How I Shop for Vintage Clothes

taeden hall

I love vintage and old clothing, pieces with a story make up much of my wardrobe these days. I wander vintage and thrift stores a few times a month, sometimes I find amazing things other times I don’t find anything at all. Part of the fun of thrifting is not knowing what will appear. Vintage is a great way to add some truly unique personality to your wardrobe and a great low-cost way to try different styles or expand your wardrobe.

I know the process of vintage clothes shopping isn’t for everyone, it can be time consuming and if you’re new to thrifting it can feel super overwhelming so here’s a quick guide on how I vintage shop! What I look for and what I am considering when I head out on a thrifting mission.

Thrifting vs Vintage: Vintage shops tend to be curated by their staff, items are priced higher due to the effort this takes and some places specialize in formal wear or more exclusive styles. If you need a statement piece for an event or are seeking a specific era of clothing vintage shops are a great option. Thrift stores are often charity oriented and depend on direct clothing donations or buy bulk clothing by the pound from charitable services, the prices tend to be much lower than vintage stores but they can be disorganized. I like both but today I’m going to talk more about thrifting than curated vintage stores.

Make a List Ahead of Time: I always have a quick list on my phone for things I’d like to find for my wardrobe. When I was wearing lolita-inspired styles every day that was cropped cardigans and layering blouses. These days I am always hunting for unique dresses, hats, layering blouses, and fun accessories. Just knowing the things you’re hoping to find saves you from walking into a big shop and feeling buried by the rows and rows of old clothing staring back at you.

Dress For It: There’s nothing worse than finding something cool you’d love to try on when you’re wearing 5 layers and 8 accessories. If you’re going thrifting wear something you can change in and out of quickly so you don’t just buy things without trying them on.

vintage accessories and clothing aberfoyle antique market

Starting Point: Personally I start with dresses 95% of the time. I don’t wear pants so it’s always dresses or skirts. Pick a rack and begin sorting through the items!

Don’t Be Afraid to Explore Beyond “Your Size”: Some people get really hung up on numbers or the idea of being a “medium” etc. Tagged sizes have changed significantly since the 1970s, what was a 14 in 1975 is NOT what a 14 is now, and we all know how much this can vary from brand to brand, or even from design to design. If your thrift store’s wracks are broken down by sizes be sure to check the size section above what you usually wear and below it! Forget numbers/tags and just try things on! You’ll be surprised what works!

Tailoring is Your Friend: Almost no one fits off the rack clothing perfectly. Unless your body matches the one the manufacturer based their sizing off of you will have some fit issues. Clothes are tools for you to express yourself, have fun, or for function- there’s no shame in making them work for you however you need to. Minor things like taking up straps to raise a dress’ neckline, replacing a button, or nipping in the waist of a skirt are easy to learn and youtube is full of tutorials for these. Also it’s worth finding a tailor near you to take in jackets, shorten or hem things, repair lining, or any of the more tricky changes to clothes- spending a little extra to make that vintage dress fit you like a dream will make you enjoy it SO much more!!!

vintage chic aberfoyle antique market

What To Avoid: Stains, pilling, rips, and weird smells! If the item is stained on the rack it probably means the previous owner couldn’t get that stain out either, sometimes you’ll get lucky and oxyclean or that weird “farmers stick” will remove a mark but unless you are dying for the piece it’s best to avoid. If it’s missing a button and you’re handy with a needle and thread then go for it. Weigh the problems with the garment against how much time it’ll take to correct them, hours of effort for 1 item you don’t wholly love isn’t worth it (says the girl with the pile by her sewing desk to fix/etc). Avoid items that are obviously pilling or faded, you can promise yourself you’re gonna dye that sweater on your stove but really, you probably won’t and pilling is nearly impossible to correct.

Spotting Quality Pieces: Fast fashion mall brands don’t age well, they aren’t manufactured with that in mind so when you see those brands on thrift store racks you really need to examine them for issues. Look for natural fabrics if possible (hi, 1970s why were you so into polyester?!) such as cottons, wools, linen, etc- they’re easily cleaned and age beautifully!

Experiment!!!!: Fashion is supposed to be fun!!! Thrift shops make trying styles or shapes you wouldn’t ordinarily super easy (and provides fodder for many hilarious changeroom mirror photos).  Grab things to try on that you wouldn’t normally consider, who knows maybe you’ll find something new that you never thought of wearing but absolutely love!

Donate Your Old Clothes: Lots of thrift shops depend on direct donations of clothing and home goods or buy items by the pound from charitable sources. Some even offer discount cards for donations! It is always worth donating your clothes when you are done with them, it keeps them out of landfills and gives them a a chance to be enjoyed by someone else.


Most of all have fun!!!!! Clothes are just another way to play as an adult!


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