Tribune senior correspondent
March 4, 2010
We all want to be a standout. Sure, we'd love to be recognized for our brilliance, professional achievements, sparkling conversation and multiple virtues.
Good luck with that.
But for starters, why not go for standout status in an easier area: style and fashion. All you need is a piece or two of eye-catching vintage costume jewelry.
Acquiring unique jewelry from the '40s, '50s and '60s (and sometimes '70s and '80s) has been my obsession for decades. Everything on this page is from my years of shopping for bargains from coast to coast.
Unlike a lot of collections, this one doesn't take up much room in your house (or in your luggage if you uncover a gem or two in your travels). The hunt for new finds is great fun. And instead of sitting there getting dusty on a shelf, you get to wear your collection.
Also: The vintage stuff (if you stay away from the rare, collectible and signed jewelry) is inexpensive. In fact, old costume jewelry often is cheaper (and more interesting) than buying new.
OK, I confess to going way overboard in the earrings department. But I almost never pay more than $20 a pair and often less than $5. My necklaces cost $40 tops. And brooches? The fish on this page still has the $35 price tag on the back, but I bargained it down to $20.
Have I got your attention?
"The one thing my customers tell me is, ‘Everybody loved the piece I bought,' or, ‘I got so many compliments," says Dave Mayer, who for 20 years has been selling vintage costume jewelry at Millsboro Bazaar in a converted funeral home on Main Street in tiny Millsboro, Del. It's one of my most cherished frugal finds. I once spent seven straight hours shopping there.
Beware, this hobby is highly addictive.
Your vintage costume jewelry primer
Most important tip: Buy what you will love wearing. Getting started: A good basic wardrobe includes rhinestone and colorful earrings (almost all are clip, not pierced); bead and colored stone necklaces; bracelets; statement brooches. Where to look: Antique and vintage shops, antique malls, church bazaars, flea markets, thrift and consignment stores, eBay.com, etsy.com, rubylane.com Warnings!! Don't buy damaged or broken: Repair costs often exceed initial cost. Try on necklaces, bracelets. Women were smaller back them. Some won't fit. Are earring clips strong, don't pinch? Converting to pierced is almost always too costly. Brooches: Need a working pin back and safety catch. Make sure necklace and bracelet clasps stay closed. Check for missing, cloudy, broken stones; worn, rusty, flaking finishes; frayed string on beaded necklaces. Repairs: Replacement stones and E6000 glue, firemountaingems.com; mrstones.com or bead and craft shops. (No Super Glue — it discolors.) Learn more: "Collecting Costume Jewelry 101" (also "202" and "303") by Julia C. Carroll; "American Costume Jewelry: Art & Industry" by Roberto Brunalti and Carla Ginelli Brunalti; Costume Jewelry Collectors International, costume jewelrycollectors.com (membership and quarterly newsletters, $25 annually); completed listings on eBay (click "advance search") How to organize and store it: A tall dresser with color-coded drawers is one obsessive's solution. Author/collector Julia Carroll recommends keeping jewelry dry in cardboard jewelry boxes with cotton and advises against hanging pins or necklaces.