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Clothes | Collectibles | Furniture | Links

If you're into Swing or Rockabilly, chances are you are also into vintage clothing and collectibles.  People who like the music of the past, often like it so much, they try to recreate the past in as many forms as possible.  Clothing, house wares, collectibles, and furniture are the most common retro items these days.

So where does one go to get vintage items?  How does one know if something is really vintage, or just a well made replica?  How should you care for vintage clothes?  All these questions will be answered in this section of the Sparechange Primer.  


Where do hepcats and hepkittens get their fabulous vintage frocks, shoes, suits, and accessories?

Take a deep breath.  Get a pen, and plan to spend a few minutes taking notes!  Acquiring vintage isn't as easy as you think.  Here's why:

  • Most of the really good stuff was sold nearly sixty years ago A lot of the clothes left their original owners in the 1970s, and very little is coming in today
  • People were a whole lot smaller then -- in World War II, the average man's waist was 30 inches; most vintage clothing would be size "small" today
  • The very stylish clothes -- zoot suits in particular-- were bought by teenagers who wore them until they disintegrated


As any man will tell you, buying vintage clothing is much easier for women.  Perhaps women took better care of their clothing?  It seems to be the logical answer for why vintage shops have racks of women's clothes and only a handful of men's treasures.  In addition, when you find men's clothes, you often find them in worse condition than women's. Holes, stains, and tears are more prevalent in men's vintage than in lady's.

There are three basic methods for finding vintage clothes.  

  1. Get them from the source -- place ads at senior centers or visit estate sales
  2. Get them from Thrift and Consignment stores when they have been donated by primary sources
  3. Go to a store that specializes in vintage clothes (i.e. pay someone else to deal with the primary sources)


Certain collectors are very specific about what era their vintage clothing comes from.  Often, swingers will wear items from the 1930's and 1940's, while Rockabilly folks look for 1950's items instead.  Here are some tips for determining the age of vintage garments.  Remember, styles appear, disappear and then re-appear, so be careful!

  • Fabric care instructions began to appear in the 1960s
  • Zip codes were introduced in 1963. (look at addresses on labels)
  • The Union Label: The Amalgamated Suit Workers' Union (ASWU) had a very distinctive label that pictures an old-time sewing machine inside a diamond. ASWU changed the design of the label in 1968.
  • Men's suit coats from the 1940s have a single seam at the middle of the armpit and have NO back flaps; the button hole on the lapel is functional (i.e. you can put a flower in it.)
  • Ties varied in width during the period 1930-1960, but most were unlined and did not have a visible label sewn on the back
  • Plastic zippers indicate origin after 1960
  • Women's dresses and pants had zippers on the side


With a little practice, you'll be spotting classic vintage clothing in no time.  Often, you can spot a garment easily by feeling the fabric.  Older clothing was made from better fabrics and with better tailoring.  So often, the clothing will feel heavy, and the fabric will seem thicker.  Also, older clothing has lots of hand work such as embroidery, special stitching, etc.  Due to their novelty, nylon and rayon were "status" fabrics in the 1930s and 1940s. (The most valuable Hawaiian shirts are 100% rayon, and have wood buttons.)


Stick close to home -- Do you have an older relative who has with vintage clothes in their closet? If so, raid the closet!  Chances are, your relatives have been trying to get rid of this "old stuff" for years!  Relatives can be the best source for authentic, inexpensive (usually free) vintage.  If your family doesn't pan out, then you can always ask around or advertise at senior citizen centers or in a publications that reach audiences that might have vintage items. Also, check the papers for notices of estate sales.  Estate sales are a great source for vintage clothing!  Do a little reasearch, check your local paper!  You should be able to know out a couple of sales on a single Saturday!


Thrift stores are often a hit or miss adventure.  People will empty their closets, their attics, and their basements to thrift stores.  That means that in addition to a few great vintage items, they unload their recent used items too.  But don't despair, good vintage is there, you just have to do a little manual labor to find it.  Don't be surprised if you spend hours in a thrift store digging through boxes, combing through racks, and sifting through bags of complete crap to find just a skirt, a pair of pants, or perhaps a hat.  But remember, thrift stores are cheap.  Clothing at a thrift store is rarely more than a couple of bucks.  Some days you'll get lucky, some days you won't find a thing.  Just keep looking!  Grab a friend, or make a date of it!  Look up "Thrift Stores" in your local Yellow Pages, so you can locate these establishments in your area. From experience, it seems you are more likely to find good vintage items in small church-run stores. Larger organizations, especially commercial outfits, often pre-select vintage and sell them directly to dealers. 


If you don't mind a big bill, why not let someone else do the searching for you!  That's exactly what vintage stores do.  They hit thrift stores, estate sales, and dealers to gather quality vintage items.  However, they charge you for  their trouble.  If you are new to collecting vintage, it's not a bad idea to visit one or two of these stores to get a feel for what the "real thing" actually looks like as well what various items are worth.  


Information coming!  Check back soon!


Information coming!  check back soon!

Offsite Links:

  • 8ball Webstore -- Rockabilly roots, but this stores got everything!  Clothes, jewelry, furniture, and more!  Check out their specials!

  • American Vintage Blues -- Vintage denim, clothing, & collectibles.

  • American Vintage Classics -- Men's 1930's -1960's clothing.

  • Audrey's Swing Line Apparel -- customized and pre-made swing dance apparel.

  • -- Great selection of vintage clothes from the 1900's to the 1970's.  Shop by decade.

  • Bebe -- Little black spandex things and some really fabulous retro rip-offs.  So sexy, so cute, so small.

  • "Care and Feeding of Vintage Clothes" -- from a D.C. swing dancers site.  

  • Daddy-O's --"COOL clothes for COOL people" Over 40 styles of shirts, Stacy Adams shoes, and new threads for the dames.

  • El Pachuco Zoot Suits El Pachuco Zoot Suits - Sellers of used, and new custom zoot suits, and accessories.

  • Fabric8 Bazaar -- Specializing in super stylish sundries.

  • Fifi's Fashion Lounge - Specializing in Vintage Clothing and 20th Century Furniture.

  • Hearts Desire vintage clothing - Seller of vintage clothing from the swing era.

  • -- D.C.'s weekly lindy hop guide.  This site has a ton of great vintage clothing resources.  Just take a few minutes and search!  

  • Kat Style -- A haven for the rockabilly man, this sharp site is so hip it hurts.

  • Lady Luck Vintage - Quailty 40's and 50's vintage clothing, shoes, accessories, housewares & barware at the best prices on the web!

  • Lo Buck Industries - Specializing in Swing style bowling shirts for both Guys and Gals.  They have a fabulous must have ladies shirt with leopard print cuffs and collar!!!

  • Midnight Sparkle - Vintage clothing from the 1930s through 1970s. Great swing dresses, jewelry, shoes, purses and hats.  They take credit cards too!

  •  New Age Books -- Fun, funky e-store for everything from astrology to aromatherapy.  Source for some great stickers!  

  • Off the Deep End -- Shopping Therapy for the Culturally Depraved!!! Great selection of tiki stuff, dashboard hulas, bowling shirts, Hawaiian shirts, flamingo gear and more!  The prices are cheap too!  We spend our Sparechange here all the time!

  • -- Reasonably priced, well maintained vintage clothing.

  • The Wasteland -- Sounds dismal, but the clothes are fab.

  • Zombie Hot Rod Wear -- Hot boys.  Hot rods.  Hot clothes.

  • Zoot Suit Store -- specializing in making, selling, and renting authentic 1930's/1940's swing era style Zoot Suits, Accessories, and much much more!

Want to know more about a topic we don't cover?  Let us know, and we'll add it!

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