Vintage Clothing 101 – How to Shop Oldies But Goodies

Vintage clothing. Where to start? What was once a fairly niche way to buy clothes—at least in a fashion sense—is now a huge and multi-faceted industry that has redefined how many of us look at clothing. Shopping vintage provides an opportunity to find rare, unique, and high-quality pieces, as well as offering a more sustainable way to buy clothing often at affordable prices.

If you’ve been shopping vintage for a while, you will have undoubtedly picked up a few gems that have got you hooked. If you haven’t—you may not have been looking in the right places, or in the right ways. If you’re looking to start thrifting or vintage shopping regularly, we’ve put together this primer on the fundamentals of vintage clothing.

Types of Vintage Clothing Outlets

Image via SF Chronicle

Not all venues for vintage are created equal! Here are the spots you may encounter on your vintage hunt:

Specialty Stores and Boutiques

The best places to buy well-curated, quality vintage clothing. A good quality vintage boutique will typically be owned by someone passionate about vintage goods, with the experience and connections needed to obtain top drawer vintage stock. Boutiques tend to be more curated and drilled down—some may even have a specialty i.e. WWII militaria or French workwear. You will be able to ask the owner or boutique staff about the garments and their age/rarity and get an understanding of the garment. Other, more general vintage stores may be a bit more chaotic or chock-full, with less knowledgeable staff, but they will still have some gems to be uncovered.

If you’re new to the vintage scene and unsure what to look for, try stopping into one of these stores to get a sense of what’s out there and what appeals to you.

Vintage Sections in High Street Stores

Some high street and mall stores like Urban Outfitters have begun to introduce vintage sections. They will typically only feature vintage versions of on-trend items, though often at a higher markup.

Vintage Fairs and Pop-ups

Vintage resellers and stores will gather for larger fairs and flea markets like the Rose Bowl Flea, Inspiration LA, Viva Las Vegas, or A Current Affair in New York. Smaller local pop-ups are also likely to be found near wherever you live. These can be a great opportunity to see a lot of different pieces from a variety of sellers all in one place.

Online Stores

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of online vintage stores on Etsy, eBay, or independent websites. Much like brick-and-mortar stores, the quality and service of these outlets will depend on the management and staff. Always ask for measurements before purchasing to avoid sizing errors (vintage clothing can be washed out or shrunk so the tag size isn’t always accurate).

Thrift Stores

The good ol’ thrift. Not a devoted vintage outlet, but with regular attendance to your local thrift, you will find some good stuff.

Garage Sales and Estate Sales

Pull up and see if there are any good vintage bits among the DVDs, snowshoes, and creepy doll collections. Some of the best deals and best finds can be had at estate sales, just get there early!

The ‘Hand Feel’ Test – How to Scan Clothing

Image via Community Thrift Store

n less curated outlets, there can be an ocean of product—over 95% of which may be forgettable. A way to navigate packed rails of clothing is to quickly thumb through the rail or run your hand along the garments to pick out anything that feels good quality or different. This will help you to separate the wheat from the chaff. You can also do this with your eyes if you’re a bit more experienced in typical fabrics or patterns.

This may sound crazy, but nowadays, 9 times out of 10 I can tell a Polo Ralph Laurenoxford shirt or a Pendleton woolen on a packed clothing rail plaid just from glancing at the arm or feeling it briefly. The same goes for Woolrich jackets and Champion Reverse Weave sweatshirts—you just get a general feel as time goes on.

This method isn’t all about becoming familiar, though, it’s also about discovering something you don’t recognize at all—an unbranded piece or a stunner form a label you’ve never seen or heard of. That can be the real thrill of vintage shopping.

Details To Check and Look Out For

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Labels can tell a lot about a garment’s age. In some cases, it can date it to the year! You can consider the features of a label to tell if some