It takes work to build a good vintage collection. You can't just walk into a shiny department store or simply point-and-click your way to a new wardrobe the way you can on the Internet. No, you have to sift through racks of clothing, pick up and carefully inspect pieces for defects, and nurse once-beautiful jackets back to health with the help of skilled professionals.
Douglass Gunn is a man who respects this process. He owns the Vintage Showroom in London, a shop-archive that houses stunning examples of early- to mid-20th-century menswear. This month Gunn and his associates released a book, Vintage Menswear: A Collection From the Vintage Showroom, a showcase for their fastidiously assembled collection of international workwear, military gear, and sports clothing, along with classic tailored pieces and countrywear from England.
The book's 300 illustrated pages will attract their fair share of stylists and designers interested in menswear history, but that doesn't mean that an ordinary man can't use them to find inspiration for his closet. We asked Gunn for five tips on how to assemble and care for a vintage collection of your very own.
1. Be patient.
With vintage, some things are worth waiting for. I have jackets in my personal collection that took me years to find. I guess in a world where nearly everything is just a click of a mouse away, the art of searching and waiting for something good is a valuable one.
2. Work with folks you trust.Vintage clothing is finally being treated like antiques and other more established collectibles. As the prices go up, you need to know exactly what you are paying for and why it's priced that way. So buying from someone you trust is very important. Unfortunately we see more and more fakes being passed off as originals, especially with denim and military pieces.
3. Keep usage to a minimum.One of the things I love about vintage clothing is that the pieces were made to last with craftsmanship that is sadly too often lacking in today's manufacturing. But when you are buying a piece that is 50-plus years old, some care and consideration is needed. I am terrible about finding something I love and then absolutely wearing it to death. Countless pairs of "Big E" Levi's and fifties Belstaff Trialmaster jackets over the years have been worn away by my relentless wear and tear. I try and wear my favorites a lot less these days.
4. Invest in aftercare.Like with a vintage car or bike, expect to put some energy or money into keeping up your vintage wardrobe. Find a good dry cleaner, become friends with the cold cycle on your washing machine, use less detergent, and find a good seamstress.
5. Seek out dead stock.I have a few friends that love vintage but just don't want it preworn. To find those one-off pieces, you have to become a dead-stock junkie. This is an expensive habit to feed, as finding amazing pieces from the early 20th century is only getting harder and harder. But there is something beautiful about breaking in a box-fresh piece from 50 years ago.
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.