It's no secret that I love thrifting! Vintage thrifting can be very fun, but overwhelming, too. With some knowledge and a strategy, it's not quite as daunting as it appears.
Tip 1 - Go with an open mind. I rarely go to a vintage shop in search of something specific. I go to see what's new and unique.
Tip 2 - Go with plenty of time. Sometimes it takes at least an hour to scour through racks. Remember, in thrift and antique shops there's usually only one of each item, so you have to look more thoroughly and carefully than at a regular store.
Tip 3 - Try it on. This goes for any thrifting experience, not just vintage thrifting. Many garments look completely different on the hanger. My floral '70s maxi, for example, looked really weird on the hanger. But once I tried it on the dressing room, I loved it!
Tip 4 - Try to determine the date. Garment construction is one of the most important keys to figuring out the date of an item.
- Zippers - most vintage items between 1930 and 1970 have metal zippers with cotton twill tape. Even though plastic zippers have been around since the 1930s, they weren't used very frequently. Check out the zipper positioning, as well. In 1930s to 1950s garments, the zippers were generally positioned in the side seams. Starting in the 1960s, most zippers were place in the back seams. Before zippers were commonly used (prior to the 1930s), most garments had snaps/hooks at the side seams. Of course, an older garment could be replaced with a newer zipper, and vice versa, so consider other clues, as well.
- Seam Allowances - most garments have seam allowances that are frenched (sewn under, encasing raw edge), pinked (cut zig-zagged, reducing fraying), or serged (stitch zig-zagged, mostly preventing fraying). French seams were popular prior to the 1940s, pinked seams were popular until the 1960s, and after that, serged seams were popular. Raw seams may be found in garments that were made at home prior to the 1950s. Seam allowances and hems were also generous allowing alterations and hemming, if necessary.
- Labels - labels can tell us many things. Study the label names, font style, and graphic design. Prior to the 1960s, labels were frequently woven; after, frequently printed. Some labels may be hidden inside seams. Check for Union labels. Care labels weren't required in the US until 1972.
- Context Clues - many thrifted items I've bought have had little "left behinds" in them. A receipt or a business card, or someone's name. I go home and Google this information to see what pops up! The Vintage Fashion Guild is a great online resource. Other sites with lots of useful information: here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Tip 5 - Expect flaws. Most second-hand items, especially vintage ones, are bound to have flaws, be it stains, dirt, missing buttons/beads, or ripped seams. Some things can be fixed - perhaps a delicate hand wash could restore vibrancy, or a seam could be sewn shut. But check for fabric condition, too. Some fabrics may be too delicate to restore. If the flaws cannot be removed, decide if the price is worth it to you. For a good price, I don't mind a not-too-noticeable stain here or there and most seams and hems I can fix myself. A garment has to be in pretty bad condition (or really expensive) for me to consider passing on it.
Tip 6 - Ask for a discount. Many antique stores will offer 10% off the listed price, sometimes more. Occasionally, sellers who rent booths in shops may mark their items on sale, but that sale will not necessarily be storewide. Sometimes, I won't get any discount or shop owners will tell me they only offer a discount on items over $20. Thrift stores often run sales based on the days of the week. When I scored a Christian Dior tie for David for 80 cents, we happened to go on a Tuesday which was half-off mens' accessories day (regularly $1.60). Each store is different so you have to inquire to find out.
Tip 7 - If you're local, check out some of my frequently visited shops in the Atlanta area. These include:
- Rag-O-Rama - Little 5 Points and Sandy Springs. Modern day consignment and vintage.
- Stefan's Vintage Clothing - Little 5 Points. Not super cheap, but nice collection and well organized.
- Canton Street Antique Market - Roswell. Usually find inexpensive costume jewelry here. Really cool collection of vintage cameras.
- A Classy Clutter - Roswell. Tons of vintage costume jewelry.
- Agora - Athens. All kinds of random things.
Tip 8 - Lastly, check mom's and grandma's closet. You never know what goodies may be lurking in there. I have my mom's houndstooth coat from the 1960s that my grandma made and saved over the years! And several of my vintage items originally belonged to friends' grandmothers - they didn't want them and knowing my penchant for vintage, passed them my way.
If you know of any more Atlanta area shops I should check out, please let me know! I hope you enjoyed this guide and please show me your wonderful thrifted vintage items.