My Vintage Clothing Shopping Tips

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There are two types of people when it comes to thrifting or flea markets: Those who are intimidated (or just plain grossed out) by the whole experience, or those who love nothing better than the hunt. I’m part of the latter group and while it’s helpful to go in with a plan, I’ve found that I get even better results when I beeline for something specific. I usually stick to specific categories like home or fashion so that the experience doesn’t feel too overwhelming. Summer vacations are also a great time to score big at the flea markets or thrift shops so I thought I'd share the 10 things I always look for when thrifting for clothes.

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Denim: Thrift shops are the best place to find worn-in denim. I like to look for high-waisted shorts, Levi’s 501s, denim skirts, and have even found designer skinny jeans. Levi’s are the gold standard for jeans in thrift stores and there a couple of things to search for. I look first at the red tab to check for a capital “E” in “LEvi’s." That tells me that the jeans were manufactured before 1970 so that they’re truly a vintage find. I also make sure to verify that the sizing is right for me as vintage Levi's sizes are different from modern ones. And don't be shy about embracing things that you wouldn't normally consider - I've come home with men's Levi's jeans that I've made into the ideal vintage cut-offs.

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Silk Slip Dresses: I get a lot of questions about what I wear under sheer or embroidered dresses. I have two vintage silk slip dresses (one nude and one black) that are the perfect length, color and heft. I haven’t been able to find anything comparable at a department store because modern slip dresses usually tend to be more lightweight. When at a thrift store of flea market, I look for slip dresses from the ‘70s because they commonly have a deeper v-neck cut and shorter hem to match the trend of the time.

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Soft, worn-in tees: Thrift stores and flea markets have tons of tees, but it’s weirdly difficult to find a perfectly slouchy, worn-in one. When I find one though, the fit needs to be close to perfect, because not many people take tee shirts to tailors. I look for a slight translucency to the fabric and a neck hole that has a lot of give. You can read more of my tips in this post.

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Trendy Pieces: Though I’ve bought a fair amount of basics from a flea market or thrift store, it’s also a good place to go and look for some trendier pieces that I don’t want to invest a ton of money into. Items like fringed jackets or skirts and high-waisted jeans are at the top of my list right now.

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Boots: Boots never go out of style so I like to look for classic leather boots at a discount. I’ve bought rain boots and leather boots alike, but I make sure to stick to classic styles like slouchy cowboy boots, leather knee-highs with a slightly pointy toe, or motorcycle boots. While you can also score all kinds of great sandals as well, I'm kind of creeped out by the idea of wearing someone else's shoes without socks, which is why I avoid them.

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Costume jewelry: I love ladylike costume jewelry like bright brooches, statement necklaces, and earrings and can find the most unique pieces at the flea market or thrift store. Usually in thrift shops, the jewelry is in a glass case near the register. When I spot a piece I like, I always start by looking at the quality: I feel the weight of the item, make sure there's no visible glue, check for missing jewels/rhinestones and test the clasp. Costume jewelry should be in working order, because I know myself well enough to know I won’t send it out to get fixed.

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Vintage Bag: I'm big on quirk factor for vintage bags and am always on the lookout for things like stiff doctor bags, or clutches in interesting shapes and colors. I make sure that the clasps work and am especially mindful to check for tears on the inside the lining of the bags (so that my stuff doesn’t go missing a la Carrie in Sex and the City).

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Oversized Men's Tops: Don’t discount the men’s section because I’ve found some of my favorite oversized button-downs and cardigans here. I keep an eye out for fabric labels and unique patterns (I once scored a chambray shirt with palm tree embroidery). When I love something, I do one last inside-out garment flip to catch any unseen tears or rips in the seams.

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Bright Scarves: With scarves, I mostly look for silk or rayon fabrics in great prints and colors that have a pretty sheen to them. I usually purchase square shaped ones versus rectangular because I find that it’s more versatile to wear as an accessory around my neck or tied onto my bag handle.

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Cashmere: Surprisingly enough, thrift shops and flea markets are some of the best places to buy cashmere at a much lower cost.  Vintage cashmere is often higher quality than a lot of the current versions you come across these days, so even if it's an older piece, it can still be in great condition. But moths love cashmere as much as I do, so I always run my hand along the entire sweater to make sure there are no holes. If there is a small hole, I consider whether it’s worthwhile to get it repaired, and at around a $20 fix, it still may be a no brainer.