It’s well known to my friends and family that I like to shop vintage and thrift stores, and that somehow I get amazing deals that no one else can find. While I wish that was true, any one can find the same awesome deals I do by simply following some good rules of thumb. These tips can not only save you time looking for awesome vintage pieces, but money too.
1. Don’t shop vintage clothing stores. It seems like a great place to go to get awesome vintage pieces right? Sure, but these stores have already spent the time and money to find awesome vintage clothes, researched what they’re worth, and market to a more expensive crowd. They mark things up far higher than a store that does not specialize in vintage clothing would. You may find some spectacular, hard to find pieces at vintage clothing stores, but probably not many good deals. If you’re looking for a one-a-kind vintage prom dress and don’t want to look far, they’re your place, but you’ll pay a good penny for them. Shopping at thrift stores, church yard sales, junk shops, etc. will be more work, but will save you a lot of money. Thrift stores even usually have a “color” of tag that is half off that day or week, and you can get great items for even cheaper.
2. Look inside every garment. One I found a vintage 50’s dress that was my size, made of a cute yellow eyelet material, and was only $4. Four dollars. The only problem I had with it, was when I held it up to myself, it was way too short. I looked inside to find a price tag because it was just so cute, and when I did, I saw that it had been hemmed, and they hadn’t cut off the original material. After buying it and letting it back out, it ended up being the perfect tea-length dress and a steal of a deal. Many times vintage clothing was made to be let out and taken in so that it could be worn for a number of years, and often times made to be passed down to younger siblings once it was out grown. With some basic sewing skills, you can make a lot of vintage pieces fit even if they look too small or too big, you just need to look inside to see what is left of the original.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for a price. When I came across the pink and white floral dress above in an antique shop, I was sure it would be expensive, thinking the price would be somewhere around $40-$50, but it had no price tag. I put it back on the rack, but couldn’t get it off my mind, so I finally found the store owner and asked what the price was (often times vintage clothing has no price tag at antique stores). I was shocked when she asked if five dollars was too much. If I hadn’t have been willing to find her and ask, I would have missed out on that dress and the whole load I ended up buying there that day when I realized how cheap their prices were. Also if you’re comfortable, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Many stores have built in a few extra bucks for wiggle room on negotiating.
4. Shop during your areas off-season. I returned to the store mentioned in #3 a few months later, only to find all of their vintage clothing was now priced $30+. It’s located in a semi-touristy town with a cute town square and lots of antique stores. The first time I went, it was winter, and the town is pretty dead in the winter. When I returned in May, the prices were raised (I’m assuming), for all the tourist and business they were expecting. Come fall, prices went down again to rock bottom, even on new arrivals. If you live in a warmer climate (the South, especially), where antique stores are more frequented in the summer, you will often find that the prices are far cheaper in the late fall and winter, when they aren’t getting as much traffic. In places like New England, Utah and Colorado, you would probably want to shop during fall and spring as those aren’t their peak tourist seasons. Even small towns and stores are affected by tourist times, so think of it before you go.
5. Get to know local thrift shop and antique store owners. If you score an awesome dress at a good price in an antique store once, talk to the person at the desk, and see if they get items like that often and if they’ll call you when they do. More often than not, they will begin shopping with you in mind, and let you know when they’ve found something they think you’ll like. You’ll be getting the first look at their new pieces and have made a new friend.
Local thrift shops are usually happy to call you if they have what they think are vintage pieces come in, but you will have to go through a lot more no’s before you find the awesome yes pieces. Thrift shops often are run by volunteers who don’t have the time to pick out pieces they think you’ll love, but you will usually only pay a few dollars per item and it’s great to be the first one going through a huge bag of clothes they got when someone’s older relative passed away and they donated their entire wardrobe. I have friends who have certain stores who call them any time they get a new load of vintage pieces in. It’s not uncommon, and they’re happy to have your business regularly!
6. Inspect the quality of every garment. Even if you get an awesome 70’s shirt for only a few bucks, it’s a bummer when you get it home and it has a big hole in the back. I’ve wasted money buying items I got so excited about that I didn’t notice the massive tears or stains. Take the time to look over the clothes while you’re still in the store, and it will save you in the long run. Sometimes things can be sewn back together, but if it looks like moths got to it or it’s irreparable, it’s better to leave it than to buy something you’ll never wear.
7. Don’t be afraid of new styles. Unless you are completely dedicated to one era of clothing, if you see a style you like but think might be “too much” just try it! It can be a fun change of pace and mix-up your wardrobe a little bit. That’s one of the fun things of shopping vintage for cheap is your aren’t spending much, so you can afford to get a few crazy pieces! Accessories are a really cheap, fun way to do this, as are costume-y type pieces. I have an 80’s P.E. teacher style jog suit and a 1930’s western dress that I don’t wear often but loving owning and pull out every once in awhile just for the fun of it! Sure, they’re a little out there, but fun to have!
I didn’t build my vintage collection overnight, but I do have a lot of vintage clothing that I haven’t paid over $10 for, and I love all of my pieces, plus they’re in great shape. Wearing vintage doesn’t mean you have to have a ton of money (and most of the people who wear it don’t!), it just means taking the time to find all the amazing pieces left out there! Good luck and let me know if you have any more great vintage shopping tips!