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Original Vintage Fashion Expo tempts wallet, inspires fashionista

February 9, 2010 | 10:30 am

Vintage expo
I had a long discussion with my Visa card before attending the Original Vintage Fashion Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Center over the weekend.  We laughed over fab times when we’d gotten bargains, cried over bad times when purchases had truly cost us. Then we made a tough decision.  We set our budget at $50, and we pledged to, well, try to stick with it.

Entering the expo is any fashion lover’s dream. Vintage Louis Vuitton luggage, Victorian gowns, antique fabrics and linens, wacky buttons, semi-vintage designer clothing, shoes, jewelry and hats that would cause “Mad Men” fanatics to get teary-eyed. 

I spoke with John Maxwell, the original partner behind the expo, who has been running the show since 1988.  Maxwell knows this is an exciting experience for just about anyone.  “Car collectors come to find goods for the year of their car. Vintage-clothes collectors come to buy outfits to wear to dances.  Folks buy museum-quality pieces they’d never think of wearing -- even movie costumers come.”  The expo takes place three times a year in Santa Monica and twice in San Francisco.

Mischa Barton and Diane Keaton are among celebs who have come for the hunt. And Victoria Beckham has been known to pop in, as well. I will say that these ladies probably have more of a chance at scoring what they want. This is not a flea market. It’s a high-end affair. The goods aren’t cheap, and haggling is not cool. I spoke to one vendor who wished to remain anonymous. She told me she collected and sold  because she loved to — not just to make a buck.  For her, it’s better to hang on to something longer and get a fair price for it as well as assuring that it goes to the right home. 

Vintageexpo But what about authenticity? How does the expo vet its dealers?  Maxwell explained: “Carefully.  When it’s a new dealer, we ask them to tell us other shows that they’ve done, and then we check with the show promoter.” Also, many of these dealers have been coming to this expo for years and have proved their trustworthiness.

And what about a record sales price? Evidently, Worth Gowns made in London from the 1860s used to be the price topper, going for $12,000 to $15,000. But two years ago, here in Santa Monica, a Texas dealer sold a simple black sheath for $21,000. It was authenticated as a Chanel from 1921. If you’ve got the bucks, there are still treasures to be found. 

My credit card and I kept to our budget. We bought a slick bow tie from the 1950s for my gentleman. Price: $19. (American Apparel is selling non-vintage versions for $19!) And for me, a luscious celluloid hair comb from the 1920s on sale for $30.  But come April, when the expo returns to Southern California, Maestro Visa and I are totally sitting down and having a new chat about budget. He’s not always such a stiff. If you’re reasonable, he can be quite a card. 

For more information about the Original Vintage Fashion Expo and when it’s coming to your neck of the woods, visit VintageExpo.com.  You’ll also find discount coupons for admission on the website. 

-- Julie Neigher

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Photos: At top, hats, hats and more hats. Second, a scene from the floor of the expo. Credit: Julie Neigher

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