I’m a novice in the ways of eBay, but I’m a big fan of it – especially their Women’s Vintage Clothing section. I’ve only bought a couple of things since last summer, but vintage design inspires and delights me, so I look around the vintage clothing section every once in a while, keep my eyes open, and wait for the exact right thing at the right price. This vintage Burberry suit ticked all the boxes for me – correct measurements, good condition, beautiful color with no fading, and all three pieces included (blazer, trousers, and a pencil skirt)!
Burberry is a high fashion London brand, known for basically inventing the modern trench coat and its famous plaid material. It has a long tradition of classic British tailoring and the designers know how to work with wool. That’s why my heart jumped a little bit when I saw an eBay listing for a Burberry suit. But a little heart leap on its own is not a good enough reason to buy something – there are practical concerns to address. If I bought everything that made my heart skip a beat, I’d be very much in debt, surrounded by clothes that don’t fit me and don’t suit my stage of life. When buying vintage clothes online, there are lots of questions that need to be answered:
- Will it fit? Even if the tag size is listed, don’t trust it. Sizes have changed drastically over the years and vintage tends to run small. Also, different countries have their own sizing systems, so if the clothes were made overseas (like this suit), the sizes won’t match up. Always go by measurements. You will have to scroll all the way down to the detailed description, but it is worth it.
- Is it in good condition? A conscientious seller should list all the issues with a vintage garment (fading, spots, holes, rips, etc.), but if they don’t list issues, look carefully at all the photos and read all the way through the description. Some sellers protect themselves against buyer’s remorse by making the items non-returnable, so make sure you know all the details. Some people love a mending project, but I do not. If the buttonholes are completely shot, I know I won’t want to fix them.
- Is it is something I would actually wear? This is a big one for vintage clothes, because it is easy to buy a beautiful old piece, then feel uncomfortable wearing it in normal life. There are lots of reasons for this – maybe vintage clothing draws too much attention, or you think it looks like a costume on you, or you didn’t realize there was a distinct smell, or you’re afraid of damaging the fabric, or it really needs a girdle and a petticoat and you don’t want to wear a girdle or a petticoat – the list is long and those are all valid concerns. Whenever you buy clothes, use your head alongside your heart and don’t let your heart veto the brain vote.
- Can I afford this? The full cost of a garment doesn’t just include the upfront cost, plus shipping. Never forget to factor in the shipping. Also factor in time and money for mending and tailoring (if necessary) and dry cleaning (this might not be necessary right when it arrives, but it will probably be necessary at some point in the future). Also take a minute to think through cost-per-use. In the long run, an expensive wool coat that you wear for multiple winters costs less per use than a cute vintage dress that you wear once to a friend’s vintage-themed wedding. I’d avoid investing too much money in event-specific occasion clothes (party dresses, formal gowns, kentucky derby hats, etc.), unless you go to a lot of galas. But if you have an event coming up and you find a beautiful vintage dress that fits your budget and doesn’t have hidden costs, it could be perfect!
In the interest of seeing how versatile this suit is, I decided wear at least one element of it every day for five days. Good news – I didn’t get tired of it! What follows is photographic evidence and a little bit of commentary about what this week taught me.
Day 1: Blazer & Trousers
So this is the whole deal – a real suit. I work at an office every day, but jeans are perfectly appropriate office attire here, so a full suit looks especially businessy. Even though I read the measurements, I still wasn’t sure everything would fit me, so it was a little bit of a shock when everything did. (Such a lovely shock.)
Since this suit is from the 1980s, the fits are a little bit dated. The trousers are pleated and cuffed, the blazer is long, and the shoulders are padded. None of those are bad things, but the suit definitely does not look modern. I think the retro fit makes it look a little more unique and interesting and since it is already dated, it won’t really go out of fashion, because it isn’t in fashion now. The 1980s drew heavily on the 1940s for fashion inspiration and this suit is no exception – it looks like a post WWII Zoot Suit style. Fashions are cyclical, so even our definitions of “classic” varies from generation to generation, so this fit could be the next big trend in suiting. Then I’d be avant garde and cutting edge and all that. It’s a good thing I don’t care very much – trying to keep up with trends is exhausting.
To make it a little less formal, I paired it with my favorite floral t-shirt from Loft. It added some attitude and femininity to a look that could easily read dark and serious.
Day 2: Skirt
The skirt fits beautifully, which is amazing for a few different reasons. 1) It is a pencil skirt, a notoriously difficult kind of skirt to fit under the best of circumstances. 2) The only shaping comes from a couple of small darts in the front and back, so if those darts were even an inch off, the skirt wouldn’t fit. 3) This fabric does not stretch.
The waistband fits at my natural waist and the hem hits a little below knee length. To style it, I wanted to lighten up the color scheme, but still keep a classic look. So I wore a high-necked tan sweater, but I knew that I’d get cold with just the sweater, so I also wore a jean jacket and tights. Oh, and chunky loafers, because this look was veering a little scholastic/bookish, so why not lean into that?
I only wore the skirt once this week, but it’s going right into the outfit rotation, because a good pencil skirt is a beautiful thing.
Day 3: Blazer
One of my favorite ways to style blazers is with skinny jeans and a pullover sweater. It feels cozy, but looks very business-like and classic. As you can tell from the photos, it has been snowing all week and this combo kept me warm in the storm. Wool is amazing, isn’t it? The suit material is very high quality – thin, but structured wool for the outside, a silky navy lining inside. The seaming and construction is stellar. All the stitching looks brand new, even though it is at least 30 years old.
Day 4: Trousers
The trousers are the most dated part of the suit, but I love them. They are entirely different from anything I own. And once again, they FIT. I usually have to hem every pair of pant I buy, but this pair fits at my natural waist, then falls almost (but not quite) to the ground. Perfect length.
I usually avoid belts, but since the waistband sits at my narrowest point, it made sense to highlight that area with a belt. The pleats give plenty of room in the hip department, so tucking in a shirt doesn’t add bulk. The bulk is already there, so might as well embrace the curve! The pleats also grant me the blessing of real pockets. I really love having pockets.
If you see a pair of pleated trousers in a thrift store or a vintage store and wonder whether or not to try them, give them a try. They still might not be your thing, but don’t automatically dismiss them without trying them. These trousers make me feel very respectable and grown up and a little bit Katharine Hepburn-esque. As a woman who loves skinny jeans, these trousers made me realize that not every pair of pants needs to be tight!
Day 5: Trousers Again
The last combination should have been the blazer and the skirt, because I hadn’t done that one yet, but a full suit is too much for a Friday. I’m already made fun of for how not casual my attire is on Casual Fridays. I’ll save that very formal combination for when I want to feel put together and authoritative. So I went as casual as I could with pinstriped wool trousers – a cable-knit sweater, a stripey tee, big earrings, and hair up in messy bun.
This was an experiment to see if tucking in the shirt and wearing a belt is the only way to style these trousers. I don’t think it is the only way, but it certainly looks the best. When there is a layer over the nipped-in waistline, the trousers lose their illusion of length and the whole outfit looks wide and square. The outfit was very comfy and I enjoyed the nautical vibes going on, but if I want a casual look, I’ll wear jeans. If I want to be more formal, I’ll wear the wool trousers and tuck in my shirt.
This week was fun! The suit and the individual pieces elevated all the outfits and were surprisingly easy to style. Even if I only wear the full suit occasionally, each individual element can be mixed and matched into other outfits. It’s like knowing three guitar chords that can be arranged into tons of songs. I love versatile pieces and now I have three new ones to work with!