In case you haven’t heard, vintage/thrift shopping is no longer solely an occupation for teenagers, hipsters, and the working poor. There’s treasure to be found between the moth eaten racks of secondhand goods, if only you take the time to look.
But not everybody has the luxury of time; so before you go diving headfirst into musty racks of mismatched material, read EveryGuyed’s Guide to Buying Vintage.
When shopping in secondhand stores, the most important thing is to keep your wits about you. Yes, nearly everything can be had at ridiculously low prices, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth having in your wardrobe.
Have a clear goal in mind when you’re vintage shopping, consider a few items you want, and don’t just buy whatever strikes your eye in the moment.
Where Are You Shopping?
Not all secondhand shops are created equal…
Charity / Thrift Shops
Your standard Goodwill and Salvation Army shops, these stores accept donations, and sell for extremely modest prices. These operate as charities, and their primary goals are to provide clothing for the poor, and earn enough to pay for their overhead. Any excess is donated to the charity operating the store, and any unsold merchandise is shipped to the needy in other countries.
Pros: The prices here are the most favorable, giving them most of their appeal. The money spent here goes towards a great cause. There’s never a lack of variety.
Cons: It’s like a treasure hunt. Pieces might be damaged. Quality pieces can be few and far between, and require scrounging through a lot of things you don’t want.
Vintage shops are privately owned boutiques and shops catering to specific customers. A vintage shop might specialize in clothing from a specific era or in a particular style. Charging a premium for having done some of the searching on your behalf, these stores are often more expensive.
Pros: Improved selection, these stores usually take a lot of the challenge out of vintage shopping.
Cons: Vintage stores are out to make a profit, and this is reflected in the price. For vintage pieces, you may end up paying even more than original retail value, as items might now even be classified as ‘collector’s items’.
Consignment shops generally buy anything you’re selling, and resell them at slightly below retail value. Running on the same pricing scheme as used CD stores, these stores will buy your Levi’s for $20, and sell them for $40, while the Levi’s store will sell a new pair for $80.
Pros: The costs are moderate, and the pieces are generally all in fairly good condition.
Cons: Top quality pieces or truly unique pieces are generally rare here. Mostly out of style pieces from midrange retailers like Abercrombie and The Gap; everything the average person wants to get rid of.
Does this item smell? Is that cigarette stain visible? Will that stain come out? People tend to rationalize flaws when they’re shopping secondhand, but there are no excuse even at the most minimal prices. Wearability and functionality should be your primary concerns.
You need to be aware of how and when you’re going to be wearing this item, and if it shows its age.
Make sure the piece is congruent with your image, and not an item you couldn’t otherwise find new with little difference in cost. A red flannel shirt or a pair of Levi’s 501s are available new nearly anywhere and at a range of prices, so it’s probably not worth your time searching for common goods if you can afford them new: a vintage Princeton dining club sweater however, would be far more worthy of your attention.
Consider your needs and wants before you go – the type of item you’re looking for and the amount of money you intend to spend will affect where you’re looking.
- Charity shops charge the least and have the widest variety and selection of goods, but quality can be an issue.
- Vintage shops charge the most but have the most specific collections, usually in very good condition.
- Consignment shops are a combination of new and thrift: charging moderate prices for what are often more common pieces.
- Be careful about the items you buy – returns don’t happen, and damaged goods often get sold to careless customers.
- Carefully consider your purchases, don’t buy anything you aren’t absolutely sure you’re going to wear regularly.
- Few things fashion are as satisfying as scoring an amazing vintage piece at a great price;
you’re not always going to succeed, but there are amazing items to be had at equally amazing prices for those that take the time to find them.
Shopping vintage can be a difficult and rewarding process. Part of that process, however, involves bragging about great finds. Hit the comments box below and tell us about some of your own great finds