The vintage shopper’s guide to:

Ana's vintage finds
Image credit: Anastasia Bow-Bertrand


  1. Feel free to do it, just remember to ask politely. They will soon make it clear if they don’t barter. Being nice to the dealer will help your charm-heavy offensive technique.
  2. 50% off is brazen, but if it is a fair or qualified assessment you might just get away with it. That being said, anywhere between 10-25% off is normal practice.
  3. If you know your stuff and think the price is wrong then don’t be afraid to question the origin, fabric, designer, etc.
  4. If you don’t know much about vintage, don’t worry. Decide what the value of the item is to you based on how it looks and feels. Choose a maximum price, and don’t be afraid to ask to come back in half an hour once you’ve pondered it. Don’t feel obliged to buy an item out of embarrassment. Sellers will expect you to haggle and a good sale is one in which both parties leave happy.
  5. Sale rails invariably won’t have further discounts.
  6. Buying several pieces from one vendor usually gets a bulk buy discounts.


Spotting the gems amongst the Granny jumpers

  1. Get there early − as in queue up for opening.
  2. Scour sale rails first.
  3. Accessories, hats, shoes and bags are all the safest options if you do not want to take the risk of buying clothing without trying it on (although most outlets do have changing facilities).
  4. If you do want to try things on, wear easy, quick, whip-off-able clothing.
  5. A lot of buyers will be collectors. This is not the place at which sellers will be sourcing goods − for that, look to car boot fairs or your grandparents’ closets. So, know what you are looking at. It might seem like a cream silk version of your great aunt’s table runner, but if it is a 40s wedding dress it is worth a lot to someone with that particular interest.
  6. Generally, it’s not worth your while buying replica vintage apparel at these fairs. Though few and far between, there are some Camden-lock style traders in the mix. Amongst the second hand wares, these stick out like sore thumbs and although their refreshingly clean fragrance and non-faded colours might tempt, they will probably look just that – cheap and fake in the cold light of day.
  7. Labels and designers will invariably increase the price of items, sometimes unfairly. The older pieces will usually be made in England, so always check for labels or stamps on buttons.
  8. If you are trying to date garments, look for care labels. If they feature icons, then the piece is most probably from the 1970s or later.
  9. Items that seem to be priced relatively low may well have a stain or rip. Check the item over carefully inspecting if things could have been removed or repaired. In the golden ages of make do and mend, they probably would have been and the likelihood is that you won’t be able to fix them in the same manner. This is not true of alterations, however.


Finding that May Ball knock-out piece

  1. Talk to the seller and ask if they have anything special stashed in their car. If they don’t, they will generally have some idea if another stall has the style you are after.
  2. Go with a budget in mind and choose accordingly rather than the other way around (although, I cannot really talk, because sometimes you just find the perfect piece and the budgeting brain becomes lost in a midst of fashion fancies!)
  3. One vendor today said that the piece chooses you – so don’t go with a desperate aim of finding a piece. Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair in particular returns to Cambridge twice termly, and most stalls have online shops affiliated with their market presence. Be prepared to get a feel for what you like and then browse online.
  4. Look for elasticated waists, wide hems and generous darts. Pieces from the early half of the twentieth century betray the shorter, tighter waisted, smaller armed norm of the age. A vintage ‘M’ is probably in league with the current UK 8-10, although this will vary widely. These options allow for alterations, which will almost definitely be essential. So be sure to plan this into your costing accordingly. Things can always be taken in, but realistically, no dainty dress is going to look great if it has a side panel inserted. Something to consider.
  5. Take shoes and wear nude underwear if you want to try before you buy – it makes proportions and bare skin so much easier to judge. Try to see yourself and the piece in daylight. It is worth imagining how a well-loved dress under artificial lighting can turn in to a forlorn, faded sack outside.


That’s it for Ana’s tips. Happy Shopping!

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