How to Navigate a Vintage Store in 60 Seconds

Goodwill can be a goldmine.

In 60 Seconds
vintage store shopping tips
There’s a definite list of pros and cons when it comes to vintage shopping; on the one hand, there’s the sorting through racks-on-racks of musty clothing (and possibly leaving empty handed), on the other, you could score one-of-a-kind Halston on a whim. It takes dedication, and it goes without saying that true vintage shopping is not for everyone. But for most collectors, finding that one unicorn piece every once in awhile makes the hunt all worthwhile. Herein we lay down our road map for navigating the sometimes treacherous piles of previously loved (sometimes too much, if you know what we mean) clothing. Whether it’s an expertly curated consignment boutique or your local Salvation Army, there’s a method to the archival CHANEL madness. Happy hunting!


1. Be Strategic

If you don’t have time to rip off layers of clothing and put in work in the dressing room, head straight for accessories. Think: shoes, jewelry and bags—all of which don’t require stripping down in a debatably hygienic changing room. If you’re really keen on clothing, go for coats and sweaters that can be layered onto whatever you’re wearing.

2. Know Your Labels

This is especially true if you’re on the hunt for designer pieces. Think about it this way: if you’re searching through a million hangers of black jackets, spotting that vintage Yves Saint Laurent label hidden amongst the racks is going to be much harder when you have no idea what it looked like in the ’60s. Do some quick Google research before you head out, or go to some well-curated designer boutiques and get familiar. Otherwise you might pass over—or worse get scammed—on some good finds.

3. Don’t Overlook Menswear

Belts, sweaters, button-down shirts, and even shoes are go-to unisex pieces. Size down if you need to and keep any eye out for clothes that fit well with a more androgynous fit. You’ll be surprised at what you can find and we’ve found that the selection is usually much larger in the men’s section.

4. Buy All the T-shirts

This one is a no-brainer, especially at donation-fueled stores. Most are rife with dozens of tees that evoke all the memories of your youth (just like the ones sold for a cool hundred dollar in some of your favorite boutiques) that are already perfectly worn in. And, chances are a lot of people shopping at your parents’ suburban Goodwill aren’t familiar with Vetements, so maybe a DHL shirt is in your future.

5. Look Off-season

Consignment stores typically take donations year round, while the majority of people shop in season. Major scores are abound during spring cleaning—a.k.a tons of closet donations. Meaning, you’re better off searching for a wool coat or chunky cable knit sweater in June, rather than October, and it might be your best find yet.

6. Bring a Friend

The key here being that said friend knows your style but doesn’t have the same style as you. You don’t want to end up rocks-paper-scissoring over that pair of size 8 Gucci’s. But shopping with someone who knows your aesthetic is crazy beneficial—think of it as a divide-and-conquer scenario, they can pull things for you and vice versa.

7. Consider Alterations

Look past the size and fit. Try it on, see if it has potential and then evaluate if it’s actually worth the purchase, plus cost of taking it in. If you find a sick Pucci dress, take it to your tailor—they can make magic happen.

8. Patience is a Virtue

This is more like lesson #1: digging for vintage treasures takes commitment. A lot of stores aren’t sorted consistently (or even at all). You have to be in the mindset to just look through one section at a time. Nine times out of ten you’ll dedicate time and still come out empty-handed. But, when you score, you know it will be worth it.

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