Our vintage model Philip is going to love reading this Vix but we need to work on his posing for the camera hee hee xxx

    ReplyDelete
  13. Bloody fab! I used to love wearing men's vintage when I was a teen. In fact I wore more men's shmutter than ladies including stuff I nicked from my granddad. Never mind boyfriend cardigans...mine were granddad's!
    I agree that men are much more laid back when it comes to vintage. My husband sees it, likes it and buys it!
    I wonder what it's like being married to a vintage hater? What a pain in the arse that must be.
    See you Saturday!!
    Loves ya.
    xxxxxx

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yep, you and Jon are a match made in... well, not heaven, obviously, but perhaps in a charity shop! I love the fact that you're in this business together, and that both of you love and care for your vintage (and alter it, I haven't forgetten Jon has sewing skills!)
    Great tips and pics, as always. I can vouch for finding men's clothes tucked in amongst the women's stuff in chazzas - it's not vintage, but that's where I found that floral Paul Smith shirt I gave Jon!
    It pays to know your labels and know your quality fabrics, and I use that stain remover too, it's great. And don't forget the vodka/water misting trick for stuff you can't wash, that works a treat.
    I used to wear my dad's collarless shirts and big jumpers, and a vintage man's dinner jacket and overcoat were my outerwear of choice when I was in my teens/early 20s.
    Fab post, love ya! xxx

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great tips!

    I'm dying over that velvet blazer!

    bisous
    Suzanne

    ReplyDelete
  16. Some beautiful quality things on show here - the Church's shoes - what an investment if you ever found a pair! and I love a bit of tweed - my grandfathers suits lasted for years and then my father wore them and got even more out of them - you're so right, quality cloth just doesn't date or wear. I will pay more attention in the charity shops from now on - silk ties are worth looking out for. Betty

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is a really interesting post, I think I might keep my eyes peeled from now on. Q isn't a vintage wearer which is a shame as he'd look great in an old suit. Jon is the King of cool, and since you're the Queen of vintage, you have a right royal knees up together. Boom, boom. I know, terrible, sorry! Xxxxx

    ReplyDelete
  18. Don't forget us plus sized WOMEN! I wear men's vintage shirts often. Have found fabulous silk ones many a time.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jon looks great in vintage as do you. I particularly love the vintage shoes and scarves though.

    ReplyDelete
  20. That red leather jacket screams my name so so loud .... i need it , i want it ! Oh baby come to mama ......
    xxx

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a wonderful guide from such a genuine life-long vintage lover as you are! All the fabrics look brilliant, and I sure will revisit for your cleaning tips - I was not able to remove spots from my (very rare) vintage finds, even with Oxi though. xxx

    ReplyDelete
  22. These are excellent tips ... baby shampoo and the dryer ... who knew?!?
    xx

    ReplyDelete
  23. Great guide Vix, I shall have to pass your tips onto Sam. I just love the lining of that Hardy Amies jacket - so gorgeous! x

    ReplyDelete
  24. When I worked in the Recycled clothing shop we were always screaming out for good quality mens wear, and it went as fast as it came in. You are quite right about most men wearing things to death. I have to fight TOF to throw out things I class as RAGS and he calls FAVOURITES!!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Now I could fall head over heels for a guy in that Hardy Amies suit xx

    ReplyDelete
  26. Great post! Really well written and enjoyable even though I don't shop for vintage men's clothing (no man, alas!!).

    ReplyDelete
  27. Vix love the post. You are so generous with your knowledge thank you x

    ReplyDelete
  28. No vintage lover should miss practical tips and tricks from Vix! Great useful post!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Love this blog Some really useful tips Thanks for sharing xxx

    ReplyDelete
  30. What a handy post! I've managed to turn both my partner and brother into keen vintage hunters so I'll share this with them to help them on their quest! It is so difficult to find good menswear these days, there is one charity shop in a town near me which often has good brogues, suits and dress shirts but I've noticed their prices getting hoiked up of late! Your so right about the 25 year rule, although I am partial to a bit of 90s revival, particularly Hobbs shoes which all have a touch of the 20s about them. Xx

    ReplyDelete
  31. Such a great blog, and such a great post!

    www.shewasnothingbuttrouble.blogspot.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  32. AUGH I'M MISSING YOU AGAIN!

    I hope you have an equally fab time in Bath, though. The city's been looking particularly nice lately.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I love this post, as I do every one where you discuss the business of trading in vintage. Great idea to tumble dry clean only pieces in the dryer with a lavender bar or muslin with essential oil! Your handsome man is always so nicely dressed -- it's great to have had a peek into what that takes. You guys are great! xo

    ReplyDelete
  34. the lovely man wears vintage since his teens too - and too we have the problem with the worn to dead stuff. plus that around here quality suits are rare, london is to fare away. but lately we had some luck in dresdens 2.hand shops (as opposite to berlin where we lived before), their usual costumers would never touch a suit or tweed jacked or a classic shirt - so hubs got fab "new" clothes for an apple and a egg.
    jon look sharp in electric blue!!!
    xxxxxxx

    ReplyDelete
  35. It's true men are so much easier to sell to, in my opinion. I love the photo of the happy customer. Men's jackets/blazers are my favourite. The Church's shoes are very nice. x

    ReplyDelete
  36. Amazing apparel designs1

    http://pedisource.com

    ReplyDelete
  37. These are excellent tips! we love a chazza experience, though Dave, like me are buggers to get anything to fit properly it certainly doesn't stop the anticipation, 'cos you just never know! - I adore a vintage man, there is the coolest Teddy Boy who gets on my bus sometimes, he in his 70's and he is immaculate - oh and definitely Yes, men will wear their stuff out, my Dad is ruthless for it, actually I do it too! x x x

    ReplyDelete
  38. You and Jon are a wonderful match, in spirit and style! Good vintage men's wear is hard to find over here, and the guys that wear it are always on the lookout for it. It's true, men wear their clothes until they fall apart, but I think men took much better care of their clothes back in the day because you may only have one good suit, and it would have been much better made than the crap in the stores these days.

    The rainbow lining in that jacket is stunning, as is the velvet blazer!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Great post today I will keep those soda crystals in mind. Its nice to men dressed in vintage to and making there own style away from the mass produced high street. See you tomorrow lovely lady, dee xxx

    ReplyDelete
  40. Such excellent insider advice that, really, you should be writing a book on the subject. I LOVE vintage men's clothes (some great finds for a tall girl), especially St Michael's velvet jackets - the sleeves are even long enough for me - trilby hats and fedoras. So agree with you on the quality of men's' shoes too

    ReplyDelete
  41. Ahrgh, I was having phone issues trying to comment on this!!! Ahrg, you are in Bath- we are in the west country too!
    This is SUCH a good article- I would be SO happy to find some vintage men's shoes- I would buy them for me!!!!! I have such massive feet, I never find nice ladies shoes for my massive feet!
    That velvet jacket is Jon Pertwee-tastic!!!! I think I or Mel Follybird would be after that if we saw it somewhere! Such a great guide.xx

    ReplyDelete
  42. I found a 50s skinny tie with unicorns on it at a church sale the other day and I almost fell over---like you say, men's good vintage is few and far between these days.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Such invaluable tips - thanks so much for sharing! I completely love vintage menswear more than the women's simply because the quality is even better. xx

    ReplyDelete
  44. Excellent advice, Vix. I just wish I had someone to pass it along to. Phil is an excellent model, as is of course Jon. I don't see much in the way of quality men's vintage here - of course I check the men's racks as well as women's.

    ReplyDelete
  45. You know you are preaching to the converted here. I have managed to find some gems in my time. Bushy has decided he wants to be more stylish and quite takes to my finds. Found a couple of cute hats, some jumpers and jackets. His wardrobe is rivalling mine in space now!
    I also love to wear menswear but fit can be an issue. Although the sleeves are long enough (thankyou!) the hips are usually too narrow. But I love me some men's shoes. Wonderful finds here, and stories. Thanks for the washing advice! Hope your internet woes are fixed soon! Xo Jazzy Jack

    ReplyDelete
  46. My husband has a pretty nice sized vintage suit collection that we use mostly for costuming because we're too lazy to go have them tailored to fit him properly!

    ReplyDelete
  47. What an interesting post. I can still remember the tune of John Collier's jingle....I know, how sad. When chucking an old duvet cover in a charity bag for rags the other day, I cut off all the buttons thanks to you... I would never have thought of it.
    xx

    ReplyDelete
  48. What an interesting post. I can still remember the tune of John Collier's jingle....I know, how sad. The other day I chucked an old duvet cover in a charity bag for rags and thanks to you, cut all the buttons off first. I would never have thought of it. x

    ReplyDelete
  49. Thought Blogger had eaten my comment again but now see you are moderating. Soz! x

    ReplyDelete
  50. Fascinating thank you for the tips, I found myself browsing in a vintage shop in Lichfield on Saturday, a first for me
    I enjoyed your blog Vix, nice to see someone enjoying life to the full.

    ReplyDelete
  51. something very stylish for men too! It's not every day (at least here where I live !!!)

    ReplyDelete
  52. This help me a lot! Thank you! You've earned a new subscriber :)

    ReplyDelete

Don't be shy, if you enjoyed your visit leave a comment, I can come and visit your blog if you do.
Love from Vix
xxx