MSN press

Second-hand Rose

The art of shopping and wearing vintage

By Anna Johnson

“I grew up in a second-hand clothing store and for me, every day was Halloween. I carried my crayons to school in an art deco beaded bag and wore children’s party dresses from the ’30s over my jeans.

Thirty years later my passion for vintage is undimmed. Hand sewn, whimsical and made with rare materials, vintage fashion is often the closest thing to couture for a girl on a budget. Yet the true value of a vintage piece doesn’t dwell in its collectibility, its rarity or even its bargain price. What these clothes provide is an axis of imagination. When you wear vintage clothes well you simply look like no one else. Find the era that is kind to your body type and your private style daydreams and you have found your bliss…”

It is a sad fact that 1920s dresses cut on the bias, especially of silk velvet, tend to rip across the hips and elbows. I had a shocking experience last Thanksgiving in a blood-red velvet dress that cleaved clear in half! Chastened, I now wear the top half as an evening top with jeans. Expensive because of their rarity, ’20s clothes are definitely a delicate statement piece or evening wear luxury – not appropriate as an everyday staple (like ’50s day dresses or ‘40s jackets). For a more durable deco look, look for accessories: metal mesh handbags, enamel compacts, costume jewelry made of glass and semiprecious stones. In terms of outerwear–such as opera coats, capes, suits and linen dust jackets–the long waistless forms of the era cut a strange, somewhat matronly figure so don’t feel shy about re-cutting them to your own proportions. Wear a military-style ’20s pea coat re-hemmed to mid-thigh with tall leather boots, a beret and a mini and suddenly you have Chloe style!

Best buys: Lace and chiffon tea dresses; cloaks made of heavy damask; oriental embroidered jackets and knitted scarves; satin bed jackets (wear lingerie as evening wear); knitted, cut velvet and felt cloche hats; marquisette necklaces and earrings; bakelite bracelets (though these can be pricey) and special occasion jewels. Why not make a Gatsby era engagement ring your “something old?” Check out…

Anna Johnson is the author of Handbags: The Power of the Purse and Three Black Skirts: All You Need to Survive and has written for Elle, Vanity Fair, Vogue UK and other magazines. She’s a correspondent for the Australian cable TV program By Design. Born in Australia, she divides her time between New York City and Sydney.