The fashion industry is one of the least sustainable industries in the world, so if living more sustainably in 2023 is one of your new year goals, buying vintage clothing is a great place to start. We talk to stylist and Painted Bird Vintage owner Stephanie King for her best tips.
Business owner Stephanie King took a decade of experience as a personal stylist and a long-time love of vintage clothing and combined them to create Painted Bird Vintage, a collection of hand-selected premium vintage clothing from around the world. Her philosophy is ‘buy once and buy right’ and she believes that buying vintage clothing is one of the most sustainable choices we can make, especially in a world of fast fashion. She shares her advice on how to start buying vintage clothing at any age, what to look for and why we should all be making a beeline for small-town hospice and second-hand shops over the holidays!
Why is buying vintage clothing a great choice if you’re trying to be more sustainable?
True vintage is the crème de la crème of sustainable fashion – offering provenance that’s kind to Mother Earth. Make it your first choice when looking to update your wardrobe; garments that have been around for 50 years (plus!) have a lighter ‘fashion footprint’.
An original vintage garment exudes enduring style. Sustainability is at their core because garments were created so that they would stand the test of time, be worn again and again, and be adapted as life went on through births, deaths and marriages.
Vintage clothing is also more sustainable when it comes to the fabrics used. The fabrics of vintage clothes either naturally decompose or, after 50 years have already lost whatever microfibres that may have been part of the composition. We all know with man-made textiles, microfibres are the nasty little polluters we don’t want more of. This is one of the reasons why we choose clothing from the 40s through to the early 80s for our stock, that way we can ensure that each piece in circulation is at its optimum.
How can you tell if a second-hand item of clothing is good quality?
It is easier to spot quality in vintage clothing compared to second-hand garments. This governs how we curate vintage stock so our unique collection ‘raises the bar’ in New Zealand and so our clients know hand-on-heart that they are buying well.
Quality relates to the fabric, the construction, the unusual or rarity factor or the reputation of the designer’s label. In eras gone by, coveted New Zealand labels such as Gus Fishers ‘El Jay’ represent this.
Feel the fabric and check through the stitching on a piece that takes your eye. Hold it up to the light to check if you can see through it or if there are holes. Is there an inner seam allowance for growth and change? Has it come unstitched anywhere? Sometimes the cotton thread may perish before the overall garment does. We don’t believe this means the piece should be laid to rest in landfill or dismembered for rags – not if it can get a ‘spruce up’ like a restitch that will keep the item in circulation for another 70 years.
We look for luxe and natural fabrics or the bespoke and unusual with a flattering cut. Many vintage items have been handmade and that absolutely does not mean it is of a lesser standard. So many of these enduring pieces were made with meticulous attention to detail that you won’t find in ‘fast’ fashion ranges. The artisan, designer and craftspeople of the past imbued in their pieces love and bit of themselves, just like small-run designers do today.
For people who find vintage clothing itself a bit small, what other items can they look for?
If you find vintage a tad too small, look for pleats, darts and hemlines that can be re-jigged and adapted to suit your needs. Often, gorgeous vintage garments that have pleats can provide a lot more fabric if you need it. Tartan skirts with waistbands and side pleats can be un-picked to extend the size.
Tailored styles can be a bit tricky, but you might be able to add a panel under the arm and down the inner sides of a jacket to expand the size discretely.
A kaftan with epic fabric can easily be adapted to a flirty fit-and-flare style with accessorising or a dash of considered tailoring. Get to know a trusted seamstress or tailor, as they make owning and adapting vintage so much easier. Pieces can be magically transformed and adapted to suit you and your lifestyle. This is one of the secrets to sustainably minded style.
What advice do you have for people who want to buy more second-hand clothing but don’t know where to start?
The first and foremost thing to do is to get measured. We have a guide on our website (The Measure of Things). You could ask a friend to help you out or even stop by your local alteration shop and ask them. Knowing your current size is key in ensuring a likely fit for confident vintage or secondhand shopping whether it is online or in person.
How can second-hand clothing scratch that same ‘want to buy something now’ itch, but in a way that’s kinder to the planet?
Most vintage, secondhand and charity stores have the same proximity as fast fashion – stores are either in your neighborhood or online at the push of a button. So the thrill of the hunt can be found just as quick. That satisfied rush of purchasing an exceptional and unique piece that’s better for the planet is part of the lure and excitement with vintage. Or, that counter exchange after careful consideration in a secondhand store consciously keeps items in circulation for longer. Satisfy that hunting itch with earth-friendly options and you will be amazed!
There are a lot of online vintage and secondhand stores offering a pickup service too so the wait time for an item within New Zealand, door to door, can be the same as an overseas supplier. It is a mindset-shift more than anything. Think: ‘treasure hunting is more fun, and I want an item that’s a bit different’. Think: ‘this piece has history that brings a little magic to my wardrobe.’ Think: ‘every time I bring one of these pieces to my house, I have resisted fast alternatives and created a little ripple in the sustainable fashion movement.’
A lot of people will be travelling through smaller towns in NZ during the summer months, should they be nipping into any hospice shops or second-hand shops along the way?
Yes. Support local in New Zealand – whether that’s bricks and mortar or online. There will be lots of vintage, secondhand and charities (as well as all the other small Mom and Pop boutiques) that have been just holding on and are really looking forward to seeing tourists, chatting again, and getting that little boost of trade that the whole country needs right now. All the charities do great work in our communities, so it is great to support whichever one you connect with.
For parents who are keen to get their kids embracing second-hand clothing, what tips do you have for them?
Tip 1. Ask your kids or teens to make a list of what they want (obviously way more fun) plus what they actually need. Give them a budget for each ensuring the budget for ‘need’ is bigger. They might say they want to dress all in vintage, in yellow or simply need a new pair of jeans. Once they are in a vintage or secondhand store, they will not be able to resist the cornucopia and see that all the choices they have listed are likely to be there – they just need to make an effort to find them.
Tip 2. Make sure you point out it is so much cooler to be yourself and unique. What you wear is an extension of how you feel and the person you want to be. Dressing should not be about copying other people or what they tell you to wear.
Tip 3. Be mindful of your language. Avoid ever saying that second-hand is wrong, cheap, low-level (or any other nasty sounding word!) as impressionable minds pick up on it.
Tip 4. Embrace experimentation. Foster confidence in your teen and gently direct them to help them find their ‘best self’ in whatever way that may look.
When it came to creating your Painted Bird Vintage, what was your aim?
Painted Bird Vintage answers the call of those on a quest for a timeless treasure of fashionable art and beauty!
Our aim was always to provide a beautiful space to offer authentic sustainable clothing that’s readily available and accessible for anyone. We aim to ultimately make choosing vintage or our small selection of second-hand – the easier option. The result is a treasure trove of beautifully chic day and evening wear as well as separates to complement daily attire or event wear and easy to pair accessories.
COVID meant we had to roll with the punches just like everyone else. Our pivot was to prioritise our online presence. Initially, our aim was to launch at least a quarter of our stock online. After posting 2000 clothing items, we launched the next phase which is a hybrid boutique experience in Auckland called, The Aviary. This offers one-on-one fitting room experiences where shoppers can try on clothing from our online collection, as well as be assisted by seasoned personal stylist.
The Aviary is the launch pad for the ‘new retail’ space moving forward as the traditional bricks and mortar retail space has really morphed for us. Combining a smaller space with an online offering has led us to discovering our sweet spot. Ultimately, our store saves an eclectic array of wonderful, wearable fashion history from landfill while connecting clients with glorious garments on a journey that’s far kinder on Mother Earth. Come join us at The Aviary or online to experience it for yourself!