With the rise of technology, we have access to more secondhand designer goods than ever, while also having an array of tools at our disposal to make sure we’re being the most informed customers possible when buying these pieces. And while this is a double edged sword, meaning counterfeits are also better and more convincing than ever, in 2020, we’re more than well equipped to make sure we’re not getting duped. But that doesn’t mean that being armed with some knowledge on what to look out for when shopping luxury vintage can hurt.
With a few tips and tricks, and plenty of online and technological resources to help, we can save the planet and inspire our wardrobe simply by shopping vintage. So, Departures talked to experts in the luxury vintage sector about red flags to look out for and how to make sure we’re informed as possible before shopping for secondhand designer and luxury goods.
Why buying secondhand matters
We all know the very real and serious effects of climate change. While doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint can feel overwhelming, shopping vintage is a small but powerful way to do just that. According to “A Review of Secondhand Luxury and Vintage Clothing” printed in the journal Sustainability in Fashion, the fashion industry is responsible for producing “approximately 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 and 70 million tonnes of water waste each year, and this does not include herbicides, pesticides, and toxic chemicals released into the environment.” When we buy our clothing new, we’re unwillingly, or willingly, putting our money into this. But there’s good news too; little acts can make a difference. According to Thredup’s 2019 Resale Report, buying a single item secondhand reduces its carbon footprint 82%. This same report states that from 2018 to 2023, the secondhand market will double in growth, making a whopping $52 billion dollars annually, growing nearly 1.5 times faster than its fast fashion counterpart. And since 26% of luxury shoppers buy secondhand anyway, there’s really no better time to start investing—both for yourself, and for the planet.
The details matter
In the world of luxury vintage, there’s no “one red flag” to look out for when it comes to spotting dupes or counterfeits. While everyone has their own reasons for wanting to shop secondhand, we all want to know what we’re getting—especially if we’re promised the real deal. The things that matter are often the unexpected, little things; the buttons, the seams, the lining. The details also matter; if the designer name is spelled correctly, or if the logo for the brand is accurate. And while it can never hurt to have a professional help authenticate a piece, with a little knowledge you can take the power back into your own hands, and know what to look out for the next time you’re shopping luxury vintage.
When buying a designer secondhand, really take the time to examine the piece. The stitching should be clean and even, zippers, buttons, and pulls should be made of durable and heavy material (and not plastic), and any designer name or logo should be spelled accurately and should be accurate to the era that you’re purchasing the piece from. Doris Raymond, owner and founder of iconic Hollywood vintage boutique, The Way We Wore, also shares that it’s important to physically feel the piece, and really take the time to notice the quality of it.
“With clothing, I look at the choice of fabric, the finishing details—everything from seams to the zippers. I don’t really look at how the label is sewn in because a lot of people take labels out to go through customs and then they have them sewn back in afterwards. So that’s not necessarily a red flag,” Raymond shares. “But for the most part it’s choice of fabric, detail, and the quality, which can scream whether or not it’s real.”
Another red flag Raymond suggests looking out for when looking for luxury vintage is the lining of a garment, and making sure it’s a proper fit for the piece. You know it’s a red flag if the hem puckers on the inside, or if the lining is completely messed up when you put a garment on. The luxury is in the details. "Turn garments inside out to look at how they’re constructed. The skeleton is the bones, it really gives you an indication of why something is considered luxury," Raymond shares.
Getting familiar with the “DNA of luxury goods” as Raymond puts it, is part of the practice of learning how to tell the real deal from the fake. Thankfully, telling what’s what gets easier with practice; and the more you practice touching and feeling garments, Raymond shares, the more your fingers will get educated from visceral experience. But that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to ask for help or do your research. Katherine Bruce, Luxury Authentication Expert at Real Authentication, says that red flags on an item are specific to the brand, year, and category of item (whether it’s a bag or a blazer, per se) and that we can be proactive consumers when shopping for secondhand luxury to make sure we’re getting what we want. “Most commonly it’s important to look at the logo on the item and compare it to others of that same era,” Bruce shares. “If you’re unsure of the era, you can start by asking the seller and doing some research on the item to get a head start. If the quality looks low and it hasn’t aged well, this could be a common indicator the item may not be genuine.”
Everything is a case-by-case basis
Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” guide to vintage, just like there’s no single vintage piece that will satiate everyone’s aesthetic thirst. When you go to the store (brick-and-mortar or online) knowing this, then you can be a more savvy shopper. If you’re shopping in a smaller city, like say Cincinnati or even Atlanta, then you can expect to pay lower prices for luxury vintage than somewhere like New York City or Los Angeles. Location and knowing what’s trending—and keeping in mind this will make an item more valuable and therefore expensive—will help you make more informed purchases. Trendy vintage goods, like a vintage Gucci bag, will hold more value now than they did when it first came out. “Generally speaking, it’s best to look out for the price of the item and the age. How old is it? Is it priced too low? How is the quality of the item? If it’s a handbag, how have the materials aged and what does the logo look like?” says Bruce. And, of course, make sure that you feel good in the item, and that you like what you’re getting! “People should focus on things that look good on them and if there’s a luxury brand that’s icing on the cake,” shares Raymond. “I’m not a big proponent of pushing luxury because you can find some things that are not the label that most people go after, that are well made and will last a long time that are still classic.”
But don’t forget the power of a good investment; it’s called an investment piece for a reason! A classic like a Hermes bag or a Chanel suit should actually increase in value if kept in good condition; but keep in mind with the rise of technology, it’s easier to fake designer pieces than ever before. Raymond also adds that if you’re specifically buying a designer bag secondhand it’s important to be extra diligent about authentication because the counterfeit market has gotten so sophisticated. Making sure to check the spelling of the designer, the placement of the logo and logo itself, the richness of the fabric, and the quality and weight of the finishings will help you know if you’re getting what you’re promised.
Don’t forget to use the tools at your disposal
But if you’re still unsure of what you’re getting, don't fret. It’s 2020, which means we have more tools at our disposal than ever to be informed shoppers. If you’re searching for high-end secondhand luxury online you can use trusted shops like What Goes Around Comes Around, 1stdibs (which vets their sellers and includes buyer protection), and The RealReal (which brands itself as “authenticated luxury consignment”). And thanks to websites like Real Authentication, you can upload photos of new or used luxury goods and receive a determination of authenticity in 12 to 24 hours, with options for hour turnaround, fair market evaluation, certification, and more. Plus, there are even handheld gadgets to help now, like the Entrupy. This wireless device is used to authenticate luxury accessories like bags, and uses a microscopic camera and AI to analyze things like print patterns, leather grain, and paint work; it even offers a 99.1% accuracy rate. Quality is always the telltale factor as to what’s authentic vintage or not, so don’t be afraid to use all the resources you can to make sure you’re getting the luxury vintage you’re expecting.