How to buy vintage clothes at auction

How to bid at auction

Most auction houses have a monthly theme and are often categorized into categories such as jewelry, 40s and 50s. Each auction house will always list their catalog before the auction, so if you want that pair of 1940s brogues or a Lilli Ann swing coat then you can really narrow your search.

The wait to rummage through the rails online isn’t the only fun. Keeping track of all sales and dates can be hard work, which is why The Saleroom, a central auction system, can be a godsend for those who need to be saved quickly. The auction room has information on most auction houses across the country and you can even create your own wish list. The best part? If you’re not available on the date, fear not because you can just enter your maximum auto bid and The Saleroom will do all the work for you.

Choose your key pieces before the auction

The same rules apply to buying vintage clothes as to buying new clothes: buy less, buy well, and spend only what you can afford. While you can leave with one specific thing in mind, you can quickly descend into a rabbit hole when searching. There are, however, a few key pieces that never fail to complement a classic wardrobe.

For men, tweed jackets, waistcoats and, for the more extravagant, plus sheaths, all look great and are made with durable fabrics. Windproof, water resistant and made entirely from natural fibers, tweeds such as Harris Tweed and Donegal are excellent collectibles and frequently available at auctions and estate sales. Great for a smooth and harmonious day in the Cotswolds, but equally elegant for a quick beer in a cozy pub.

A Lock and Co hat and a pair of Trickers brogues are always a stylish start to a vintage collection. Occasionally with the desirable West Indian Sea Island Cotton, Turnbull & Asser shirts (“like earth they don’t make them anymore”) while some New & Lingwood cufflinks make a great accessory … especially if you’ve grabbed the Cream of Saville Row Costumes, by Huntsman or Henry Poole.

And when you get an invitation to the races, it must be a top hat. It has to be black, it has to be silk and it has to be Lock & Co. Casual items like a 1950s Dunhill lighter (always so debonair to light someone else’s cigarette) – and don’t forget your Tommy Nutter suspenders.

For women, whether it’s the glamorous 40s, fabulous 50s, or swinging 60s, a classic cocktail dress never goes awry. Pair Mary Quant with a Hermès handbag, Canali shoes and Asprey jewelry from the desired era for a wink.

But if you’re looking for vintage buying advice, remember that many looks were important to match. Costumes of the 1940s were often worn with complementary gloves and shoes, while the 1950s celebrated the matching dress and flared coat, bolero, or shrug.

Tweeds were also very popular with women. While it began as a cloth worn by the aristocracy in the 1820s, it quickly became accessible, particularly in the 1940s when three-piece suits for women arrived. These pants incorporated, a jacket and a skirt, so women could put the pants on and then change into a skirt on arrival – with cinched waists and padded shoulders still intact!

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