How To Buy Vintage Clothing Successfully Online & In Real Life, According To The Experts

Ashley Batz/Bustle
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Maybe it's just the age of Instagram or perhaps nostalgia for what once was, but it seems like shopping for vintage clothes is bigger than ever. Everywhere I look, I see people wearing vintage concert tees or vintage designer pieces, and on the rare occasion, I'll see someone wearing an outfit head-to-toe from another era—and pull it off, no less.

Like history, fashion has proven that it repeats itself. In the past year or so, I've seen trends from the '70s (which is what I'm personally digging at the moment), '80s (i.e., Hedi Slimane's final show for Saint Laurent), and '90s (chokers, slip dresses, fishnets, sheer tops — need I say more?). Though there's always an updated version available for the taking at the mall or online, there's nothing like the satisfaction of finding that one-of-a-kind gem after searching and hunting through racks, bins, or pages of the internet.

If you're a newbie when it comes to thrifting or vintage shopping, it can definitely be intimidating at first. Between the decades upon decades of clothes to navigate, finding a garment in good condition, learning to repurpose vintage for the modern day, and knowing what it's actually worth, vintage shopping can be a tough venture to accomplish! Fear not, however, I've asked some of the best people in the business to share their thoughts on how to score big when vintage shopping.

1. Find A Trusted Source

"When you shop on a site that acts as a middleman between buyer and seller, you can be confident in your purchase, knowing there is full transparency about any potential flaws in the product, and most items are indistinguishable from brand new," says Lindsey Martinsen, the brand style manager at thredUP, an online consignment platform. When you know that the seller is carefully curating quality pieces, you know you'll get your money's worth.

2. Be Open To Finding Hidden Gems

One of the best parts of thrifting and vintage shopping is finding something you weren't looking for, but knowing you'll cherish it. "Most of our customers treat shopping secondhand like a game, and they should — it’s really fun!" says Martinsen. "The low prices make it guilt-free, and seasoned shoppers know that good stuff is getting added to the site all the time."

Vintage shopping can be a bit hard when you're on a mission to find something specific, but when you stumble upon something out of the blue and feel like you've met your match, the feeling is priceless. Vintage dealer Jenny Tsiakals, who owns Los Angeles's Please and Thank You vintage showroom, advises to take your time and go through everything.

"It’s not so bad if you go piece by piece by piece and you literally just do it rack by rack. I touch every single piece in thrift stores that I shop at," she tells me. When it comes to finding the perfect vintage gems, patience is key. "If you are going to thrift stores, don’t give yourself anxiety, because that’s when you miss things. That’s when you miss things because you’re in such a big hurry to find the one thing," says Tsiakals.

3. Get Over The Stigma

When it comes to shopping vintage, you're going to come across gently (or heavily) loved items. "People often have an idea in their heads about what secondhand clothing is — what it feels like, looks like, smells like," said Martinsen. If you've already moved past that fact, then the world is your oyster when it comes to vintage shopping. Tsiakals tells me that going through the unwanted items is her best advice. "My trick is to go through the bins." Tsiakals goes through the discarded items a little before stores close knowing that people have already been through them and that there is also unseen items. "There aren’t as many people fighting over the same stuff, and when it’s like more calm and you can patiently, really go through every bin and find amazing stuff."

4. Be Creative About Where You're Shopping

If you're going to the same places other vintage lovers are going for their clothes, chances are you'll find less gems. Think outside the box when it comes to vintage shopping. Go to estate sales, travel outside your normal boundaries, and talk to the owners. "Don’t go through the hole that everyone else goes through to find this stuff," Tsiakals tells me. "Be creative, talk to people, stop at every garage sale...Talk to people at garage sales that are doing them. Ask them if they’ve got any old t-shirts, ask them if they’ve got any old jeans."

According to Tsiakals the people will enjoy that you're asking, and you never know, you might find that rare Rolling Stones tee you've been searching for your whole life.

5. When In Doubt, Go Online!

Part of the fun in vintage shopping is the hunt, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to let people do the hunt for you. Follow some Instagram accounts like MARKT, The Break, and more. "There are now many great online thrift stores like thredUP, that organize clothing in a way that makes it infinitely easier to sort through," Martinsen tells me. Not only will you find some featured gems on feeds and online, but you know that they'll be selling some quality items that you might not find otherwise.

6. Mix And Match To Keep Your Vintage Look Current

In order to avoid looking like you're wearing a retro costume or like you came from a reenactment, try to mix and match your vintage pieces. Just like mixing high-end and low-end pieces together to create a more original look, do the same with what you find while shopping for vintage. Know your fashion history and past trends. Tsiakals says, "In order to be current in trends and current in fashion, you have to know what happened in the past." Sure, you can pair a Victorian blouse with a Victorian skirt, but why not pair it with some Jordans from the '80s or a pair of vintage Levi's?

Tsiakals' bottom line: As long as you're comfortable and it's a reflection of you, your outfit won't look too out there. "Do it for yourself. Like have what you do, what you wear, what you buy, be a reflection of you. Don’t try to be anybody else," she tells me. "Just be yourself and let what you’re wearing express who you are. I mean that’s like the most beautiful thing about fashion, the most beautiful thing about style, don’t you think?"