“Where do you get all your stuff?”
I get this question All. The. Time. So does every other vintage seller I know!
My stock answer is… Everywhere! I’m never not looking for good vintage pieces.
The reality is there is not just one place I pick up vintage clothes for resale, no magical warehouse of treasures where I can simply place an order. The thing is, I get the vintage clothing I sell from the same places you can get them, too!
Now before I delve into where you can buy a vintage outfit, I gotta set your expectations appropriately. Because it’s pretty darn rare to find exactly what you’re looking for, exactly when you’re looking for it, in exactly the size and condition you’re after. Like I said before, I’m never not looking and the hunt is most enjoyable (and most fruitful) when you keep an open mind.
Where you end up shopping for vintage, whether it’s clothing or decor or whatever, will depend a lot on your goals and your budget. If you’re shopping for vintage pieces to resell, you’ll want to pay less and may be willing to do more cleaning and repairs, whereas if you’re shopping for a vintage dress to wear for a special occasion this weekend, you’re probably willing to pay more for that perfect frock. Here are five places to hunt for vintage – and what you might expect from each type of place!
1. Shopping at “The Bins” (Thrift Store Outlet)
Calling this type of thrift store “The Bins” is a bit of a colloquialism, but one that seems to be used in many regions, at least in the US. I’ve also heard them called “rag bins” and the thrift store chain Goodwill refers to them as Outlet Stores. The Bins are literally just that… bins. Big giant bins full of everything dumped in heaps with only (maybe!) the slightest organization in that some bins are full of cloth items, some full of glass, and shoes and books may be found in their own bins. To shop the bins you really have to love the thrill of the hunt, have plenty of time, and have a high tolerance for frustration (some days are better than others!) and strong stomach. Why a strong stomach? I’ve literally found dirty undies and dishes with food stuck to them. It’s gross. I wear gloves. The payoff is when you do find the good stuff, it’s remarkably cheap! Many of these store sell by the pound, and some have a price drop if you have over a certain weight in your cart. The ones I go to are under $2 per pound and most clothes don’t weigh much so this is generally the cheapest way to go – bust also the most work. Be sure to look everything over before you buy as there’s no returns and you want to be sure you can fix or clean whatever needs it.
2. Finding Vintage Clothes at a Thrift Store
Depending on where you live, thrift stores may also be called charity shops or op shops. They are often run by charities, non-profit organizations, or churches – but not always! There is a HUGE range of pricing and organization when it comes to thrift stores so you’ll likely end up with a few favourites. It’s easy to get lost in the racks and spend a long time in a thrift store “just in case”, but with a bit of practice, you can peruse the shelves and clothing racks quickly. While these won’t be as cheap as the Bins, good deals can still be found. Out of thousands of articles of clothing hanging on the racks, you’ll be lucky to find a single true vintage garment. It’s not the most efficient place to buy (especially for resale) but if you’ve got the time and patience – and can’t stomach digging through bins – it can still pay off. You’ll still want to give everything you’ve chosen a once over to check for damage, sometimes you can get a price discounted if an item is damaged and wasn’t priced accordingly. Many also have special discount days or tag colours, getting you an even better deal!
3. Estate Sale Shopping
I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with estate sales, but that’s probably because I’ve worked both sides of them. Yup, over the years I’ve shopped at countless sales to find things for my shop (and for myself, for that matter) and I’ve also set up and run them for clients. Check your local listings on estate sale sites where you’ll often find descriptions and pictures so you can weed out the ones that aren’t your style, but also don’t be afraid to pop in any you might randomly be driving by cuz you never know what you’ll find! I’ve noticed that different areas have wildly different norms when it comes to how estate sales operate, and different companies have their own set of norms as well. It may take awhile, but you’ll likely end up with favourites (and non-favourites) in your area. Some sales are well organized and nicely displayed and can almost have a boutique feel, and others are literal heaps and boxes and involve lots of digging and dust. Pricing also varies wildly, from dirt cheap to full retail, so it pays to go in with some knowledge of value (or a phone to look it up) so you don’t get swept up in the moment and overpay. Sales can be suuuper competitive, too! Some may have a line at the door that starts queuing in the wee hours of the morning, and I have been shoved, knocked down, and had things ripped from my hands by, well, jerks obviously. I’ve also seen grown-ass adults get in screaming matches with both customers and the estate sale employees. Don’t be that guy! Most don’t discount at the beginning, but on the last day or in the last hours, you can sometimes wheel and deal more. My motto here is “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In short, just be a kind human and remember the ghost of the the estate is watching you. 😉
4. Local Vintage Shops in Your Town
Shopping in brick and mortar vintage shops can be the most fun and rewarding way to find vintage clothing! It combines the thrill of the hunt with much more curation (and often great ambiance) compared to the places listed above. Many are run by a small business owner who hand selects the available pieces and you’ll notice a certain vibe, like a thread that connects everything they sell. Others may be more of a “mall” style with different vintage vendors represented throughout, either with well defined booths or somehow indicated on the tags. Some are tiny little tucked away shops and some are huge. The benefit here is if you’re looking for a vintage outfit in a particular style or color, the salespeople are usually pretty knowledgeable about their stock and are happy to help you find something – and might even surprise you by pulling something out that wasn’t yet on the sales floor! If you’re looking to buy for resale, it’s definitely less likely here, but also not impossible – especially depending on location. A little shop in a little town typically can’t ask the same prices as a posh shop in a larger city. My personal rule for buying for resale from an actual vintage shop is to pay their full price; it’s just good karma! (And the flipside is I have zero problem selling to other dealers when they pay my full price, too!) The other great aspect of shopping in-person at vintage shops is where there is one, there are often many so you can make a day of it if you want! Plus you’re supporting small local businesses, and they (we!) need and appreciate it!
5. How to Buy Vintage Online
Buying vintage online is often the most expensive option (though deals can certainly be found!) but it’s also the most likely place to have exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a purple 60s mini dress, you can just type those words in and voila! You’ll have loads of listings to look through! Granted, there’s still some searching involved to get the right size and just the right *whatever* you’re after, but it’s a whole lot more likely to find it here than in a random bin or thrift shop! When shopping for vintage online, you want to have clear knowledge of your measurements, as well as the measurements of clothes that fit you well. (Yes, these are different measurements! You want to be able to move and breathe in your “new” vintage clothes!) While Ebay and Etsy are well-known marketplaces to shop for vintage, remember that lots of vintage sellers have their own websites as well, and often have better pricing on their own sites or on their IG feeds. I always do a quick google search for the seller when I find a vintage piece I want on one of the big “E” sites and buy directly whenever possible, that way the seller doesn’t have to pay the fees and overhead to a corporation. And you can throw them a bone by telling people their shop name instead of saying you “found it on Etsy”. Etsy doesn’t need the free publicity, but the person that sold you that awesome vintage dress probably does!
As you can see, there are plenty of options when it comes to buying vintage! Some take a little more time and finesse than others – and all are more involved than hitting a big box store – but you’re sure to find treasures once you start looking. And you’re likely to find things you didn’t even know you were looking for! Plus, buying vintage is eco-friendly (hey, everything that doesn’t sell at the Bins literally heads to a landfill) and you get to express your individuality more, too! Comment and let me know your favourite way to shop for vintage!