With the popularity of "Mad Men" bringing the retro look around again both on the runways and at the mall, there's never been a better time to hit the vintage racks.
Los Angeles is the epicenter of the vintage clothing universe, with dealers who are almost as famous as the designers who come to them for inspiration. Anna Sui, Christopher Bailey, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen are among those who have been spotted trolling the stylish time capsules that are Decades, Resurrection and The Way We Wore, rifling through Thierry Mugler, Halston and Ungaro to inspect the drape of a gown or placement of a pleat.
It's Hollywood's celebrity stylists who brushed the dust off vintage and made it chic nearly a decade ago, when they turned to fashion's archives for one-of-a-kind red carpet gems for their clients. Remember the 1982 black-and-white Valentino gown Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars in 2001? Or the strapless 1950s Jean Desses number, in a dreamy canary yellow, that Renée Zellweger wore down the same red carpet?
It's no wonder L.A. has become the place to find that perfect period piece.
But vintage isn't just for the lucky few. It can be more affordable than buying something new off a department store rack. A distinctive '50s coat, '70s belt or '80s clutch is an easy way to light up your existing wardrobe. It's all about finding the unique piece to last not just one season but forever.
Vintage is a great value, especially when you're buying designer labels the second time around, says Doris Raymond, owner of The Way We Wore (334 S. LA Brea Ave., (323) 937-0878. www.thewaywewore.com). "The quality and attention to detail would be way too expensive to reproduce today."
Just make sure your overall look isn't stuck in the past. Let one vintage piece shine to give a boost to the basics already in your closet. "Wearing vintage from top to bottom can be too 'time-warpy,' " Raymond says. "The key is to be fashion-forward, not fashion-backward."
Unless you're on "Mad Men," of course. Christina Hendricks, the show's sexy secretary Joan Holloway, knows better than anyone how clothes can transport a person to another time and place. But she's also a lifelong lover of wearing vintage in her everyday life. Using her as our model, we chose several vintage pieces that fit today's trends to show how this fall, second-hand makes sense.
Magsaysay is a Times staff writer.