by Sydney Stone
Is it better to buy vintage clothing than new? I certainly think so. It’s definitely better for the environment. Plus, it’s fun to wear rare unique vintage pieces that nobody else is wearing. I also love wearing clothes that have a sense of history. That’s why shopping for vintage clothing is my jam. It’s my favorite pastime.
I live in New York’s Hudson Valley, where I have access to an abundance of incredible thrift and consignment shops throughout the area. I also spend a huge chunk of my time in Manhattan, which has its own share of unique vintage clothing stores, although they tend to be a lot more expensive than the ones here in the valley.
As a self-described “thrift-a-holic,” I’m not ashamed to admit that at least half of my designer vintage wardrobe has been acquired through thrifting. I’ve even managed to turn my love of thrift and consignment shopping into a little side business. I always find incredible pieces when I go vintage shopping, but they aren’t always my size. I buy them anyway, and then I resell them through my Shop Stylaphile Vintage store so that some other vintage lover can enjoy them.
I’ve learned a lot about how to buy vintage clothing during my decades of treasure hunting, so I thought I’d share a few tips for vintage shopping. Here are five thoughts on how to shop for vintage clothes without going broke!
Tip #1: Search for vintage clothing stores in your area.
Before you get started, you might be asking yourself, “what is vintage clothing anyway?” Simply put, for something to be considered vintage, it needs to be at least 20 years old.
Now that you know what it is, you have to figure out where to buy vintage clothing. Do a Google search of thrift and consignment stores in your area and make a list of the ones you want to visit. Depending on your budget, you may want to visit more consignment than thrift stores or vice-versa. Consignment stores have higher-end designer vintage items and you’ll pay a bit more, but the clothes are usually in excellent condition and the stores are neatly organized. With thrift stores, you’ll need to carefully inspect each garment before purchasing.
Make sure to check out the store hours before you go. I’ve found operating hours vary with a lot of shops. Some of them are closed on Wednesdays (there’s a reason for that…I’ll get to it later in this post) and some are closed on Sundays. Others are open 7 days a week.
Once you have your list, map out your route according to location so that you’re not driving all over town. Once you get the hang of shopping for vintage clothes in person, you’ll be ready to check out some of the best online vintage stores as well. (There are tons! Just do a Google search and you’ll see.)
Tip #2: Get into the right frame of mind.
You know how people tell you not to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry? Well, I’m telling you not to go vintage shopping if you are looking for one particular item, because you’ll end up wasting a lot of time. The key is to think of vintage shopping as a treasure hunt. You’re open to any type of discovery.
When you’re looking for a specific item – say a vintage dress, vintage hat, or vintage bag – your tendency will be to head straight for those particular sections. If you don’t find what you came for, you may leave without looking through the rest of the store. That’s a huge mistake. We all know that people don’t always put things back in the right place, so your dream vintage boho dress could just be hiding on another rack.
You have to be prepared to go through every rack, piece by piece. That’s how you discover hidden treasures that you didn’t even know you were looking for. That’s exactly how to find rare designer vintage clothing. I’ve scored vintage Dolce & Gabbana skirts, vintage Halston ultrasuede dresses, vintage 70s Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses, and even a rare vintage Gucci jacket using this method.
The key to scoring amazing vintage fashions is to think of yourself as a pirate. And this is a vintage treasure hunt.
Tip #3: Go when the vintage stores are the least crowded.
I buy a ton of items from my local Salvation Army store, but you won’t catch me there on a Wednesday. Why? Because on Wednesdays, everything in the store is half-price. The store is so crowded and noisy that it’s just not worth it to me. It’s like going to Walmart on a Saturday or going shopping on Black Friday.
I mentioned previously that a lot of the consignment places in my area are closed on Wednesdays. That’s because all of the owners are at Salvation Army shopping for half-price bargains to resell in their own stores. So you know what I do? I hit the store on Tuesday, when it’s dead. Plus, I get access to all the newer merchandise before everyone floods the store on half-price day.
I always try to go between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, because that seems to be the least crowded. You’ll have to visit the vintage stores in your area at different times to see what works for you. Maybe you’re one of those people that doesn’t mind crowds. In that case, you should definitely check out any shops offering “half-price” days and you’ll end up saving even more money.
Tip #4: Dress appropriately.
I never try on clothes. Ever. I’ve been a (somewhat) professional vintage shopper for so long now that I can usually look at a garment and tell whether or not it will fit me. And since I have the online vintage shop, I buy everything that I like, whether it’s my size or not. If it doesn’t fit me, it gets sold on Shop Stylaphile.
If you don’t have an experienced eye when it comes to vintage clothing fit, be prepared to try things on, since most of the items in thrift and consignment shops are final sale. It’s important to wear something that is easy to get in and out of in the dressing room. I’d suggest a base outfit of leggings and a tank top so you can slip things on and off in the aisles. (I used to do this myself every year at the Barney’s Warehouse Annual Sale!. Ah, Barney’s. RIP.)
And even I, the stiletto-loving queen, wear flats or sneakers whenever I go shopping for vintage clothes. Comfort is always key.
Tip #5: Have patience.
So, you’ve found a vintage shop, and you’re in the right frame of mind and dressed appropriately. Now you may be standing there in the store asking yourself, “what should I look for when shopping for vintage?”
The real key to finding the most amazing vintage clothes is to take your time and be patient. As I mentioned above, you have to go through each and every piece…every single rack. This is how you find the good stuff. Over time and with a little research, you’ll be able to tell what’s true vintage and what’s not, based on the look of the garment , the fabric, the construction and stitching, and the garment tags. (Always look for vintage union labels.)
Sometimes the store racks are so jammed full that it’s hard to shop. But don’t let this derail you. No matter how hard it is to sift through, just remember that Sophia Amoruso, founder of NastyGal, found a Chanel jacket in a thrift store for $8 and then turned around and sold it for $1,000!
Patience definitely pays off when it comes to vintage shopping. And life, for that matter.
In conclusion, you don’t need a masterclass on vintage clothing in order to find some really great pieces in your area. One of my best thrift shopping tips is simply to enjoy the process and make it your own. How you do vintage shopping may look different from how others do vintage shopping. And that’s okay. You do you.