Fashion

How to Shop Vintage

“Euphoria” costume designer Heidi Bivens talks retro hunting.

MOST READ STYLE

Fashion

The Hoodie of the Future

British clothier Vollebak makes garments for today’s superhero.

Decor

Making the Cut

A knife expert’s tips on upping your game in the kitchen.

Restaurants

What We’re Eating, Where We’re Going, and What We’re Loving in August

From a special object to a delicious meal, a captivating place to an unforgettable...

“I THINK COLLECTING vintage is an art form,” states costume designer Heidi Bivens, most famous for her work on HBO hit “Euphoria” and hyperstylized films such as “Spring Break” and “Mid90s.” In truth, acquiring the sensibility of a true vintage aficionado is a calling. Developing an eye for vintage often comes from a need to tell new stories and give new life to garments that have been discarded in one way or another.

In response to the current demand for retro looks, ingenious designers at the helm of luxury maisons have built their entire design ethos on the styles of either Miss Havisham’s closet or the cool aesthetic of the 1970s jet set. And season over season, business booms. But that’s a different fashion story. This piece is for those interested in seeking out the real deals, the originals — for the love of history, the hunt, and the unique. To help navigate the landscape of shopping vintage clothing, Bivens, for whom this prodigious skill set is a professional necessity, breaks down the process and shares where to find your own vintage magic.

MOST READ STYLE

Fashion

The Last Word on the US Open

Carvell Wallace on greatness, Serena, and the US Open’s best menswear.

Decor

A Curated Kitchen

Cookware to stir the soul.

Fashion

Everything I Now Want After Attending the Masters

From cars to clothes to bourbon, covetable things abound at the most prestigious...

To be interested in vintage, one must already hanker to stand out and stake a claim for style individuality. You are known for establishing stylistically distinct characters. How do you begin building their wardrobes?

I like to try to use as much vintage as possible when creating costumes for contemporary projects. When building a character’s closet, I like to be able to glean from different resources so that it doesn’t feel like one note or like it was shopped overnight, because the way that we build our personal closets is over an extended period of time. When I’m creating the backstories of characters, it is much easier to shop vintage so that it feels real, and not like I shopped everything at Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom. It helps to create authenticity. It’s also more sustainable.

It's so much cooler if you put looks together mixing vintage pieces, because chances are you’ll walk down the street and you won’t see someone else wearing the same thing. You can find these special pieces over time and then create your closet based around them — they have history. Maybe someone gave us a sweater and it’s sentimental or we’ve had a dress since high school, and we combine them with a new jacket bought this season — mixing past and present in a look is an amalgamation of our life experience through clothing. When we shop vintage for ourselves it’s imagining these backstories for the pieces that catch our eye.

What is the difference between shopping vintage, thrifting, and the resale marketplace?

All have different approaches, and there’s an opportunity to find gems everywhere. Vintage shopping usually involves working with vendors who have a passion for clothing, and it becomes easier to find beautiful pieces because the selection is curated. Vintage collectors have a passion for what they do. They have a perspective on the fashion that they collect and that often offers up themes. Certain vendors specialize in specific eras. They streamline the process where it makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

Thrifting is where you can find satisfaction in discovering a real gem in the rough. For instance, if you’re thrifting at a Goodwill, perhaps you find a vintage YSL twill blouse or a Koos van den Akker collage slip dress that hasn’t yet been snatched by collectors. While thrifting, you have to be willing to dig and search. It can be overwhelming.

Resale is in the middle of the cycle of vintage fashion. Vendors are mostly online, such as the RealReal and Depops of the world, where once they were the kind of local stores where people could bring their clothes to consign in their own neighborhoods. Resale is less curated but has quality items within a cross section of [luxury and name-brand] designers that vendors feel are worthy of them to sell. On occasion, you can find special vintage pieces from these websites, and they’ve generally got a great return policy.

‘Online resale and vintage sourcing have opened up a huge opportunity for people to be more aware of how they’re consuming.’

Many vintage vendors these days are looking at resale or thrift stores to find the pieces that they end up selling. It becomes cyclical. In this landscape of fast fashion, trying to take back any power we have as consumers is to be conscious of how we buy things. Online resale and vintage sourcing have opened up a huge opportunity for people to be more aware of how they’re consuming.

Old-school IRL shopping vs. the online marketplace?

A majority of vintage vendors are online. Even those who have a storefront, I’ve noticed they’re often [for in-person shopping] by appointment only, and are doing a majority of their sales online. Of course, if you already know what you’re looking for, whether a designer or a particular era, a Google search is easiest. However, I still love experiential shopping, to be able to go into a store and feel the fabrics and try them on. It’s worth having conversations with the collectors because they have a lot of knowledge and are there because they love vintage. They enjoy what they do.

Any other pro tips on where to search?

I find some of my favorite vintage pieces while shopping in antique furniture stores where they have a small section of clothes. No one’s going there for the clothes. You’ve got this little magic pocket of stuff that hasn’t been picked over. Then I’ll find pieces that don’t necessarily represent what I think my personal style is but I think are interesting or cool. They’ll live in my closet for a while before I even know how to wear them, or where I want to wear them. Estate sales are another good place to find vintage.


Advertisement

How does today’s consumer navigate sizing?

Something to keep in mind is that often the sizes of yesteryear do not correspond to today’s sizes. Depending on how precious you are about designer clothes and keeping the integrity of the original design, there’s many ways to alter and rework vintage, repurpose, and to be able to redesign. Obviously it takes time and effort. It also helps to find a good tailor near where you live.

Your styling on “Euphoria” has been singled out for its clear style identities. How do you approach singling out personalities by what they wear?

With Rue, for example, Zendaya’s character, she wears a lot of really comfortable, more street-style clothes. I would start out by going to the flea markets in LA and to smaller, more niche vintage stores like Procell in New York. In Season 2, the character of Samantha, a sophisticated adult female character with a seductive formfitting wardrobe (think ’90s Alaïa, Mugler, and Christian Lacroix) is completely outfitted from the collection at Aralda Vintage, which specializes in designer vintage fashion.

The costume houses are also a huge resource. All the major studios have them, and there are smaller ones, like Palace, that have been around for decades. Any lover of vintage should sign up with the studios to take a tour, to be able to see costumes from every era in their archives. You can be inspired by a piece in a costume house and then internet sleuth to find a copy somewhere. A lot of ideas are born there. I’m always impressed with how fast people figure out what stuff is after an episode has aired. Within an hour, it’s on Instagram.

So much about what I do with costumes, especially on “Euphoria,” is about trying to inspire people to be free with their style. To try different things and to have fun expressing themselves. To not feel apprehensive or awkward about just going for it. Not feeling like they have to look a certain way, to be perceived in any certain way, nor follow any of the fast-fashion trends from all over social media — because those approaches are unsustainable.

Heidi Bivens’ Favorite Vintage Stores in New York, LA, and Online

I really love vintage shopping in Los Angeles and New York. Smaller towns and cities across the U.S., that aren't too picked over, are fun if you have the time. There’s still a lot of opportunity to find those little mom-and-pop shops and Goodwill stores in places like Aspen and Palm Springs, where there are estates that often drop off some amazing finds.

New York

  • Procell

    Opened in 2012, the store is a mix of T-shirts, designer ready-to-wear, sportswear, and streetwear for everyone. Previously these categories weren’t usually all offered in one shop, but here they all live together.

  • Front Street General Store

    I love Front Street General Store in Brooklyn, a small shop that mixes old and new: vintage clothing, dry goods, jewelry, and accessories.

  • Metropolis Vintage

    An NYC institution for 30-plus years, specializing in vintage denim, T-shirts, workwear, sportswear, and outerwear, with weekly drops.

  • Mr. Throwback

    Located in the East Village, featuring sports apparel and pop-culture memorabilia vintage fashions.

  • Desert Vintage

    Based in New York and Tucson, a most beautiful store with a chic, romantic curation.

  • What Goes Around Comes Around

    An NYC institution that has shifted its focus to luxury handbags and small leather goods.

  • Stella Dallas

    A Brooklyn shop stocked with dresses that pop in color and dazzle with prints.

  • Stock Vintage

    Specializing in American workwear and military wear from the 1930s to the 1960s.

  • Procell

    Opened in 2012, the store is a mix of T-shirts, designer ready-to-wear, sportswear, and streetwear for everyone. Previously these categories weren’t usually all offered in one shop, but here they all live together.

  • Desert Vintage

    Based in New York and Tucson, a most beautiful store with a chic, romantic curation.

  • Front Street General Store

    I love Front Street General Store in Brooklyn, a small shop that mixes old and new: vintage clothing, dry goods, jewelry, and accessories.

  • What Goes Around Comes Around

    An NYC institution that has shifted its focus to luxury handbags and small leather goods.

  • Metropolis Vintage

    An NYC institution for 30-plus years, specializing in vintage denim, T-shirts, workwear, sportswear, and outerwear, with weekly drops.

  • Stella Dallas

    A Brooklyn shop stocked with dresses that pop in color and dazzle with prints.

  • Mr. Throwback

    Located in the East Village, featuring sports apparel and pop-culture memorabilia vintage fashions.

  • Stock Vintage

    Specializing in American workwear and military wear from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Los Angeles

  • Sleeper LA

    A large selection of footwear from the 1960s to the 1990s mixed with vintage luxury brands and Americana-themed pieces.

  • Scout

    An exceptional blend of vintage architectural fashions from the likes of Comme des Garçons, Gianfranco Ferré, and Issey Miyake alongside perfectly aged and distressed T-shirts and sweats.

  • Aralda Vintage

    Brynn Jones from Aralda Vintage in LA has made waves with her vintage collection, and many celebrities have been featured wearing her garments. I used a lot of her pieces on “Euphoria.”

  • Sleeper LA

    A large selection of footwear from the 1960s to the 1990s mixed with vintage luxury brands and Americana-themed pieces.

  • Aralda Vintage

    Brynn Jones from Aralda Vintage in LA has made waves with her vintage collection, and many celebrities have been featured wearing her garments. I used a lot of her pieces on “Euphoria.”

  • Scout

    An exceptional blend of vintage architectural fashions from the likes of Comme des Garçons, Gianfranco Ferré, and Issey Miyake alongside perfectly aged and distressed T-shirts and sweats.

Online

  • Etsy

    I've noticed, frequently, that when I want stuff on Etsy or resale, it’s coming from Malaysia. I’ve formulated an unverified theory that a lot of deadstock or bulk clothes in the ’80s and ’90s were sent to Malaysia. Or the factories were there. A lot of skate and street brand clothes, from when I was doing “Mid90s,” came from Malaysia.

  • Middleman Store

    A great source for 1980s and 1990s designer menswear.

  • Shrimpton Couture

    The most beautiful dresses and gowns from the 1930s to recent designer collections.

  • Artifact

    There’s a vendor in New York City called Artifact that has a mind-blowing T-shirt collection. They work by appointment only.

  • Etsy

    I've noticed, frequently, that when I want stuff on Etsy or resale, it’s coming from Malaysia. I’ve formulated an unverified theory that a lot of deadstock or bulk clothes in the ’80s and ’90s were sent to Malaysia. Or the factories were there. A lot of skate and street brand clothes, from when I was doing “Mid90s,” came from Malaysia.

  • Shrimpton Couture

    The most beautiful dresses and gowns from the 1930s to recent designer collections.

  • Middleman Store

    A great source for 1980s and 1990s designer menswear.

  • Artifact

    There’s a vendor in New York City called Artifact that has a mind-blowing T-shirt collection. They work by appointment only.

Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

Magnus Unnar Photographer

Magnus Unnar is an Icelandic-born photographer based in the US. His reportage, portraiture, and fashion photography have appeared in leading publications around the world.

',
Newsletter

Let’s Keep in Touch

Subscribe to our newsletter

You’re no longer on our newsletter list, but you can resubscribe anytime.