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Starting a Vintage Collection: Beginner’s Basics

Collecting anything, but especially
vintage clothing or accessories, can vary from being a casual hobby
to an all-consuming compulsion. As a collector of everything from
Beanie Babies (as a kid) to vintage housedresses (ongoing), I have
experience at both ends of the spectrum! I was asked by Shurgard Self-Storage to write a piece about said experience for their blog and was only too glad to oblige. I can waffle on a bit as any regular readers know, and I kept it more concise there. So here, in full are some tips to
kickstart your collecting career.
Starting out
Firstly, and most importantly, decide
what you want to collect! You do need to pick something that
genuinely interests you, or you’ll lose the passion for hunting it
down. Go for vintage clothing that you want to wear yourself or
restore and preserve; things you will use and enjoy, like mid-century
costume jewellery, bakelite bangles, art deco china tea services or
CC41 furniture. I collect clothing and deco china but Naomi Thompson,
who wrote the book Style Me Vintage Accessories with fellow collector extraordinaire Liz Tregenza, says that vintage jewellery is the ‘lazy’ collector’s
‘I grew tired of mending, washing, storing and protecting
delicate vintage clothing. That pool is getting smaller. Now,
jewellery is democratic. It doesn’t matter what size, shape or age
you are, everyone can enjoy jewellery.’

Looking for bargains and real steals
Heading to top end vintage and antique
fairs is a good first step for any budding vintage collector. The
experienced sellers will have genuine wares that will help you get to
know what you’re looking for. Examine fabrics and fastenings, labels
and makers stamps. Once you know what the real thing looks and feels
like, you can keep a better eye out in charity shops and car boot
sales. The vintage world is unfortunately replete with reproductions,
knock-offs (especially bakelite) and 80s pieces masquerading as
earlier. Naomi says, ‘Car boots and charity shops are still good
pickings. It is still overlooked. Everyone is looking for vintage
clothing. Plastics are a great example of this. I keep on finding
1920s celluloid in the 20p basket in my local charity shop. Always
look in those cheapie baskets. I also love a good jewellery job lot
on eBay.’
Once you know what you’re looking for,
online shopping for vintage items is relatively easy. Head to eBay or
Etsy, find sellers on Instagram or (top tip) join Facebook groups
specific to your era. The largest by far (and therefore most
competitive) is Ooh La La! Vintage Swap And Sell Shop, which is
mainly for 1940s and mid-century clothing, accessories and
collectibles. For all online browsing, if you are searching by
keywords, always try slight misspellings too. Items with terrible
photos are sometimes great scores in disguise – take occasional
risks as they can pay off!
Storage & maintenance
Storage and maintenance of a vintage
collection is extremely important. Any time a button comes off or a
seam goes, repair it. Don’t wear, wash or dry-clean it until it’s
been fixed! Invest in some padded hangers to keep delicate dresses
and coats from straining their seams. Knitwear and heavy beaded
things are best in boxes or cases. Acid-free tissue paper is the
recommended padding of dealers! Whatever you do, don’t store things
long-term in vacuum bags, the lack of air can wreak havoc on delicate
fabrics. Inside wardrobes, closely piled shoes or tightly-wedged
clothing can get mouldy and costume jewellery can tarnish and chip if
bundled together. 
Selling stuff is obviously an option,
but as time marches on and vintage and antiques become more scarce,
you’ll find that your collection’s value may grow… better to hold
onto it a little longer and reap the rewards in coming years and
decades! How do you decide what to keep in circulation and what to
store? Naomi advises, ‘I keep novelty plastic, anything to do with
hands and bugs, anything bright and colourful. The thing about being
a collector is you are constantly editing your collection. Things
come in, so others have to go out.’ If your home is bursting at the seams, do consider looking for an affordable storage facility to keep your finds safe and dry. Shurgard offers units from 10 to 240 square feet, so even if you just need to store one or two boxes full of precious things, it’s a great option.
Happy collecting!

Fleur xx

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