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Karen Elson's and Liz Goldwyn's Guide to Scoring Amazing Vintage Clothes

Model Karen Elson and filmmaker Liz Goldwyn give us their best tips for vintage shopping (spoiler: the Internet is key).
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I love the look of vintage pieces, but I'm not much of a vintage shopper. Combing through all the clothes and jewelry is rather daunting and a true test of patience. But this is not so for model Karen Elson and filmmaker Liz Goldwyn, who just collaborated with Moda Operandi on their now-shoppable “Vintage Vanguard” collection for Moda'Operandi, which benefits the Dress for Success charity.

The two went through their extensive personal collections of vintage clothes and tapped a few of their favorite designers (Zac Posen, Narciso Rodriguez, Eddie Borgo, Jason Wu, Suno and more) to re-imagine the pieces. The end result is a set of stunning new creations that still remarkably have that vintage feel, even though they're actually brand new.

The collection launched last week on Moda'Operandi, but as with most vintage, there's nothing like seeing it up close. And so, a handful of editors and industry notables like Zac Posen, Hamish Bowles, Karlie Kloss and Derek Blasberg, got the opportunity to do so at the Jane Hotel in New York Monday evening, where Elson and Goldwyn displayed several looks from the collection, which were up for silent auction that night.

The pieces were indeed something to behold -- most were taken with Zac Posen's sparkly sequin and tulle ball gown, prominently displayed in the center of the event space. I was partial to a sweet little Suno dress with a yellow bodice, striped skirt and Peter Pan collar, dripping with Swarovski crystals.

I couldn't help but wonder how Elson and Goldwyn managed to collect so many wonderful vintage things, while I usually come out of thrift stores empty-handed. I caught up with the pair to get a few vintage shopping tips, and to learn a little bit more about the story behind the clothes.

How did you choose the items you wanted to be reworked?

Elson: We thought about the designers specifically. Liz and I collectively have a rather large vintage archive, that we've been building for me -- and for [Liz] -- over a decade.

Goldwyn: More than that!

Elson: Right. So when we came up with this project, we thought about the designers specifically, and gave them five to six pieces of our vintage for them to choose. We gave them specifics, not so much of what to do...

Goldwyn: We wanted to choose clothes based on their style, so we chose designers with which we have a personal relationship.

Is there any piece that you have a special memory tied to?

Goldwyn: All of them, but there's a caftan over there, the pink and black one. That's Narciso Rodriguez, and it's a remake of a caftan that belonged to a close friend of my family that passed away last year. She was a big style icon and Hollywood hostess, and was a fit model for Claire McCardell and Rudi Gernreich back in the day. So to have her memory live on, and to have it sold at a charity, she'd be very pleased. We've lived a lot of life in these clothes!

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Elson: Yes we have! Like that Rag & Bone dress, for instance. That was one of my dresses that I've had for years, and I was wearing it at the Glastonbury Music Festival this year. It's my "festival look." I wanted it to look Days of Heaven, like the movie. I was thinking about Rag & Bone, and something about them encapsulates that spirit, so I felt like it would be a really nice dress for them to do.

Do you have any tips for vintage shoppers?

Elson: I would say research online.

Goldwyn: Etsy and eBay, Google; look at search terms for what you're looking for. If you see something in a magazine, and I do this all the time -- I look at the collections, and I think "Oh, that's kind of got a 1960s Ricky Riccardo gingham vibe," so I'll look up "1960s gingham pink dress." Honestly, you can find things for a fraction of the cost, and if you buy something online for $10, $15 dollars and it doesn't fit... no big loss!

Elson: Even with the stores, read up on them, and see what other people think. You can always get that sort of information online.

Goldwyn: One other tip is if you're looking in a flea market or a thrift store, take the waist of a garment and hold it around your neck -- that's how you tell if it's gonna fit, if you don't want to be bothered with going to the dressing room.

Elson: I didn't even know that! I like that tip, that's good!

Because this is benefitting Dress for Success, I was wondering if you had any advice to give women who are dressing for a job interview?

Goldwyn: Not being overly sexual. I think you should pick something that makes you feel confident and powerful. Personally, when I'm working in a situation or at a corporation with a lot of men, I like to wear orange and red, because I feel like it makes me seem more powerful. I think it's really important to feel good about what you're wearing when you're going in to get a job. Also: minimal makeup, not too much bling, because then you can't negotiate your pay.

Elson: At the same time, in order to feel powerful, it's got to be simplified, but still chic. Strong, but not overdone. Not too much makeup, not too much cleavage, as she said, no crazy jewelry.

Goldwyn: It's not your wedding day, you're representing your best self. I like to wear really nice lingerie underneath, because that gives me personal confidence. When I'm negotiating a big business deal it's good to know that...

Elson: You're naughty underneath!