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vintage dress hunting tips from an op-shop expert

vintage dress hunting tips from an op-shop expert

Find a special dress for an important cause this Frocktober.

There's something pretty darn lovely about sashaying around in your favourite frock. And although we don't always need a reason to whip out our best dress, it’s nice to make an occasion of it. Even better if you can support a good cause in the process!

The folk at Frocktober will back me on that. Every October, they encourage thrifters, makers, and fashion enthusiasts to drape themselves in a dress they cherish, all in support of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. It’s important because ovarian cancer is seriously underfunded in Australia, despite it being the most lethal cancer in women. Research suggests early detection could save more than 8,000 Australian lives over a decade. However, there is currently no early detection test available – this is why research funding is desperately needed.

As someone who treats their dresses like individual confidence capes, this year's Frocktober theme – let’s get loud – feels particularly poignant. A good dress can start conversations, evoke great memories, and help you make a mountain of new ones. Not to mention giving a voice to a silent cancer.

For me, a statement dress is my way of telling the world who I am and, well, that there isn't a print in existence that I'm not willing to clash. It’s a bonus thrill to say, "It's vintage," or "It cost five bucks."

Read on for some of my best dress-hunting tips to try before Frocktober.Make a 'to-find' list
Let’s face it, vintage rails are overwhelming. Start planning before you set foot inside an op shop by keeping a list of pieces you actually want to add to your wardrobe. This helps me to rationalise which dresses I do and don’t buy. Even if I’ve been lugging them around the shop floor for an hour...

Set up online alerts
The world of op-shopping has moved even further online since the pandemic, and with it, a few new ways to dig for dresses. Set up eBay and Depop alerts so you don't miss styles you're looking for – especially if you're hunting for certain brands or designers. I highly recommend diving into the world of secondhand on Instagram, too, including @shmonlineopshop, @_swop, and @mutualmuse. There’s also a ton of amazing, local sellers on Etsy, who you can trace back to Instagram for daily updates.Know your measurements
If you’re anything like me, dress sizes are a thing of fiction. Vintage generally runs smaller than today’s sizing, so it’s handy to know your actual measurements when shopping for pre-loved dresses online. If they’re not already listed, send the seller a message as it’s standard to provide them upfront.

Swap with mates
I’m pleased to declare the days of buying the same dress as your BFF officially over. If you’re not already borrowing frocks, start by swapping a new dress every few months. It’s a great way to mix up your wardrobe(s) and each dress gets double the wear. Woohoo!Set a price limit
While there’s usually some haggle room with vintage dresses, you will eventually meet your dream-but-overpriced-frock. It’s going to hurt and you’re going to be tempted to splurge, but having a budget will provide strength during this challenging time. A similar version will eventually come your way and it’ll be half the price!

Simple alterations
Even basic sewing skills can get you far when altering vintage dresses. Maybe you love the print, but want to shorten the hem or make it sleeveless? For semi-permanent alterations, try a belt, scarf around the waist, or the vintage world’s most unsung accessory: the humble safety pin.Choose boldly
Thrifting requires patience and perseverance, so why go to all that effort for a frock you only feel ‘so-so’ in? Instead, express your boldest self! Dream of fiercely clashing leopard print with retro florals? Get searching Etsy and heck, make some mood boards that push your style boundaries.

These spiffy tips are presented in partnership with the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation who are raising funds to develop an early detection test which could save the lives of 8000 Australian women over the next decade. Head to the Frocktober website for more ways to get loud in support of ovarian cancer research.