Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vintage Clothing on the Internet

Today I wanted to write on the many sources of historical clothing on the internet, as part guide and part commentary. As with all internet-sold products, prices and quality run the gamut, so it's good to know where to look. In addition, these sites can serve as good research sources, for valuation (of course) and simply as a guide to what's out there (i.e. how many Paquin bodices are for sale, does anyone else own a dress from Abraham and Straus at the turn of the 20th century, etc.).

A few guidelines for buying or researching historical/vintage clothing on the web:

- Except for certain websites (which I will note), take all dates with a grain of salt. Photos are your best source of information, but even they can be misleading. Compare sites to one another and do your own research before you decide what a piece is and how much it is worth.

-Prices can vary wildly, from a few dollars to thousands, and they don't always correlate with actual value. Bear in mind rarity, condition, design quality, and design recognition, as well as the market- certain types of pieces go in and out of vogue for collecting.

-There are different types of collectors (those who want to wear the clothes they buy, those who collect, including museums, and those who deal) and certain sites are geared toward each, which will affect pricing and stock.

-Check each site for a Museum or Archive section, where they list some of the best pieces they've sold. It's a good research resource.

There are innumerable "vintage clothing" sites on the web, so I will only list some significant highlights.

Ebay: Ebay can be a great source for all types of buyers. The best clothing is not usually on Ebay, although sometimes high-quailty live auctions will concurrently auction on Ebay. If you are aiming to wear the piece and are willing to make a final purchase (many sellers don't have return policies), this can be a great place to start as the prices are often significantly lower than elsewhere. Because sellers are not always specialists and pictures are not always complete or clear, be sure to do your own research and be willing to deal with a few surprises. Caveat emptor: here, and at other generic vintage dealers, you will have to put up with labels like "ROCKABILLY/mod/wiggle dress/HARLOW era/Lucille Ball/MUST SEE!!!!111," which drive me crazy.

Generic vintage dealers: If you type in "vintage clothing" to Google, a huge variety of sites come up. Some of these have high-end pieces, but most of them are average quality (which is what most people look for when shopping vintage). The prices tend to be higher than Ebay's, sometimes significantly. Frankly, if you're just looking for some fun vintage pieces to wear, I suggest you go to a nearby vintage store or buy cheap on Ebay rather than shop at these sites. The irregularity of sizes makes trying on pieces a necessity if you're going to drop some cash on them. This website is for very serious collectors or for research (most of the pieces are over $1000). It features very high-quality garments, many by designers, with good pictures. The interface is a little bit clunky and searching for the work of a specific designer is hard, but it's easy to spend hours looking at pieces. There's also a celebrity wardrobe section for collectors of that genre. Augusta: For the purposes of full disclosure, the owner and operator of this site is a friend of mine and I have worked for her auction company in the past. Ms. Augusta's website isn't currently carrying a large amount of pieces, but what she has is excellent. She is extremely knowledgeable and her dates and descriptions can always be trusted. For a bigger selection, take a look at the "Auctions" section of her website- Augusta Auctions hosts fashion auctions about twice a year where one can buy a variety of clothing at textiles at a wide range of prices.

Vintage Textile: While I'm not nuts for their mannequins, Vintage Textile sells a variety of rare garments in good condition (museums have been known to purchase from them). Most of the dates are reliable, although not as solid as at Antique-Fashion. Most pieces are very expensive unless you look in the "treasure hunt" section.

Cora Ginsburg: The crème de la crème. This doesn't count as true internet historical clothing, since you can't buy from them over the internet. Owned by the widely respected expert Titi Halle, the Cora Ginsburg showroom in NYC is open by appointment for serious collectors and frequently sells to museums. The website has some beautiful costumes and textiles that are very useful for research and browsing, and the dates and descriptions are always accurate.

Happy hunting!


  1. you can also try brown suits on the internet rather vintage clothes.

  2. Hello, I'm trying to research the age and origin of a coat I just bought. I'm sure it's 50s, but the label is 'Harvey Nichols Little Shop', which doesn't come up when Googled. Any suggestions of where I could try looking online please? I've just finished ( just over a year ago) a BA in Fashion and Dress History, but having lost my old laptop I used while at uni, I've lost all my saved saved search sites too! Looking forward to hearing from you. Many thanks, Vanessa Newman


Creative Commons License
This work by W. Robertson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.