The Beginner’s Guide To Vintage Shopping

Vintage hunting 101

Are you a vintage novice looking to build your personal collection, and not sure where to start? Well, lucky for you, we’re here to help.

The world of vintage shopping can be quite overwhelming. What’s the difference between a vintage store and a consignment shop? Where’s the best place to score vintage Levi cutoffs aka vintage clothing’s equivalent of gold? These are just some of the questions you may be asking yourself.

We reached out to two vintage shop owners to give us the low-down and teach us how to get the most out of our shopping experience. Sara Villard is the owner of Worship, a vintage boutique with L.A. and Brooklyn, New York, storefronts (with shoppable Instagram accounts for both) that not only sells vintage and consignment goods but also buys from and trades with its customers. Rodelle Bas is the owner of Adored Vintage, an online and Portland, Oregon-based shop selling a mix of vintage and vintage-inspired pieces.

Both vintage enthusiasts offered us their expertise on how to get started building a vintage collection of our own. From deciphering where we should be shopping to how to care for our purchases, we’ll all be vintage experts in no time.

First up, what kind of stores should you hit? In short, it all depends on what you’re looking to get out of your shopping experience. Are you looking for an ‘80s sequined top? An authentic flapper dress? How much are you willing to spend? How long are you willing to dig for? Both Villard and Bas broke down the basics, below:

True vintage stores: This one is pretty self-explanatory; vintage stores will sell only vintage. You won’t find modern pieces mixed in here, as you would in some of the store types below. However, whether prices are high or low will depend on the shop itself.

Consignment shops: Consignment shops will not necessarily just sell vintage, but will be a mix of modern and throwback items. However, as Villard points out, they tend to carry much better quality items and have better finds, so they’re definitely worth exploring.

Thrift stores: Again, thrift stores can have a mix of new and old, depending on the shop. However, they tend to have quite a huge selection to choose from, if that’s what you’re looking for (or avoiding). Bas mentions that they tend to carry a lot of pieces from the ‘90s, which, up until recently, was sacrilegious to consider as vintage.

Estate sales: According to Bas, estate sales (or when the belongings of a family or estate are liquidated) can be hit or miss, but when they’re good, they can be good. Villard points out that they can be great places to score vintage or antique jewelry.

Flea markets: If you’re not looking to dig, a flea market may be a good choice for you. Bas mentions that many of the vendors will do some sourcing and curate beforehand, so their selection will likely be pretty solid. Villard mentions that flea markets tend to have great vintage denim selections.

Villard suggests beginning by exploring the vintage stores in your area. “From there, you can expand your knowledge and start looking into thrift stores for the diamonds in the rough,” she says. She also suggests following Instagram feeds of vintage stores, so you can a feel for what's out there.

Shopping online for vintage is a total game-changer; places like Etsy, eBay, online shops, and even Instagram open up a whole new world of vintage shopping if your nearby brick-and-mortar options aren’t the greatest. It most certainly takes away the tactile joy of the hunt, but if you have something specific in mind and don't want to spend hours sifting through racks, it might be the best option for you. “A simple search for the right keywords will bring you a plethora of options,” says Bas.

Still, since you won’t be able to try anything on, you should have your measurements ready. “Take the measurements of garments you already own that fit you well and compare them to the measurements given in online listings,” says Bas. “This will save you a lot of sizing issues, I promise! Always ask for additional measurements if you’re feeling iffy.” Keep in mind that some online shops won’t do returns, so you’ll want to examine the measurements pretty closely, especially if it’s a pricier piece.

The area where you live, or in which you’re shopping, will determine what kind of vintage you’ll find, as well as how things are priced. According to Villard, you’ll find high-quality (thus more expensive) vintage in cities, but if you’re looking to score big on quantity and lower prices, venture into smaller towns to check out their local thrift stores.

Whether you live in a city or a smaller town, nothing can be more fun than going on a thrifting road trip with friends. “Research online forums and discussions about where to get the best finds in each town before you venture out,” says Villard. “Shopping local businesses, like Worship, help to sustain the little guys and get you your goods without the hassle.”

Before you make any purchase, it’s important to make sure you know what you’re buying. You want to make sure you’re actually buying a vintage piece of the specific era listed, and not a modern “vintage knockoff,” and that you’re paying a fair price for what it is.

First things first, look at tags. You’ll usually be able to tell pretty quickly, based on the label, whether the brand is current or from another time. “There’s definitely a lot of throwback lines, but you can start to tell them apart after some experience,” says Villard. Also check the care label to find out what it’s made of, thus further confirming the quality you should expect.

Next, inspect the actual garment. Take note of the quality and construction to determine whether the piece is authentically vintage. Also make note of any damages, from stains to holes and pinpricks, which may affect the price if it’s not already marked as is. “Of course, these sort of things aren’t the be-all and end-all for determining whether or not you should buy a piece of vintage clothing,” says Bas. “It should be understood vintage clothing means it was previously worn and loved—and that means a couple of flaws here and there.

Unless you’re doing your vintage shopping online, you never really know gems (or lack thereof) you’re going to come across.

Bas recommends approaching vintage shopping with an open mind. “I never look for anything too specific when hunting for vintage,” she says. “I try to keep myself open to the possibility of finding anything that will resonate with me and my shop’s aesthetic.” Of course, it’s okay to have a general idea of what you want but allow yourself to look through everything on the racks, rather than pick through them with a tunnel vision as you search for that perfect '60s wiggle dress. You might find your interest sparked by something that's totally not what you originally had in mind. And that's exciting.

Of course, once you start building your unique collection of vintage, you’ll need to learn how to properly care for each piece. Bas shares some of her expert advice with us:

When it comes to cleaning? Make sure you know what you’re dealing with. “If the piece already looks incredibly delicate, don’t do anything to it,” she says. “Water and soap may shorten the life of that item even more. The same goes for dry cleaning, as some fabrics cannot stand the harsh chemicals.”

If you’re dealing with anything cotton from the '50s and on, you’re likely good to go in terms of throwing the piece in the dryer. Note that oil stains will never come out, so Bas suggests either dyeing the garment (if that’s possible) or living with it.

Also, Bas notes that when you’re handling certain delicate pieces (whether in your closet or in a shop), you should be sure to remove any rings, so not to accidentally snag and damage the fabric.

Bas also shares a clever closet trick to keep your vintage (and your modern clothes) safely stored: Place a bundle of lavender and bay leaves in your closet. These herbs will keep moths and silverfish, which feed on wool and silk, at bay and your clothes smelling fresh.