How to Source Great Vintage Linens
Do you collection napkins? I do, and my favorite kind are vintage. Vintage table linens are napkins, tablecloths, placemats and cocktail napkins that range in age from antique (more than 50 years old) to vintage (10 - 40 years old). Whichever time period they come from, many items are manufactured in year priors can add a certain zing to your table, either through color, interesting stitching, fabric quality, or dye-cutting that are sometimes not found with contemporary linens. The answer lies with cultural and social norms around eating and dining. Up until the 1950's when fast food, drive through, and dining out became more mainstream, dining, meals, and entertaining were common and time and attention was given to setting a lovely table with real linens, even for everyday. Napkins, tablecloths, placemats, and runners - linens were collected and used everyday as part of normal routines.
Today, while cloth napkins are plentiful, there are good reasons to seek out vintage. The vintage variety are often a little more fanciful or considered. Also anything vintage or antique is a sustainable, eco-conscious, green product. You can read more about sustainable linens here. And another very good thing - pricing on vintage is very reasonable. It is possible to get a great napkin collection going of vintage napkins for very little investment.
There are many items available at the Goodwill, thrift store, or garage sale, so knowing what to look for it key. This article by Uplifted Beauty gives a great overview of what to look for when buying vintage. Here is my advice:
1. Shop Quality
Before you do some serious hunting, check out the shop first. Do some due diligence on the store you wish to frequent. There are some consignment or thrift stores in my neighborhood that always have a great selection of vintage table linens and then others that never do. Find out who shops at the store? Who mostly makes donations? What condition are the items in general? These basic questions will give you a framework for assessing if this store will carry the kind of items you are looking for.
2. Selection and Inventory
Look at the inventory of home linens when you get to the shop. By eyeballing it, you can get a feel for the types of linens they resell and the general quality of these items. If the shop seems to specialize in other things - like clothing - for example, then this shop might not be on the list for optimal vintage finds. With selection, you also want to get a sense of how fast the items turnover, and if donations come in continually. If yes on both, chances are you will be able to find nice linens new in the shop each time you come.
When you are going through all the options, check first for quality. Since you are looking through aged or used items, quality is key. Look carefully at the napkins on both sides. Does the fabric have holes, worn areas or snags? Are these areas very noticeable? Next look for stains or blemishes on the fabric. Most often, these stains are permanent so it's best to purchase a napkin with snags or stains. When you use these napkins, the last thing you want is a napkin with a stain smack in the middle of your table arrangement.
This is the subjective part and the most fun. What delights you? What colors are you looking for? How does the fabric feel? All these play a part in your final selection, and if the quality and price are good, then go for it. Before you know it, you'll have more napkins than you know what to do with. A very good problem to have.
I think that sourcing and buying vintage is a way to join the sustainability trend while procuring high quality items at an affordable price. There really is no downside to shopping this way. In the next couple of months at Modernplum, you'll see us offering vintage in addition to our regular table linen items, so if you can't get to the thrift store, then come here and you can view our latest and revolving collections of vintage. If you can attend some flea markets or thrift stores, I hope you have a blast finding some gems.