Today I thought I would share with you some insight into one of things I do to earn a living: vintage personal shopping. I am going to explain how I got into it, what are the key skills and also explain a little bit about how I personally operate.
So here goes. Like most things I currently do, I am completely self-taught, but with lots of experience. However I didn’t just wake up one day and think ‘I am going to charge people money to dress them in old togs - yes that seems like a cool thing to do’. No, what actually happened is I had the idea when I was thinking of styling work that didn’t involve lugging around large quantities of clothing and kit. After years and years of dressing people at my old flat in London and at events, I realised I had a developed an quick eye for what was going to work on someone (or not). Let me explain more: I used to have rails and rails of vintage clothing and bits of costume that lived pretty much all over my little home in London. I also collected hats, capes, shoes, and headdresses, anything that took my fancy really. I loved bits of old theatrical costume and absolutely pillaged the Angel Costume sale a few years back. I was also an avid networker and would often invite people over for tea (well gin, actually, thanks to Hendricks who used to send me a drinks’ trolley’s worth each month). As a result of this I would have stylists drop in looking for items for shoots. I had everyone from Dazed and Confused to the Guardian via buyers from Net a Porter looking for dominatrix style pieces. Japanese Madame Figaro came to shoot it and when I had my leaving sale Time Out featured it. Then came the friends who were singers, performers, all looking for that extra special item for a show or music video. I had quite the coterie of now world famous burlesque dancers wanting silk 20′s kimonos for after shows, and smart 50s wiggle suits for walking around town. I also had a list of regular buyers who I would shop for purposefully. What this all boiled down to was an ability to know, at a glance, if something was going to fit or fail. I also got to know with pin point clarity how vintage cuts would sit on the modern woman. Vintage clothing seldom features elastic, and the cuts are very specific so either it will look great or terrible. Combining these skills I could rapidly pluck a dress out of a clients grasp and replace it with a fail safe alternative that would delight rather than depress. This threw up an interesting point: often the stranger the dress looked on the hanger, the better it looked on the person. If I had a pound everytime someone said, ‘ghastly, I don’t even want to try it on’ only to find it fitted like a (posh) glove then I would be typing this from my gin palace in Fiji. Taking all this in hand I thought ‘why not teach people how to shop and buy vintage?’
Once I decided this was a skill I could impart on a professional basis, from beyond the confines of my home I set about deciding the format. It’s is very important to me that following is achieved:
1) Enjoyment. A day with me is about having fun and I try and make it as relaxed as possible. For starters I wear vintage in an everyday wearable style, and I tend to turn up dressed quite simply, so as not to create any preconceived perceptions of what I am going to suggest. Only 10% of my clients want an era specific look anyway, and I’m not here to try and make you look like a 40s land girl, unless that is what you are after. This personal style development, not following the crowd.
2) Education. The truth is vintage shopping or even just shopping for a new style can be a nightmare. During the day I try and impart as much of buying knowledge, as practically as possible so that you can speed learn my skills and come away feeling a little savvier. I also been told that learning about vintage styles and shapes has made high street shopping easier as well.
3) Value. It is crucial that all my clients find bargains that look great and will last. A garment must tick all the boxes bellow before I make any whiff of a purchase suggestion.
- It fits, looks great and is a 110% wearable condition. I also look carefully to see how many washes it will last and if I think there are stress points that will shortly give way.
- The price is right. I have never been in the market of telling people to part with large sums of money just because a dress looks great on them. I value it myself, along the lines of my own criteria and if the price matches what I would pay for it (or less) then great. I actively only encourage a purchase if I believe that the client could resell it for the same price or more.
So who comes shopping? I’ve had everyone from 20 year old Swedish fashion bloggers to ladies in their 60’s. Mothers and daughters, sisters, groups of friends from New Zealand. Interestingly I don’t think I would have predicted how many 50plus ladies would be interested in my services. I am delighted about this as it broke down my preconceptions of who would enjoy wearing vintage. The very best feedback which makes it all worthwhile comes from women who feel like they rediscovered their shape, and what suits them. This is the joy of veering away from trend based high street garments and having the luxury of picking out simply what YOU like. I will never ask a client their age or size beforehand either and people are welcome to bring a friend, chaperone or relative. It’s about feeling comfortable.
People often ask me if I have ever had a nightmare client. The answer is no. That’s not to say I haven’t had some difficult ones. Is it easy? No, it’s extremely exhausting. You have to be 100% on the ball for 6 hours – there is no turning around and saying ‘sorry there is nothing here for you’. I usually feel so drained by the end that I can barely speak. The satisfaction, though, is immense. I am so proud of the testimonials I have. Knowing that you helped someone look and feel special with non high street clothing is quite unique. I am also passionate about helping people discover their waists. Vintage clothing can seriously enhance a figure and its wonderful seeing women discover their shape. This is part of my secret ploy to reverse the muffin top inducing damage of recent fashions.
I also now consider all the shop keepers my friends. This wasn’t an instant process, and the trust I am now given took a long time to build. You don’t just let anyone walk off with a large armful of precious one off pieces. I wrote a whole chapter in my book on how to get into vintage clothing without damaging it, so I make sure their garments are handles with the utmost care. They now welcome my business, and I in turn am delighted to help support them. They also give my clients extra special love.
- Taking Jane Garvey shopping for Women’s Hour.
- Taking a young girl shopping who loved all her new clothes so much that she wore them straight away, and got papped 5 minutes later by legendary Vogue photographer Candice Lake.
What are the key skills:
- an ability to size people up very quickly.
- a good knowledge of what is quality vintage and what isn’t.
- an understanding of fabrics.
- a 6th sense that a garment will suit and fit.
- the foresight to see how these garments will work out in their day to day life (this is why we have lunch first)
- good communication skills, and not being afraid of convincing people to step out of their comfort zones.
Top tip: build excellent relationships with your shops. This can result in a whole range of perks from discounts to early opening times.
Shhh. I also do ‘normal’ personal shopping. Its actually A LOT easier as you have a range of sizes, but I am a glutton for a challenge so vintage wins every time
If you have any other questions please ask away in the comments.