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GUESTList: Cherie Federau of Shrimpton Couture

Cherie FederauCherie Federau owns and runs Shrimpton Couture - an online boutique that carries luxury vintage, reconstructed pieces and couture. She has been collecting vintage for over ten years and has sold pieces to museums, celebrities and thousands of fabulous girls worldwide.

Buying vintage is a fascinating hobby that can quickly turn into an obsession.

As a beginner, most people start at the thrift level, buying items that appeal to them and looking for cheaper alternatives to what is in the stores. However, as you move up the vintage ladder, you quickly realize that, just as in retail shopping, the cost of vintage is highly dependent on the quality and the label.

Here are some of my top tips that I have accumulated over my career while buying and selecting vintage pieces for Shrimpton Couture and shopping for my personal clients:

vintage red dress1. Learn Your Labels

Labels are important in vintage.

Like in the art world, a signed piece can instantly increase its value tenfold. However, I have a rule when I buy for the shop that even if it has a label it still can’t be ugly. That being said, ugly is subjective and there is always an exception to that rule. I would not turn down a Fortuny or a Poiret, ever, no matter what it looked like. Certain labels are so rare and collectable that if you are lucky enough to have a shot at them you need to take it! Plus, they can be worth a fortune. If you buy vintage with the intention to collect then learn who is relevant and who is not.

2. Buy quality

Look for great stitching – it should be tight and finely done on the better garments. The greater number the seams, the higher the quality. All those extra seams and darts reflect the greater time it took to make the garment. One of the reasons why garments have less seaming now is that it uses more fabric to construct a dress from 20 separate pieces rather then 3. Dresses that are cut on the bias are almost always higher quality. This technique uses obnoxious amounts of fabric and is a sign of outstanding construction. Older garments have a ton of extra details that get skipped nowadays to save money; proper buttonholes, gusseted seams under the arms, little straps and hooks under the shoulder straps to hold your undergarments in place, dressmakers tape inside the waist so the dress sits perfectly in your frame, extra hooks, eye and snaps – all meant to hold everything perfectly in its proper spot and all done by taking extra tie and cost. These are all details that show your garment is well made & of high quality. You would have to go very high end or couture modern labels to replicate the level of quality you can find in vintage.

vintage oneshoulder
3. Buy the Original Trend

Think this seasons trends are fresh and original? Think again! Almost every trend has an earlier counterpart:
One Shoulder Dresses – find this trend first in spectacular 1940s gowns and then again in the 1970s, find a Halston one shoulder gown though and call me immediately – I am obsessed with them!
The Wiggle Dress – look to the 1950s for the original bombshell version of this dress – the ones found form this era are fitted and seamed and darted to perfection!
Metallics- look to the 1920s for real lame – the original lame is actual gold or metal thread that was woven into and around fabric. Once you see it you will be addicted and scoff at what you see now that tries to pass itself off as lame
Jerseys – the 1930s saw the invention of rayon and jersey fabrics and these are the absolute best to be found. They were so expensive to make that the modern versions cannot even come close to the quality and feel. In the 1970s an entire new generation of slinky jerseys came along and these were also fabulous.

Remember that almost every new trend has an older, original counterpart often of higherquality and a smart girl can find it.

vintage lanvin necklace4. Exclusiveness

My hands down number one reason for buying vintage is that it guarantees that you are the only girl in the room wearing that dress! It’s the easiest way to stand out and make sure that you have something no one else can get! Vintage is a far less expensive alternative to couture and you just cannot go wrong. Ever.

5. What Not to Buy

My clients get vintage that has been gone over with a fine tooth comb, cleaned and leaves my hands ready to wear. It does not come that way though! I have had beautiful vintage pieces literally fall apart on me when I have had it cleaned, or brought something home and found flaws that won’t pass my standards. The easiest way to avoid this is to shop with a dealer who edits and sells only the best pieces.

Otherwise, you need to be on the look to avoid these things:

Stains under the arms – they are NOT going to come out. Ever. And some fabrics will hold the smell and that smell will only come out when you are wearing the item and it heats up – most often this will be in public and under the worst possible circumstances. Just don’t go there. Pass on these items with two (rare) exceptions a) you have learned your labels inside out and know the piece is extremely rare and are buying for collection purposes or b) the damage is very, very slight and you might even be able to expand the armhole slightly to rid the garment of the stains
Bad stains in general – yes a lot of stains will come out but most will not. If you buy a stained garment buy it knowing you might be stuck with it. You have been warned.

 Shattering – this is for silk garments and happens when the support fibres weaken over time – I have cried over some 1920s pieces that gave in and started to shatter. You can spot shattering because it looks like tears that go with the grain of the fabric. They will not go away and they will get worse. Garments that svintage python pursetart to shatter will get to the stage where they literally fall apart with the slightest of stress.

Moth Holes – are bad and if there are holes there may be eggs. Dry clean ANY wool, silk or cashmere as soon as you get it home to be safe. If you love a garment with moth holes, get it cleaned immediately to eliminate the possibility of further damage. You can have some fabrics rewoven but it is expensive, so like the stains, if you buy it with moth holes you may be stuck with it as it is.
Moth Ball Smell – this is sadly one of the WORST possible fates to befall a garment. Cleaning might help but some fabrics seem to hold that smell with a death grip. I almost never, ever, ever buy anything that has been stored in mothballs

A note on cleaning.
The best thing to do is find a dry cleaner you can trust and who understands the rarity of the garment. Tell them to ALWAYS hand wash or spot clean your vintage garment unless they are absolutely sure it will take modern cleaning. I instruct my cleaners to not touch it if they have any doubt. They feel safer and so do I under these terms. And I still occasionally lose an item that can’t stand up to cleaning. For really old garment s - 1930s and before - find a specialist. There are certain materials that won’t take dry cleaning or washing at all. I once lost a spectacular sequinned 1920s gown early on in my career because I carefully hand washed it and realized too late that the sequins were made from gelatine. Gelatine + water equal a gelatinous gooey mess, a ruined dress and a sobbing girl. Don’t let this happen to you.

Collecting vintage, just like art or antiques, can quickly take over your life so be forewarned. Once you feel the beauty of a silk dress from the 1940s, marvel over the construction of a 1950s couture cocktail dress, die over the sexiness of a 1970s maxi dress and fully realize just how forward and modern a girl who wore that flapper dress in the 1920s HAD to be – well you are hooked.

And then you will be MY client for life

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