Those idyllic photographs of days gone by, rose-tinted and glorious. And the outfits, so sweet! Oh, nostalgia for the past! The 1950’s swing dresses, the beautiful 1960’s swirling fabric patterns and the little kiddos’ onesies. Many of us love vintage – and what’s more, buying an item made in the past and reused for your little cherub is both cost effective and nice and ethical too. One vintage savvy lady who would like to save her customers the trouble of trawling through racks of forgotten garments, is Lori Inglis Hall. Lori has an amazing online vintage children’s wear shop called Lori and the Caravan, which is full of reasonably priced vintage gems from bygone eras that are all unique and beautiful. We interviewed Lori in search of some tips for vintage shopping, with the hope we can help Inhabitots readers find their own beloved vintage clothing for their children.
INHABITOTS: What inspired you to start a vintage online shop for kids?
LORI: I’ve always wanted to have my own vintage shop, but the market is so saturated – there just didn’t seem to be space for little old me. I’ve been pretty much obsessed with vintage clothes since my mid-teens, and I’m constantly on the hunt for my next find. When I was pregnant with my son I started to notice children’s vintage – there are so many beautiful pieces around – and the idea just took off from there and grew into Lori and the Caravan.
I’m the eldest of three girls, so I probably wore the least hand me downs out of all of us. I wouldn’t say my childhood look was particularly vintage, but my mum’s a whizz with a sewing machine and pretty much always has some knitting on the go, so I wore a lot of homemade clothes. My favorite piece was a dress she made me for a fancy dress party. I went as ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ from the nursery rhyme, and the dress was decorated with silver bells and cockle shells. Quite lovely.
INHABITOTS: What appeals to you aesthetically and ethically, about vintage clothing?
LORI: The quality of the fabrics, the cut, and the craftsmanship of vintage clothing just can’t be matched by regular shops. A lot of the clothes I wear are 40 to 50 years old, and they’re still in such brilliant condition – I think mass-produced modern clothing just doesn’t have that staying power. And I love the idea that what I’m wearing is one of a kind. I don’t want to look like other people. I actually like it when an item has a bit of darning, or isn’t quite perfect. It’s part of the charm, and it adds to an item’s history. Someone has loved it, and cared for it, and now it’s my turn. The clothes I wear were produced at a time when the concept of ethical fashion and sustainability were unheard of. I don’t know where the fabric has come from, or how it was produced. But I think of vintage clothing as another, especially fun, form of recycling – and I wish more people viewed vintage shopping in that way. We’re big on recycling in my household!
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INHABITOTS: What have been some of your favorite finds?
LORI: Gosh, how long have you got! My favorite find ever is probably my wedding dress, a 1920’s sheer gown with white beading – it’s really heavy. It was hanging in the window of a local antiques shop and it was love at first sight. It didn’t cost much either, as it was a little damaged. Luckily my mother-in-law was on hand to fix it up! I’ve never felt as good as I did wearing that dress.I’ve got three wardrobes full of vintage clothes, so choosing favorites is tough. I’d say a 1950’s prom-style dress with a beaded bodice is up there with my best finds. It’s utterly gorgeous, and I’ve just tried it on for the first time since I had my child and it doesn’t fit. Utter despair. My go-to day to day vintage look is probably a 1960’s shift dress – I’ve got about 50 of them, and they’re just so comfortable and flattering. Adaptable too – I used to wear them all the time in the office. Pair with heels in the evening and you’re set.
INHABITOTS: Could you please give us some top tips on finding good quality and distinguishing the good from the less good, when vintage hunting?
LORI: Flea markets are a treasure trove for vintage hunters, and not only that – it’s really thrilling to search through the stalls just in case you find a hidden gem. When I first started out it was still possible to find cheap but good quality vintage pieces in thrift stores, but they’ve cottoned onto the market now and prices have shot up accordingly. Vintage shops tend to be split into two categories now. High end shops selling rarer pieces from the 1920’s and 1930’s – and if you’re after something really special then I think it’s worth the money to buy something you will never ever find anywhere else. But sometimes the high end shops can be a bit ridiculous, and I’ve seen clothes that are, to be frank, not at all rare and not that special being sold for hugely inflated prices. It makes me really cross.
And then you have the other end of the market – the thrift stores, which tend to sell later pieces, think 1970’s tops, polyester, and a load of denim. Cheap, cheerful, ever wearable clothes, but you’re unlikely to find anything really special. American eBay is also pretty good. I’m based in the UK, and prices for vintage clothes on eBay here can be a bit nuts – and you have no guarantee of the quality of what you’re buying for those silly prices (watch out for things listed as ‘vintage style,’ because that’s just another way of saying ‘repro.’) When it comes to quality, if you have the item in your hands then give it a thorough check – is the stitching in good shape? Is it damaged/stained? And if the fabric feels cheap, then it probably is. Oh, and try it on!
INHABITOTS: How about the fit of vintage clothing? And returns policies?
LORI: If you wear vintage clothing it becomes evident pretty quickly just how much our bodies have changed over the years. In terms of children’s vintage clothes, kids have got an awful lot bigger in the last 40 years! I give an approximate size when I list the item, and include accurate measurements. I cannot stress enough how important it is to check those measurements! I don’t think many vintage stores accept returns because of fit issues, but the great thing about the vintage market is it’s really easy to sell something on and make your money back.
INHABITOTS: Do you also look for toys and other baby gear?
LORI: I do sell toys occasionally through Lori and the Caravan, but only as collector’s pieces or decorative objects. My partner is an antiques dealer and has a big collection of antique toys. They look great, but are kept up high, out of reach of little hands! There are some great modern eco toys on the market.
INHABITOTS: How do parents know that ‘old’ items are safe and nontoxic additions to their child’s repertoire… everyone loves the retro/vintage look but now many companies offer new items with that vibe. It would be greener to buy an actual vintage item, so what’s the selling point there?
LORI: It’s a tricky one, because essentially parents don’t know. The toys I sell tend to be rarer collector’s items and are not being bought to be played with – I don’t think anyone is going to buy a Steiff teddy and then give it to their kid to be bashed about. A lot of it comes down to common sense. If a toy is covered in lead paint, then you definitely don’t want your baby chewing on it. There are some beautiful wooden/older style toys on the market. It’s a trend I certainly approve of. But I do think vintage additions, upcycled items and vintage toys can add a real sense of style to a nursery if you’re after a particularly vintage-inspired look, so there is a place for them outside the realm of collectors and specialist dealers.
INHABITOTS: What’s the future for vintage clothing?
LORI: The market has grown an incredible amount since I started wearing vintage clothes 15 years ago, in fact it’s pretty unrecognizable. A lot of stores now incorporate a vintage section and I think we might see more of that. There are more and more vintage events too – huge markets and celebrations of retro style and culture, and I think that scene is only going to grow. My concern is the prices, which are creeping up all the time. I worry the vintage market will begin to lose its accessibility as time goes on. The high end vintage shops are already way out of most people’s budgets, and I do worry how sustainable the current market is in the long term. That’s why I’ve really tried to keep the prices in my shop as reasonable as possible. I think vintage clothes are beautiful, so I want everyone to be able to buy them. I’m trying to share the love!
INHABITOTS: Does your child like to dress in vintage? What’s his favorite piece? What do you hope to instil in him re: ethically aware clothing choices?
Arthur is only one year-old, so at the moment I have absolute control over his wardrobe, and long may it continue! He does wear vintage clothes – he has an excellent collection of vintage dungarees, but I have to be very strict with myself. Vintage boys clothes are hard to come by (and when I see Arthur tumbling around the garden, and up to his knees in mud at every opportunity, I understand why), so I try not to keep too much back for him. We haven’t bought many new clothes for him though, he wears a lot of secondhand clothes, a lot of hand me downs, and a lot of homemade pieces. Even when we do buy new, we tend to buy online rather than in stores. There are loads of online shops selling creative and uniquely stylish kids clothes out there, often run by talented mums and dads who were unimpressed with what was out there for their own children. It’s a great market to tap into.
I really hope I teach him the importance of sustainable and ethical fashion. I’m a very political person, and former trade unionist, so the working conditions in which clothes are produced is a particular concern of mine. His dad’s very into sustainability too, so Arthur can’t really escape it, and I’m really grateful for that!
All children’s clothing items pictured are available in Lori’s shop.