8 Vintage Shopping Secrets That Will Turn You Into A Pro

Whether you're new to the hunt or a champion gem finder, you might have something to learn.

There are two kinds of shoppers in this world: People who gravitate to quick and easy fast-fashion trends and those of us who dare to navigate the exciting, albeit unpredictable, waters of vintage shopping. For long-time decade divers, vintage shopping can seem like second-nature. But for those out there without prior experience, the first foray into the depths of a vintage store can be overwhelming: a sea of bright colors, alien silhouettes and styles, and the, er, acquired scent of garments from past eras. Two words: Sensory. Overload.

To help you begin your journey, we chatted with Philly’s local vintage shop owners to get their expert tips and words of wisdom for how to find the coolest statement pieces, buy vintage on Instagram, and make the most of your overall experience. Happy hunting!

#1. Know the difference between secondhand vintage and thrift.
Penny-pinchers, beware: These are two are very distinct categories. While thrift merchandise comes in all conditions and typically falls in the “under $20” price range, the value of vintage often includes the effort that goes into hunting down these rare pieces. Do your homework on popular vintage labels so that you can come prepared and avoid the shock of finding out your dream clothes are out of your budget. Trust me, the time you spend arming yourself with vintage-know-how will be rewarded.

#2. Don’t feel pressured to pay in full.
If you do decide to splurge on vintage designer wear, your new worth doesn’t have to take a plunge. Layaway plans allow you to deposit a fraction of the garment’s cost upfront and pay the rest off later, so you can rest easy knowing you’ve secured your one-of-a-kind find. Ask stores if they offer this perk.

Still can’t justify spending the price? Consider this tip from Daniel, owner of Wilbur Vintage: “In my shop, I carry things as low as $5, but the value of vintage can be high. Vintage Comme des Garçons trousers for $120 might seem expensive, but it’s really very reasonable. Save yourself the trouble and money normally spent replacing fashion fast that falls apart and invest into a unique, high-quality piece that will last a lifetime.” The lesson: Quality over quantity, people.

#3. Look out for wear and tear.
Carefully examine each garment, paying close attention to points of stress — armholes, closures and cuffs. If the garment needs a little TLC, trust your local seamstress and factor that cost into the price. Not sure how much of a bill you’ll rack up? Always call and ask about pricing for zippers or seam repair. Or, ask a friend who sews for a favor and treat her to a cocktail.

#4. Find the best era for your body type.
If you have a hard time finding clothes that fit your body, perhaps going vintage is the answer. Each era has a different take on the woman’s body with styles tailored to fit these ever-changing standards. Curvier gals should seek pieces from the ’40s and ’50s, while willowy frames should take advantage of elegant, boyish 1920s silhouettes, ’60s mod, and free-flowing bohemian styles of the 1970s. “Don’t be afraid to ask for ideas or assistance. Remember it’s just clothing, not a tattoo,” suggests Malena, owner of Malena’s Vintage Boutique in West Chester. “Try something different and live a little.”

#5. Try these DIY ways of determining the quality of a vintage garment.
Vintage clothes made with special, delicate materials require as much upkeep in your closet as they did in the shop. Don’t make the rookie mistake of throwing vintage into the washer without checking the tag for care instructions. Rachel of South Street’s Raxx Vintage recommends shining older leather pieces with shoe polish and smoothing out wrinkles by laying them in between your bed’s mattress and box spring. To test the quality of a fur coat, tug gently on the hair fibers and note how much fur comes out. Too much shedding and you’d best leave it on the rack.

#6. Always try everything on and know your measurements.
Rachel divides her store up by size rather than by gender, and recommends that customers pay the most attention to fit: “Always try everything on. Typically, the older the garment is, the more random the sizing. Denim from the ’80s will be up your bellybutton while ’90s jeans will be at your hips. It’s helpful to know your measurements, so take them at home or bring a tape measure to the store.”

#7. Don’t hesitate, or that fabulous vintage piece could be “the one that got away.”
For me, the appeal of vintage is that there’s a good chance no one else will have what I have. (Hello, bragging rights.) The downside is that vintage inventory is never high and the piece of your dreams could be gone tomorrow. Typically, most shops will hold things for one to two days, but you’ll have to act fast if you want to get your hands on the good stuff. There’s nothing worse than the pain of the one that got away.

#8. Follow the store on Instagram.
It’s the best way to catch sales and brand-new store inventory before anyone else, since new merchandise is uploaded on the daily. Move fast though! (See #7.) Locals won’t be the only ones following, so the buyer pool is a whole lot bigger. To get started, check out the handles of some of Philly’s most popular vintage hotspotsMalena’s Vintage, Wilbur VintageRaxx Vintage, and find even more stores that ‘gram their goods here.