Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Glad Rags

Craving Some High-End Vintage Duds? Clothing Expert Katy Rodriguez Tells How to Buy Without Remorse

 

With the likes of Winona Ryder and Julia Roberts snatching up vintage designer clothing, "secondhand" no longer connotes "second-rate." "People started to feel comfortable when they started seeing more celebrities wearing vintage," explains Katy Rodriguez, 31, co-owner of Resurrection Vintage, a chain of four upscale used clothing shops in New York City and Los Angeles. But how do you tell the riches from the rags?

One way: Ask Rodriguez, whom Vogue named one of the year's best-dressed people. The unmarried San Francisco native moved to New York in 1996 to find work as a photographer but fell in love with her part-time job in a vintage store. She and business partner Mark Haddawy opened their own shop later that year and, when sales proved brisk, expanded. Her biggest challenge now: "Getting clothes to fill the stores!" Rodriguez recently gave New York correspondent Nancy Matsumoto tips on how to choose, wear and care for used threads.

Why are vintage clothes so popular now?

There are no rules. It is like having 100 fashion seasons at once instead of just one, and you figure out who you want to be on whichever day. That's what makes vintage interesting.

Which are the hottest eras and designers?

The '60s and '70s and, among the fashion crowd, the early '80s. Pucci is by far the most popular designer. Julia Roberts has been buying a lot of Pucci from us lately, and we sold a Pucci to Frances McDormand. Other hot designers include Courrèges, Pierre Cardin, Giorgio di Sant' Angelo—the Dixie Chicks just bought three of his dresses. Vintage Gucci and Halston are also big sellers.

What's the difference between vintage Pucci and new Pucci?

The vintage prices are still less than the new prices [$395 to $495 for a Pucci blouse at Resurrection; $800 to $1,250 for a new one]. Most people feel the quality is not the same in new Pucci. It's kind of like prints made by a photographer while he is alive and the prints made from his negatives after he dies. They never have the same value.

That's still pretty expensive. How can you tell you're getting good stuff?

The condition of the piece tells you if you want to buy it and how much you should pay. Something perfect is going to have more value.

How can you tell if an item is in good shape?

With wool jersey, always check for moth holes by holding it up to the light. With things like cashmere and angora, make sure it hasn't shrunk. The sleeves might be really short and the shrinking will have changed the knit. In any garment, check for stains, rips or runs. A lot of times there's staining under the arms. It's really hard, almost impossible, to get those stains out.

What about the garment's hardware?

Sometimes zippers are rotted out or coming out of the seams, so you have to replace them. That's hard when it's a specialty zipper. Courrèges used a lot of big white zippers that are hard to find. The same goes for Gucci buckles. You can't replace them. They were all specially made for the garment.

Any tips on fit?

A size 6 in 1965 is very different from a size 6 in 2000. A 6 might today be a 2. Also, someone may have had the garment altered 25 years ago. If you're buying online or at auction and can't try the item on, get exact measurements.

How should you clean vintage clothing?

Take it to a specialty dry cleaner, a really good one. I wouldn't take a chance on a nonexpert. If something has been in the world 25, 30 years, it can't be handled roughly. Vintage can't take it.

Do some vintage items just fall apart?

When we get really fragile things, we'll put them in a case and try to sell them to designers or collectors [who won't wear them]. It's very rare that something else falls apart. The silk thread in Puccis tends to rot over time, so seams start to come apart. But they're easily repairable.

What will be collectable in 10 or 20 years?

I see so many things that I wish I could afford to buy and just put away. The Celine dress with the logos, those Prada jackets with the little mirrors. Anything that really defines the designer. I would hold on to the Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses. And the Versace dress that Jennifer Lopez wore—in 15 years, some other starlet is going to want to take it and make it her dress. 

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