Buyer's Guide to the Top Vintage Fashion Designers

Buying vintage fashions is sustainable and gives you a chance to buy a designer brand at a fraction of the price of when it was brand new.

Chanel shoes

A pair of Chanel two tone slingback shoes with bows sold at Lawrences of Bletchingley for £170 in September 2022.

Some items even come with the labels and boxes too.

So first off, what is vintage, what is retro and what is pre-owned? Sometimes these labels are used interchangeably but usually it is understood that vintage is between 50-100 years old (any older than 100 years old and it is usually classed as antique) while retro usually means up to about 50 years old. Pre-owned or pre-loved means the item was owned (and usually) used by someone else before you – second-hand goods.

Vintage fashion encompasses clothes and shoes as well as accessories.

Top tips: how to buy genuine vintage clothing


Think about what era or style you like. Some people prefer 1920s flapper dresses, other lust after 1950s Dior evening gowns, while others crave an 1980s vibe of shoulder pads and pencil skirts. Once you know what style you are keen on, do research about the designers that were popular in that era. Often rarer pieces from big designer names are highly sought after and prices will reflect that.

Logo/ label

Check the logo and labels and research what labels were typically used in that era the item purports to be from. Note any reference numbers or codes to give an idea of whether it is genuine. Also look at the style of the text, the spacing and the where the item was made to give you an idea of whether it is genuine.


In certain eras different types of leather or materials were used so it is worth remembering that in some periods, such as the 1980s, some brands used cheaper materials than they do now. Conversely some of the materils used in the early to mid-20th century are better quality than the comparable item made now. It is worth searching online for similar items and comparing.


As with many second-hand goods, condition is important. Even if the item is from a luxury brand if the condition is very poor it is worth considering whether it is worth buying. For much older items the condition is often expected to be slightly poorer than more recent finds. Buy what you are comfortable with.


There are the big brand names to look out for as well as some now largely forgotten names that were popular during their era.

Dior skirt suit

A 1980s-early 1990s leather skirt suit by Christian Dior sold at Ewbank’s in July 2022 for £260.

Many vintage items are most desirable when they have a celebrity link. For instance, Marilyn Monroe’s record-breaking ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress sold for $4.8m (including premium) at Julien’s Auction in Los Angeles in 2016.

Brands such as Chanel and Christian Dior are the ‘holy grail’ for vintage fashion enthusiasts and usually come at a price, particularly for examples from the 1950s-60s. But there is a long list of brands from France, Italy, Spain, UK the US and further afield.


Known for: The double C logo and the little black dress

Christian Dior

Known for: Its "New Look" featuring full skirts


Known for: The “Double-G” monogram and the Gucci stripe (two green stripes surrounded by a single red bar).

Louis Vuitton

Known for: The LV monogram across its designs from bags to luggage


Known for: Silk scarves and equestrian motif


Known for: Dressing Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's


Known for: Trench coat and check motif

Giorgio Armani

Known for: Luxurious ready-to-wear style

Alexander McQueen

Known for: Rebellious creations such as extreme low rise trousers

Yves Saint Laurent

Known for: Trouser suits

Vivienne Westwood

Known for: Punk sensibilities

Ralph Lauren

Known for: Preppy style

McQueen dress

This Angels and Demons Grinling Gibbons stretch dress is from the Alexander McQueen’s autumn/winter 2010 collection and was his last collection. Designer Lee Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was a British fashion designer and couturier. He founded his own Alexander McQueen label in 1992 and formed a partnership with Gucci Group in 1999. This dress sold for £300 at Bonhams in March 2022.

But one of the cheapest ways to buy designer fashion is a scarf. The top labels have produced these for decades and they can be picked up at auction for as little as £80.

For buying handbags check out our latest designer handbag guide.

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