Take an iconic Yves St Laurent dress from the Sixties. Based on the linear art of Piet Mondrian, when it first came up for auction in 1993 it sold for £2,000. The clever investor then sold it again in 2011 and this time it made £28,000. Without taking buyer's premium into account, that is a return of 1,300pc.
However, although serious money can be made from vintage clothes, this is not
a conventional way to invest. It is unregulated and unless you are an expert
you could buy a worthless fake. And of course you are subject to the
vagaries of fashion: this is just as true with vintage as it is with new
The top end of vintage and antique clothing is sold at specialist auctioneers and shops. Bargains can be found in junk shops and markets, although you'll be up against experts who know what they are looking for.
[Related feature - Joanna Lumley: Why vintage clothes matter]
Kerry Taylor of Kerry Taylor Auctions is Britain's top vintage and antique clothing auctioneer. She sees many pieces every day and her experience shows that there are special items to be found everywhere.
"A man brought in a crepe dress with the very desirable label of Lanvin," she said. "It was in a bit of a state. He had paid £60 at a market we sold it for £7,000 after we researched and found images of it from 1946. A lady brought in a Twenties lace dress she'd paid £150 for. It had a tiny Chanel label in it and it sold for £25,000."
But Ms Taylor has also been shown fakes including a waistcoat that the would-be seller thought was Chanel but had just had a label sewn into it.
There are also treasures to be found in the attic. Carmen Haid of vintage
clothing specialists Atelier Mayer was recently shown a stash of unworn
Sixties items from Céline. "That was such a treasure chest,"
she said. "But mostly items have been worn."
[Related feature: Are you - quite literally - sitting on a fortune - vintage furniture prices soar]
Vintage clothing is usually taken to be at least 25 years old, while antique clothing covers items that are 100 years old or more. The most valuable pieces are evening dresses, followed by smart day dresses. Coats don't sell so well particularly furs. For handbags, look for Hermès or Chanel.
And Ms Taylor added: "Few hats command big prices, unless you have a Schiaparelli 'shoe' hat, when the sky could be the limit."
Elsa Schiaparelli is one of the most desired designers among collectors. She was working from the Twenties until the Fifties and is famous for her collaborations with the surrealists, including Salvador Dalí. "Schiaparelli was a genius," said Ms Taylor. "A gown she created with Jean Cocteau [the stage designer and dramatist] could sell for £100,000."
Other popular names to drop in antique and vintage clothing quarters include Yves St Laurent, Balenciaga, Dior and Chanel. With Yves St Laurent, his 1976 Russian collection is coveted: a dress came up for auction a few years ago and sold for £35,000.
For Chanel, early pieces under the Gabrielle Chanel label (before she changed the label to just Chanel) can sell for £10,000 plus. A Christian Dior gown from the 1947 New Look collection could cost £20,000 or more at auction.
Two lesser known prized names are Madeleine Vionnet, who was the first to cut on the bias a method that creates a great silhouette with minimal material. Find one of her embroidered gowns and you could be looking at £60,000: that's how much one of her pieces went for recently.
Paul Poiret, who was working mainly before the First World War, is very collectable: a dress could sell for £20,000 plus; when it was created 100 years ago it would have sold for about 30 guineas. It's unlikely you will find a piece by Charles Frederick Worth who was working from 1860 onwards but if you do it could be worth £20,000 or more.
Buyers of vintage and antique clothing include collectors who want the pieces for their growth potential, as well as museums. Then there are women who want to wear them stylists often pick out pieces for red carpet events for celebrities and current designers who buy them for "inspiration".
One way to make money might be to buy newer clothes. "Quality will always hold its value," says Carmen Haid. "Pieces don't need to be old. Recent items from Alexander McQueen and John Galliano are a good buy: one day they will be very valuable."
Pieces from the Eighties may not have the cachet of earlier items but they can be picked up for relatively small sums. Buying brand-new clothing is more difficult it loses value as soon as you take it out of the shop but if you think you can spot the next Schiaparelli then next month's London Fashion Week offers the chance to view the star investments of the future.
The next Kerry Taylor auction is on February 12; visit kerrytaylorauctions.com .
If buying old clothes sounds like an easy way to turn riches into rags, but you fancy a fashionable investment, what's the alternative? Juliet Schooling Latter, director of research for Chelsea Financial Services, said: "I think there are more interesting, conventional opportunities in other clothes or fashion-related areas.
"Companies such as Burberry and LVMH are doing very well in emerging markets where the consumer is still robust and growing middle classes are clamouring for Western brands."
She also likes the Rathbone Global Opportunities fund, which has holdings in LVMH, as well as auctioneers Sotheby's. This £190m fund has risen by more than 33pc over the past five years.
Size up your opportunities
- It's expected that vintage or antique clothing will have been worn but it should have been well cared for and not altered.
- Clothes of model size a UK size eight or 10 will be worth more than larger clothes.
- Research before buying: for example, the YSL label changes every decade, so make sure it matches with the age of the item.
- The biggest prices are for pieces from designers which were worn by famous people a black Emanuel gown worn by Diana, Princess of Wales sold for £192,000.
- If you buy at auction, you'll have to pay buyer's premium of around 20pc.