One of the newest aids to consumer education is the Internet. When customers cross the threshold of vintage stores, chances are they've already logged onto EBay or Sotheby's to find the latest prices on logo handbags and Pucci shirts. Such vintage fashion Web sites have also created more interest by democratizing access to the clothes, their history and their current prices.
"The Internet is just going to globalize the field. I think it is going to make people want [vintage] more because they realize the uniqueness of the clothes," said Marianna Garthwaite Klaiman, senior specialist in charge of fashion at Sotheby's New York.
However, she said the Internet isn't the best vehicle for selling wearable clothing because of an obvious limitation: Customers can't try on the clothes.
"It's a great research tool," she said. "You can also start to see the market trend. As I get more people on the site and more competition, I can see certain markets build."
The Internet's instantaneous feedback helps professionals and amateurs alike. Klaiman can fine-tune prices, and sellers can pinpoint what's currently valuable and available.
Stores are also making shopping easier as owners edit their collections so that customers no longer have to wade through acres of castoffs in search of a find. Stores such as Decades, Resurrection, the Paper Bag Princess and Lily, are helping vintage clothing upgrade its identity from kitschy and campy to classy and cool, which also adds to its value.
Unlike thrift shops and ordinary vintage sellers, the upscale vintage retailers provide a point of view along with personal service, ambience and the occasional bottle of Perrier. In turn, they're attracting the famous, the fashionable and well-heeled customer who might not have given vintage a second thought a few years ago.
Celebrities, including Demi Moore, Rose McGowan and Winona Ryder, increasingly wear vintage to high-profile events, adding cachet to the look. Behind the scenes, fashion stylists have long known that a vintage item can give a celebrity or fashion photo a quirky edge. Stylist L'Wren Scott has been collecting vintage for years, originally for herself, but now to use on nearly 80%, which include Vanity Fair and other major magazine covers.
Los Angeles photographer and stylist Jonathan Skow shops at the Paper Bag Princess for his fashion and celebrity shoots to avoid cliched fashion looks.
"It's a way, as a stylist, to express something that's a little different. Every season, it seems there is a finite amount of things to shoot--the lipstick print Prada or the python Gucci dress," he said.
Vintage clothes have gained additional validity and exposure as stylists and costumers use them on sets.
"Sometimes when you have a very low budget for a movie, you go right away to the vintage sources to conserve your budget," Scott said. Now the fashionable people outside of Hollywood are doing the same thing.
"People want to wear designer-level clothing, but for a lot of people it's hard to purchase an outfit for $3,000 or $4,000," said designer Eduardo Lucero, who works with vintage fabrics. Buying a vintage designer piece "is a great way to get the look without having to spend the money. Now, the way designers are reinterpreting things, you can't tell what is vintage and what is new. If you wear a vintage skirt with a modern top, the whole outfit looks new," he said.
Vintage clothes are popular, in part, because so many "new" styles look like old designs, which are often better made.
"Good fashion never looks vintage. I've always felt that chic people mix modern clothing with vintage clothing," Silver said.
Certainly, current fashion trends bear him out. Post-minimalism, a new eclecticism has crept into fashion, especially in Los Angeles, where mixing a '60s feather-trimmed mini-dress with the latest Prada shoes or slipping a colorful Pucci print shirt under a sleek Giorgio Armani jacket can be the essence of style.
"People really love that one-of-a-kind look," said Esther Ginsberg, owner of Golyester in Los Angeles. "People who are very imaginative and free-spirited are putting things together in a very different way. And they appreciate the quality of it because manufacturers don't put that kind of quality into pieces anymore."
Vintage fan, artist Carol Sears of Bel-Air, is an example: She shopped recently wearing Chanel high-heeled boots, sleek Prada slacks, an Emanuel Ungaro Mongolian lamb vest and a sheer, $15 black thrift-shop blouse.
"I originally started wearing vintage because I couldn't afford brand names," she said.
Vintage, like any part of fashion, thrives on change.
Hard as it is to believe, the next thing is the 1980s, particularly clothes from that decade's hot designers Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Sprouse and Azzedine Alaia. Even the era's acid-wash jeans and padded-shoulder looks appear to be destined for resurrection.
"I'm dreading the whole 'Dynasty' era coming back," Ross said. "I never thought I'd see another bow blouse."
Valli Herman-Cohen can be reached at email@example.com.