Vintage Myth Busting

by - 10:07

Recently I've been enjoying watching This Old Thing -  a television show all about vintage clothing, how to shop for it and how to wear it. Part of the show focusses on getting people who would never consider wearing vintage clothing interested in shopping and wearing second hand. Overall I think the presenter does a great job, but I've noticed that certain common issues and concerns are raised on the programme by some of the people involved. Sometimes these misconceptions and funny ideas make me want to scream! I've become quite concerned that some people might be quite repulsed by my clothing because of some misunderstandings.

Here is my take on some of the issues, in the hope of helping "vintage virgins" to understand vintage a little bit better:

1) Vintage clothing smells of cats/mould/dead people

While it's true that vintage clothing doesn't always smell the nicest when you first buy it, I have never had any vintage clothing that couldn't be freshened up simply by washing it. There are innumerable instructions on the internet which show you how to wash and care for vintage clothing. Oxi, vinegar and Febreze are your friends.

If clothing has been hanging around for a while in a charity shop or attic somewhere, it's bound to take on a bit of a smell - this applies to vintage or modern items. Washing the items should be pretty much common sense. Some shops even wash the items for you - so if this is something you are particularly concerned about, you can contact the shop prior to purchasing to check whether they pre-launder their items or not.

Paulie Antiques - Tips on Removing Stains from Delicate Vintage Clothing

The image above is from a blog post on Paulie Antiques with some tips on how to remove stains from vintage clothing.

2) I don't want to wear dead people's clothes

On the subject of dead people, I feel I ought to mention that many vintage items (especially newer vintage items, for example from the 1980s) are simply second hand and have never been anywhere near a dead person. Heck, I know plenty of people who were around in the 1980s and are still very much alive, thank you very much.

Additionally, you can buy vintage items which are "deadstock" or "new old stock" (NOS) - which means they are items which have never been worn. Often these items come with the original tags, and they can be highly collectable. So you can have something which is old but also new - how cool is that?!

3) Vintage clothes don't fit me

This is a weird one that does the rounds every so often - in fact, you can buy vintage clothing in pretty much any size. While it's true that certain items can be a bit more difficult to get hold of, it's perfectly possible to find vintage clothing in a size that fits you.

One of the reasons I personally love vintage clothing is that it is available in very small sizes. I'm rather small myself and I have found over the years that certain high street shops just do not stock clothing that is small enough for me, even when it is sold as being a small size. I find that vintage clothing fits and flatters my body in a way that modern clothing often can't achieve.

Equally there are many vintage shops that stock a range of (or even specialise in) plus sized items. You can also buy maternity wear and even items for children.

4) This dress is horrible and there's nothing I can do about it

Related to my last point, don't forget that clothing (vintage or otherwise) can be altered (even if it is sometimes a little taboo amongst people who wear older and rarer items). If the item is too big or the wrong shape or not quite the style you were hoping for, you can still make it work for you. Even a tiny alteration such as putting on new buttons can give an item a whole new look. If you aren't capable of altering the clothing yourself, you can always go to a tailor.


Jillian from Refashionista is just one example of a gal who can take ugly thrift store finds and turn them into fashionable, affordable and modern items.

5) I look like a costume drama

One thing that I think This Old Thing does really well is show people how they can wear vintage items in a modern way. You can alter and modernise items if necessary, or mix and match them between different decade or with high street pieces. There are many blogs on the internet run by people who routinely wear their vintage items in a modern style if you're short of inspiration.

Here is an outfit of mine featuring a vintage dress which, whilst still being a bit "retro", doesn't attract too much attention or look out of place when I'm out and about:

vintage outfit via lovebirds vintage

That being said, magazines and television shows often push the idea that vintage items should only be worn in a modern way, and that you should avoid looking like it's still the 1940s. If you want to create an original 1940s/50s/60s/whatever look, then you should definitely do that. Myself and many others often wear historically accurate or mostly historically accurate outfits, and there is no reason why you have to wear your vintage clothes in a modern way if that's not what you want to do.

Here is one of many examples of an outfit of mine which is more 1950s style. Original 50s hat and dress and curled hair (the hair makes a lot of difference to your overall look!)

vintage outfit via lovebirds vintage

You can see more of my outfits here, including both era-based and more modern looks. If you would like some inspiration from other blogs, have a look at my blogroll to see the blogs that I like to read. There are a variety of styles including vintage worn in a period-accurate way, vintage worn in a modern way, modern items worn in a vintage style etc.

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  1. This is such an excellent post! Thank you, I am going to watch these clips. I love seeing shows like this. Your outfits look so wonderfully put together and if we lived closer, I'd be knocking on your door for a cup of tea:) Lovely!

    1. Look me up if you're ever in the area! :)

  2. This sounds like a cool show! And you're so right on these misconceptions people have! Vintage clothing doesn't fit you? Was everyone back in the day a certain size and shape, all clones of each other? Sometimes the logic (or lack of) is pretty amusing!

  3. It's because of shows like these that I miss having cable, ha!
    But it's wonderful that awesome people like you write posts like this so I don't miss TV too much ;)
    Thanks for sharing these myth busting tips, Helen!

  4. All sorts of yes! I did a similar post as well. I'm glad other bloggers share similar viewpoints!


  5. Ooh I love that show, and Dawn O'Porters wardrobe is so delicious! I love seeing the transformation and the shoppers finally relent to vintage clothing. I think also a lot of people like certain aspects of vintage and buy it from the high street, so when they find the original in the vintage store for half the price that usually hooks them in!

  6. A long, long time ago I had issues wearing other peoples clothing. (small town and I'm bound to be wearing something from somebody I know) So now I make clothes from their sheets
    Oodles of great information in this post by the way!

  7. I had to chuckle a bit to that comment about wearing dead peoples clothes. I mean, they probably didn't die wearing them anyways, so I don't see the problem. Many people use furniture that belonged to a dead person or they live in an apartment/house where someone died long time ago. I don't really see any difference in wearing "dead" people's clothes, after all, clothes have been cleaned :D But then again, people have the weirdest phobias.

    One thing that really annoys me sometimes is just what you said about magazines and tv programs, that they insist on wearing vintage modern way. Why on earth would you have to do that? There are many different fashion styles, and looking authenticly vintage is one of them. The same way like someone wants to look androgyny, some want to look romantic, some want to look ascetic, some people want to look authenticly vintage. It might not be fashionable, but style is never about being just fashionable, style is about wearing what you like and being comfortable in it.