Just because you got it cheap don't mean you ain't got to have it fitted. A good alterations tailor is your best friend.
My personal style is frumpier than it should be, and that fact that I am a natural born cheapskate seems to play a role in this situation. Your emphasis on "affordable" appeals to me, and I've always loved thrift stores. So I am right there with you when you report on the $7.53 you spent on a handmade vintage jacket!
My question is: when you spend less than $10 on an article of vintage clothing, do you then end up spending $50 getting it fixed up and tailored to fit properly? How does this factor into purchasing decisions?
An excellent question, to be sure.
Not so long ago, it was understood that "off the rack" clothing was something meant to be altered. It was good stuff, made to a standard. But no reputable shop would allow the customer to leave with his purchase on the spot. Men knew that when they bought a jacket or a suit, they would expect to pick it up properly fitted at least a week to ten days later.
These days we live in a culture of instant gratification. This has innumerable unfortunate side effects, none the least of which is men running around in badly fitted clothing.
A man should always have his clothes properly fitted. This applies as much if not more in the case of cheap old stuff, as we discuss it here.
When I find an old gem and try it on, I always have one eye on the alterations. I know what can't be altered: the shoulders. Any jacket that doesn't fit your shoulders is not worth buying at any price, as it will never be comfortable. I also know what can be altered.
Sleeves can always be altered, within reason. Shortening sleeves an inch or so is a fairly commonplace alteration at the local dry cleaners costing between $12-$15 many places. Lengthening sleeves is no more difficult an operation, but it is trickier. Old clothes can leave a line where an old hem was, so watch out for this. The same principle applies to trousers: shortening is easy, lengthening is tricky.
Side seams can always be taken in, but may show a mark is you let them out. As always, look for clothing of quality that has clearly been well cared for by it's previous owner.
As for money: If I find a beautiful garment for a buck or two, I will gladly spend up to $60 on alterations. The way I figure, $2 purchase + $40 alteration= really nice jacket that fits like a glove for $42. You could buy a crappy Chinese sweatshop jacket from the Gap for twice as much in size S M L in the mall. Need I say more?
Regardless of where and how you buy your clothes and what you spend on them, I do wholeheartedly recommend that any man find a good alterations tailor he can trust. Make a friend of him, because even though you may be the one with an eye for quality and a bargain, in the end he will be the one to make you look really good.
p.s. the Shop is bursting at the seams! See it.