Vintagely Yours

By Sharon Mosley

March 6, 2009 5 min read


Dig into racks of one-of-a-kind wonders -- at great prices

Sharon Mosley

Creators News Service

If you want to get the most bang for your fashion buck, then you might want to explore your local vintage store.

Former fashion model Alison Houtte has always worn vintage, even when she didn't call it that. As the youngest of six kids with her dad making $150 a week, the Miami native said she was "automatically forced into shopping at the Salvation Army."

Now you'll find her running Hooti Couture, her own vintage shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. And in the past six months, as more and more fashionistas are watching their wallets, she has seen many new retro converts flocking to her shop on Flatbush Avenue.

"They often introduce themselves by saying, 'I've been meaning to stop by for years.' And most of these customers found something that worked for them," admitted Houtte, who noted that vintage originals always have better price tags for the smart consumer.

Houtte has lately been scouring her Florida hometown, scooping up treasures for her store in New York. She's stocking Hooti's with anything with strong color or a bold print, from dresses to handbags. Think canary yellow, Hermes orange and eggplant purple. "Just like Michelle Obama, don't be afraid of color," will be Houtte's mantra with her customers.

Reptile and faux reptile, on purses and belts, will likely continue to be top-sellers at Hooti, as will all types of scarves. They are not only plentiful in the fashion magazines, but an affordable way to freshen up a dress or suit, or even turn into a halter top this summer.

Here are a few of her tips to get the best looks from vintage clothing:

* Hem, hem: A dress might fit beautifully and be just the right color or print, but does it look a bit dowdy because of its length? Shorten it! It's not hard to do yourself, but it only costs $10 to $15 at a tailor for those who struggle with a needle and thread.

Many maxi dresses from the '60s are updated when chopped above the knee. Consider turning the leftover fabric into a simple tote, or incorporate a bit of it into a headband. However, cutting is not recommended for "investment" couture pieces -- the value will drop dramatically.

* Belt it: Many vintage dresses and jackets may not fit perfectly until you add a belt. Modernize the look and/or "alter" the shape with an inexpensive thick or thin belt. For example, if the dress is a bold print, consider a black belt to define the waist and add contrast.

A few of Houtte's favorite sources for new belts are Express, Target, Wal-Mart and Mandy's. But any good thrift store or vintage boutique usually has dozens, if not hundreds, of belts to choose from.

* Modify it: Adding vintage buttons to an old jacket or coat can be a stunning upgrade, and many sleeves can be easily and inexpensively lengthened or shortened.

* Be Jeweled: Again, following the lead of Michelle Obama, go for a bit of sparkle, especially for those dresses or jackets that are simple and understated. Big vintage brooches are affordable and fun, and who doesn't love picking through trays of costume jewelry from the '40s, '50s and '60s?

* Grab it: When you do find something that's perfect and the price is right, it may not be there tomorrow -- or even an hour later.

* Fresh Feet: Once you've identified your best pieces for spring and summer, finish your many looks with inexpensive new sandals. Alison almost always strikes gold at Payless Shoes and Baker's.

* Don't Be Shy: If shopping for vintage at a flea market, garage sale or boutique, see if the price is negotiable. Many sellers are hungry and ready to deal. The best way to make your move is to ask nicely, "Are you firm on that price?" Or, "Can you do a little better?"

And the best part of shopping by going vintage? "You know the girl at the next table is not going to be wearing the same thing!" Houtte said.

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