5 Insider Tips for Going Vintage Shopping

Long before the days of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” vintage stores have been a great way for style conscious guys to find cool, unique threads and accessories. For second-hand savants, vintage and thrift shopping is easy: They know the best hot spots and, through trial and error, have developed a surefire system to scoring some sweet swag. As for newbies? Not so much. If the seemingly endless rows of racks aren’t enough to send any frugal first-timer into a full-fledged panic attack, not knowing basic vintage shopping protocol will. Need some pointers? Read on for our insider tips.

1. Have an open mind

vintage clothing at a thrift store

You can find great clothes at more than just a department store. | iStock.com

As you will soon see, dear vintage virgin, stores usually have a wide variety of garments and accessories to pillage through. While you may think it’s more efficient to narrow down your search to one specific type of clothing (such as shirts), the truth is you won’t be making the most out of your experience.

“You have to walk in with an open mind,” says Ben, a project manager at a tech company in New York. “You never know what kinds of treasures may be there that day.”

Sure, flipping through each rack may require a lot of time, but isn’t the whole point of vintage shopping finding something different from what’s available everywhere else? Since it’s very rare that you’re going to find the clothing item of your dreams on the first rack, make sure to set aside some time for this endeavor. And, if you’re looking for something as specific as a white dress shirt, perhaps you may have more luck at a department store, where there are loads of options (in your size) to choose from.

2. Don’t focus on brand names

male clothing and shoes

Don’t just buy brand name vintage clothing. | iStock.com

The rumors are true: Vintage and thrift stores often boasts designer duds at a fraction of the price. While it’s easy to get swept away by 50 dollar Valentino and Giorgio Armani pieces, we recommend falling in love with the item itself before the label.

“Designer doesn’t mean it will be great, it’s just a label” says Ramsey Musk, a Cape Cod-based student and artist. “I really look mostly at quality, and what I can do with it.”

Instead, think about the piece beyond the label. Does it fit well? Do you like the material? Will you actually wear it? If finding luxe pieces is your number one priority, check out websites such as The RealReal that are filled to the brim with covetable labels.

3. Only buy items you love, no matter the price

Man shopping for clothes

Always go for clothes you love. | iStock.com

Whether you’re at a Goodwill or uppity, highly-curated vintage store, second hand shopping is a great way to find interesting pieces at an affordable price. But at some point, we are all guilty of buying something just because it was unbelievably inexpensive. But in reality, that’s a major vintage shopping sin.

“I will never buy anything at a thrift or vintage store unless I really love it,” says Ben. “It’s too easy to buy a bunch of junk that you only kind of like and probably will never wear.”

Just because  a set of MC Hammer-worthy harem pants are only five dollars doesn’t mean you’ll wear these next Halloween (or ever, if we’re being honest). And in the spirit of what’s one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, you may be inadvertently taking that cheap jacket you’ll never actually wear away from someone who would love it. Before snagging some affordable finds, think about where and how you’ll wear each piece. If you can think of three occasions that you’d actually wear the garment in question, proceed and purchase! If not? Back to the rack it goes.

4. Use your discretion with the wears and tears

Cloth Needle and Thread

If the clothes are torn or worn out, do you really need them?  | iStock.com

While you may find some vintage garb that’s in pristine condition, the truth is that most items have experienced some wear and tear before hitting the rack (it’s called second hand for a reason). Some damages — like a ripped seam or questionable stains — should be deemed insta-deal breakers; however, don’t eliminate a great piece just because it’s missing a button. Instead, use your discretion.

“If it’s something minor that I can fix, then no problem,” says Musk. “But if it’s something that is too far gone, forget it.”

A tailor can easily readjust the hemline of a pair of pants or add a button to a blazer, but check out our clothing repair hacks for a crash course in sartorial DIY.

5. No haggling (most of the time)

Father and son looking at phones

Don’t be cheap. | Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

So you’ve (hopefully) found a selection of amazing clothes and accessories, what’s next? Negotiating that T-shirt from five dollars down to two? Not necessarily.

“I think I have haggled some things, but nothing crazy,” Musk admits. “I found a Supreme hat that I think was suppose to be two dollars, and the two old ladies were gossiping behind the counter and haggled the price down for me. But generally, I don’t.”

Let’s remember that you’re buying pieces from an established store, not a street vendor. Haggling the price may work if a store is having a liquidation sale and desperate to get rid of their merchandise; however, it may offend the store owner or attendant if you’re trying to pay less for an already affordable find, which isn’t good if you’re looking to shop there regularly. Be ready to pay the listed price in most scenarios, but use your discretion on whether an item can be bargained down.

Follow Kelsey on Twitter @KMulvs