vintage shopping tips

10 easy tips to master thrift store shopping + L Train Vintage Shopping Haul

In an age where sustainability is taking a stronger stance over fast fashion, thrifting for vintage clothes can be a genius option.  Not only are you helping the environment, but you are also crafting a more individual style.

But vintage shopping is not without its’ trials and tribulations. We all have heard horror stories (or been the person who experienced such horror) while trying to thrift for clothes.

So, I’ve compiled a list of tips for vintage shopping to ensure you get what you want and make the most of this untapped fashion resource.

Personally, I find the most successful fashion outfits combine a polarizing concept. Meaning they include high-end items with low-end items or vintage items with fast fashion.  The balance of this combination usually creates a more dynamic and on-trend outfit.

What is the difference between vintage clothing and thrifted clothing?

So, you may be thinking that’s a distinction without a difference. But, that is untrue.  Thrifted clothing is a broader category that basically means it has had a home previously.  Vintage clothing is usually a higher-end item from a previous decade that has stood the test of time.

So while we are not going to focus on the differences for this article, being aware of their definitions is important to properly search for places and items you want.

Vintage items tend to be of higher quality and cost more because of their historical longevity and design. So if you are vintage shopping and find something you love, it may be worth spending the extra money to have it tailored or fixed. Whereas if you are buying thrifted items, they are probably not worth the added expense.

tips for vintage shopping

So here are my tips for vintage shopping:

1. Learn your local thrift stores, or hone your list of favorite vintage stores.

Part of finding the perfect, most lust-worthy vintage items is choosing a place that has the content you seek. And while I will provide a list of a few favorites in NYC, ultimately you need to explore your own town.  Start by googling thrift stores in your area and making a list.  Even if it doesn’t sound great, go and check them all out.  If you do this you will start to see trends emerge and can accurately narrow down a place. 

TIP: Some of these thrift stores will have reviews online, and while I suggest you read them you should take them with a grain of salt.  Shopping for thrift items is a hit or miss topic for people so read the reviews and evaluate after you have personally gone to the store. 

Learning your thrift stores, allows you to go to the right place when you are looking for that perfect vintage item.  Similarly, if you went to a sushi place when you were craving pizza, you would be disappointed.  So learn the stores and find which ones serve you best.

2.  Feel the fabric, access the garment

Assuming you are shopping in person, you have to feel the fabric and examine the garment. Check zippers and closures and buttons and make sure all are there and working.  Check the tags to see where the item is made ( “made in the USA” is a good sign it is vintage). 

Check for damage or moth holes, which can be a major deal-breaker and sometimes overlooked by even the nicest stores. 

3.  Don’t rush the process

Thrifting and vintage shopping is not something you can do easily under pressure.  Don’t assume that you will find the perfect dress for your date later by just popping into the first vintage store you find.

Once you learn the territory and the local stores you can set your expectations more accurately but my personal strategy for vintage and thrift shopping is to go frequently but with no set agenda.

Visiting the stores frequently helps me get the first impression advantage and avoids the pressure of “settling”.

4.  Check the tags, but try it on.

Vintage and thrifted pieces have been worn and loved and shrunk.  Vintage item sizing tends to be a bit different than modern sizing, so the tag may say size 8 but it will actually fit closer to a modern size 4. 

So when you go vintage shopping, try wearing something easy and form-fitting so that you can throw that dress on and make sure it fits like a glove.

5.  If it has a stain, leave it.

If the stain hasn’t come out after years of washing it, do you really think you possess the magic witchcraft to remove it?

An odor can be a different story… While we don’t all strive to buy smelly clothes, a “vintage smell” can often be removed by dry cleaners with a special deodorant.

6. Go to every section

Vintage and thrift stores are not usually organized in the same manner as big box stores and chains are. So finding those hidden gems is often about hitting every rack in the store.

Personally, I love the men’s section.  With oversized blazers trending right now, I have found my best pieces in the men’s category.  {how to wear oversized blazers} 

7. Cash is king.

A lot of thrifting locations and flea markets still operate on a cash basis.  I find going thrifting with a set amount of money and leaving the credit cards at home the easiest way to not go starry-eyed with the options.

Plus, you can usually bargain a bit if you are paying with cash.

8.  Style is personal.

Your style is your voice.  Before you are able to speak or emote, people around you have already judged and made a formation of who you are based on what you wearing.  So, take control of that voice and find your sense of style.

I bring this up because it is easy to see a girl on social media pulling off a really amazing 80’s style prom dress and think, “I want to look like that”.  And, instead of letting your own voice express yourself, you are not trying to mimic someone else’s which is not the greatest fashion strategy. 

So this tip is two-fold.

1. Look at others for inspiration but be sure anything you buy speaks to YOU.
2. If you struggle with adopting trends or finding your own style voice check out the freestyle guide below. It will help give you actionable tips on how to find your own style and why you should craft your own fashion voice.

9.  Is it worth it?

If the garment is expensive or has damage that would require alterations give yourself some time to think about it before you take the plunge.

If you buy it and never wear it or never get it altered then you’ve not only wasted money but it could also position you against thrifting again.

So don’t rush an expensive purchase.  Buying vintage can be extremely gratifying and can even be a shining light in a fast fashion wardrobe, just don’t be too hasty with the decision on each piece.

10.  Keep in mind current trends and do a bit of research

Sometimes the key to finding a treasure among duds at the thrift store is simply being up to date on popular fashion trends. 

Being aware of what is on the runways and what items are being touted as the next fashion trends can help you narrow your search slightly.

For instance, I got a great utility trench that is similar in vibe to a JW Anderson trench they exhibited recently.  The price difference is staggering, and while they are not duplicates, they exude a very similar feeling. So not only did I get a unique piece, but I also go a piece that is trendy right now. 

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Some vintage stores to check out if you are in NYC/Brooklyn

No Relation Vintage, 204 1st Ave, New York, NY 10009

Great jackets, shirts, and coats. Not a ton of vintage dresses, but affordable and a pretty decent selection for NYC.

Flamingos vintage Pound, 1444 Dekalb Ave, New York, NY 11237

It has every item but a more narrowed selection.  Great jeans, and a treasure trove for affordable vintage Levis.  You pay per pound, which can make it a steal.  I paid $12 for levis there.

Buffalo Exchange, 114 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001

A chain, but because of the area you can find some really great pieces.  Not amazing prices, but it depends on the brand name. So be sure to check the labels.

Urban Jungle L-Train Vintage, 106 Knickerbocker Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237

This place is a true treasure trove and has the best prices.. But, make sure you take your time and look at all the racks, because there is a lot to sort through.  I got 10 items for $66 hear, including a trench coat for $10.  It has a great selection for everything except shoes.

INA NYC, multiple locations check link for the options

High-end consignment shop that can have some really beautiful investment vintage items.  You won’t find a “deal” here per se, but you can find items that you will love and treasure for years to come.

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And if you want to see my vintage haul from Urban Jungle, check out the video above. 

PIN this for reference, and follow me on Pinterest!

vintage shopping tips

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