I used to be intimidated by the rows and rows (and rows) of absolute junk that go hand-in-hand with vintage shopping. Flea markets are basically garage sales but bigger, dirtier, and a heck of a lot scarier. First of all, they generally take place in the summer. While this might seem reasonable, find me after twenty minutes in the sun on a 90º day walking around a parking lot filled with a whole lot of nothing and ask me how I feel? It won’t be pleasant. Second, they are almost always insanely crowded. Isn’t shopping supposed to be relaxing? Think again. Lastly, it takes a lot (and I mean A LOT) of time and patience to find something that is actually worth buying; but trust me, when you do, it’ll all be worth it.
Other than scoring treasures at sample sales without being mauled, vintage shopping is probably the most difficult feat in all of fashion. Lately I have been exploring Los Angeles and hitting up every flea market, vintage shop, and thrift store that I came across in hopes of 1. overcoming the dread as outlined above and 2. scoring one-of-a-kind fashion. Instead of keeping my tips (and the hidden treasures I unearthed) to myself, I have decided to share the wealth to help you find the perfect vintage whatever wherever you go.
Know what you’re looking for. Think about how you accomplish anything in your everyday life—do you just aimlessly roam around blindly until something happens? I seriously doubt it. So why go about shopping with that mentality? Do your research; whether it be online or in your own closet. What’s worth the splurge? What do you need? These are the kind of questions that will get your started in the right direction.
Size only sometimes matters. If something is way too small, don’t buy it; however, too big is only sometimes an issue. Finding something spectacular that’s a few sizes too large just calls for a good tailor and a little imagination. This tip especially refers to jackets, trousers, and denim. If a tailor is out of your price range, think about belting the piece to fit better.
Always try on. If you see something that you like but aren’t totally sure how it’ll fit or look on you, just try it on. Nothing’s worse than missing out on something great because you too lazy to step in the dressing room. Moreover, ask the shop attendant or curator. They’re trained to know how something should fit and what will go with what. They’re a lot more willing to help than a busy sales associate at a fast fashion store. Take advantage of that.
Never skip the shoes and bag sections. Manufacturing has changed since the 1950s and ’60s. While a pair of shoes or a bag that you bought five years ago has already fallen completely apart, vintage footwear and purses were almost always handmade and constructed to last. There are tons of styles and sizes out there if you’re willing to look and I can almost guarantee that they’ll last you a lot longer than most affordable items that you’d buy new.
Vintage orange-red pocket book, $18.00, Purchased at Ragg Mopp Vintage (Photo via @elizagracehuber).
Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. One of the best parts about vintage shopping is having the opportunity to experiment with another decade and style of dress. 70s fashion might be “in style” but there’s a big difference between authentic ’70s attire and what Zara or H&M believes that ’70s attire is. The only way to truly embrace a decade’s style is to be a little daring and find the real thing.
It wasn’t easy to learn all of this without a helping hand. Trust me, I have time and time again failed to find anything worth while, or worse, way overspent on something mediocre. Thankfully, just like everything else, practice makes perfect.
What are your tried-and-true tips to vintage shopping? Let us know in the comments below!