back to top
STYLE
 / 

29 Very Specific And Actually Practical Tips For Shopping For Vintage Clothes

Like Girl Boss but without your own Netflix show.

Sian Butcher / BuzzFeed

Hello, I'm Natalya and I'm a vintage fiend.

I'm super intense about vintage shopping. Like, embarrassingly intense – but it's okay, because most of my wardrobe is excellent quality vintage and I'm happy to report that I'm surprisingly not broke. And there's a lot to be said for vintage clothing – it's generally better quality, better for the environment, and so much more satisfying to shop for. I'm here to share the very specific tips and tricks I've learnt over the years for buying vintage IRL and online.
Natalya Lobanova / BuzzFeed

I'm super intense about vintage shopping. Like, embarrassingly intense – but it's okay, because most of my wardrobe is excellent quality vintage and I'm happy to report that I'm surprisingly not broke. And there's a lot to be said for vintage clothing – it's generally better quality, better for the environment, and so much more satisfying to shop for. I'm here to share the very specific tips and tricks I've learnt over the years for buying vintage IRL and online.

1. Know your measurements.

instagram.com

Size labels are useless as sizes have been fluctuating for years. What someone thinks is a size 8 might seem more like a size 10 to you. Always ask for specific measurements when shopping online and try everything on when shopping in store. It's always helpful to know your measurements both in inches and centimeters – the former is more commonly used but the latter is more precise.

2. Compare measurements to your existing clothes.

You might have a 27" waist, but that doesn't necessarily mean the jeans you should be buying should also have a 27" waist. Know the measurements of the clothes that fit you best. Also, always ask for the rise of jeans and trousers – this determines where they'll sit on your waist.
Getty Images

You might have a 27" waist, but that doesn't necessarily mean the jeans you should be buying should also have a 27" waist. Know the measurements of the clothes that fit you best. Also, always ask for the rise of jeans and trousers – this determines where they'll sit on your waist.

3. Ask for pictures of the measuring tape on the clothes themselves when shopping online.

This is quite an odd little tip, but often people will measure something laying flat on the floor. Usually things have a curved hem on top, to account for the fact that our bodies are tubular, and not just flat wide things (obviously). So, when measuring, people don’t account for the extra inch or so created by that curvature. For example, something might measure 12” across the waist measured side to side straight across, implying a 24" waist, but if you were to wind the measuring tape right around following the curve of the stitching, it’ll actually be 25” all in.
Natalya Lobanova / BuzzFeed

This is quite an odd little tip, but often people will measure something laying flat on the floor. Usually things have a curved hem on top, to account for the fact that our bodies are tubular, and not just flat wide things (obviously). So, when measuring, people don’t account for the extra inch or so created by that curvature. For example, something might measure 12” across the waist measured side to side straight across, implying a 24" waist, but if you were to wind the measuring tape right around following the curve of the stitching, it’ll actually be 25” all in.

4. Don’t discriminate where you shop.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It might sound cool to have found a beautiful jacket in a legendary vintage store in Paris, but everyone else also wants to have found a jacket in a vintage store in Paris. There are fewer people in less populated areas to rinse out the shops of cool stuff – the vintage stores in little towns are way better than the ones in big cities.

5. Always check out the vintage stores when you’re abroad.

Because I’m a nerd, every time I go on holiday, I set aside a day or two to spend almost entirely on vintage shopping. The trick is to do plenty of research beforehand, and if you can, ask your friends who are local to the area to show you their favourite spots. A friend once took me to a shop in L.A. that looked like a regular birthday party and fancy-dress shop from the outside, but actually had an incredible vintage department as well. I’d have walked right past and missed out on the most incredible carpet coat!
Natalya Lobanova / BuzzFeed

Because I’m a nerd, every time I go on holiday, I set aside a day or two to spend almost entirely on vintage shopping. The trick is to do plenty of research beforehand, and if you can, ask your friends who are local to the area to show you their favourite spots. A friend once took me to a shop in L.A. that looked like a regular birthday party and fancy-dress shop from the outside, but actually had an incredible vintage department as well. I’d have walked right past and missed out on the most incredible carpet coat!

6. Don’t be afraid to haggle.

20th Century Fox Television

To do this IRL is very un-English and embarrassing, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so suck it up and ask (politely). It's easier to do it online and in apps. On Depop, unless explicitly stated that a price is set, most users will be open to offers. It’s always worth asking eBay users if they’ll sell a Buy It Now item for less (sometimes they even have a “submit offer” option). If an item is on auction on eBay, it’s very unlikely that a seller will accept an offer, but it’s worth a shot, though usually it means you'll actually have to offer them more than the current bidding price.

7. Always play the waiting game.

EMI

You probably have a friend who seems to always come across the most incredible vintage finds, as if they’re magnetically drawn to them. Realistically, though, your friend is probably in the habit of constantly checking online and local vintage stores. Whatever it is that you want, it'll come up eventually. I've been waiting for the perfect Kate Bush red dress for, like, six years now, but I haven't lost hope yet!!

8. Ask vintage stores when they get their new stock in and check on those days.

instagram.com

You'll be first in line to get the cool stuff.

9. A highly curated vintage store will charge a premium.

instagram.com

Obviously, they'll have incredible stuff ready and waiting for you, so that's the advantage. However, if you want to find something at an affordable price, you're better off going to a kilo sale, charity shop, or a big vintage shop that sells everything indiscriminately. The curated shops charge a premium because half the work is already done for you.

10. Try to avoid vintage concessions in high street stores and go to independent stores instead.

instagram.com

They're always more expensive but rarely have particularly unique stuff. Vintage stores that are franchised are also more expensive. The best ones are the independent ones and markets, partly because the sellers will be more open to haggling and you can build a rapport with them.

11. Kilo-sales aren’t always as much of a bargain as they seem to be.

instagram.com

Kilo-sales are when you’re charged per weight of item, or simply by the combined weight of all your items. It’s easy to get carried away when it’s so cheap per kilo, but be aware that there are clothes that weigh more than that. You might end up paying way too much for something just because it’s made of a heavy but cheap material.

12. Check the composition of garments.

This is a good habit to get into when shopping in general. This way you know if you're getting a good deal or if you're being ripped off (so you don't end up paying £30 for an acrylic jumper when you could've gotten wool or cashmere for the same price).
Tarzhanova / Getty Images

This is a good habit to get into when shopping in general. This way you know if you're getting a good deal or if you're being ripped off (so you don't end up paying £30 for an acrylic jumper when you could've gotten wool or cashmere for the same price).

13. Get to know what every fabric feels like.

This one obviously that takes time, but if you pay close attention to care labels and garment composition, you will eventually learn to recognise a fabric by touch intuitively. This is a great advantage because it means you’ll be able to get premium items for a lower price; A silk dress will be much cheaper if it's missing a composition label clearly stating that it's pure silk.
_jure / Getty Images

This one obviously that takes time, but if you pay close attention to care labels and garment composition, you will eventually learn to recognise a fabric by touch intuitively. This is a great advantage because it means you’ll be able to get premium items for a lower price; A silk dress will be much cheaper if it's missing a composition label clearly stating that it's pure silk.

14. Learn how to wash every kind of fabric.

You will probably want to clean your vintage finds, and to escape a sky-high dry-cleaning bill, you should learn how to clean and store them properly. Silk is usually labelled as dry clean only, but can usually be easily hand-washed in cool water. Sweaters will be good as new if you dry them flat on a towel as opposed to hanging them up (the weight of the water in them will stretch them out beyond recognition). Speaking of stretched-out jumpers, never ever hang a jumper up on a hanger, as that’s a sure-fire way to stretch out the shoulders and ruin it.
Constantinosz / Getty Images

You will probably want to clean your vintage finds, and to escape a sky-high dry-cleaning bill, you should learn how to clean and store them properly. Silk is usually labelled as dry clean only, but can usually be easily hand-washed in cool water. Sweaters will be good as new if you dry them flat on a towel as opposed to hanging them up (the weight of the water in them will stretch them out beyond recognition). Speaking of stretched-out jumpers, never ever hang a jumper up on a hanger, as that’s a sure-fire way to stretch out the shoulders and ruin it.

15. If you’re particularly dedicated, learn what fabrics are called in different languages.

instagram.com

Okay, this one is intense, but hear me out. I am someone who is very petite and loves silk. Consequently, I’m always on the lookout for vintage silk Japanese dresses as they fit me best, so I also know what “rayon”, “silk”, and “polyester” look like on Japanese care labels. If you’re searching for something specific like that, it’s always a handy thing to be aware of. If a care label is in a different language and you want to confirm the material, don’t forget you can literally just google “rayon in Japanese/French/whatever” and compare that translation to the label.

16. Don’t forget that clothes can be altered.

20th Century Fox Television

Always have some imagination! If jeans are too long, a good tailor can take them up and keep the original seam. If a skirt is too big, have it taken in at the waist. If it's too small, the tailor can adjust the seams to make it bigger. If you don’t like the puffy sleeves, that can be changed, too!

17. Don’t over-estimate your tailor, either.

NBC

You should only really get clothes that are 1-2 sizes too large or small. Beyond that, the tailor will have to move the seams or even resew the whole garment, which will be very labour-intensive and very expensive.

18. Learn to sew yourself.

instagram.com

Being able to transform a drab dress into something incredible is a talent and art form that takes many years to master. However, hemming something or changing the buttons is something you can easily learn how to do and it can be completely transformative.

19. Learn what it means for something to "fit well".

This seems obvious, but it’s important to know what to look for when trying on clothes. Just because you can fit into something, doesn’t mean it fits. It doesn’t matter how amazing the piece is, if it doesn’t fit you right and can't be fixed by a tailor, it’s never going to make you feel amazing.
Imagegap / Getty Images

This seems obvious, but it’s important to know what to look for when trying on clothes. Just because you can fit into something, doesn’t mean it fits. It doesn’t matter how amazing the piece is, if it doesn’t fit you right and can't be fixed by a tailor, it’s never going to make you feel amazing.

20. Brick and mortar stores probably won't have a huge range of sizes, so your best bet will be shopping online.

instagram.com

Remember that you can tailor your search on eBay by size, and there are always lots of options available. If you want to find some places that specialise in plus-size vintage fashion, check out this post.

21. Know when to walk away.

youtube.com

Don’t be swayed by something just because it seems cool in the store. Ask yourself, would you buy this if it was hanging in a regular high street store, or does it simply seem special and cool right now because it’s vintage?

22. Know the value of things.

Netflix

Vintage clothing is a fluctuating market. Just because you bought that vintage skirt for £50 a couple of years ago, doesn’t mean you can sell it for that price again because it might not be as fashionable and in-demand now. Similarly, don’t get ripped off either. You can check what similar products have sold for on eBay by checking the “show completed items” and “sold items” boxes in your search, and then you can see if something online is overpriced.

23. Get to know vintage brands.

instagram.com

There are brands that only vintage nerds will know. If you get to know these brands, you will know when you’ve spotted a bargain. It’s unlikely someone will value a Gucci dress at a low price, but not everyone knows what a Gunne Sax dress is worth.

24. Don’t be dismayed when the cool vintage thing you bought online isn’t quite right.

Madman Entertainment

If you feel like you’ve been duped by a seller, you can arrange a return. Otherwise, if it just isn’t quite right, you can always resell and make your money back – don't hoard stuff you don't actually like, pass it on to someone who'll love it.

25. Don’t go vintage shopping with people who don’t like shopping.

Universal Pictures

Look, it’s super unlikely you’ll find anything if you just pop in and out because the nature of vintage shopping requires you to get really stuck in and to look at everything. Make time to go by yourself, or find someone who cares about it as much as you do. Anyone who doesn't care will only hold you back, baby.

26. Go to charity shops in more affluent areas.

Super Deluxe / Via youtube.com

Because, obviously, rich people have fancier stuff, so you’re more likely to find high-quality or even designer clothing.

27. Don’t always look for vintage clothing in the “vintage clothing” section of eBay.

Nickelodeon

That’s because there might be people doing a wardrobe clear-out for the first time in twenty years and probably won’t consider their old clothes as vintage per se. Keep your search as broad as possible.

28. Know what suits you.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Okay, this one seems obvious but there is a trick to this, as well. Don’t listen to any guides that label you as a “pear” or some other kind of fruit because you probably don’t neatly fit into any one category and they’re always full of conflicting information, anyway. Instead, look what actually looks good on you, specifically. Ask your friends and demand that they’re honest with you. It takes many years but you’ll eventually learn what will absolutely not look good on you, and you’ll know not to waste time and money on it.

29. Accept that this is something that takes a lot of time.

HBO

Women, in particular, are told that our personal style and sense of fashion is something that we must have perfected. It’s something we must be interested in. That’s not true – it’s more akin to gourmet cooking. It’s good to know the basics, but anything beyond that is a passion and a hobby that should give you joy and shouldn’t be a chore. As much as I wish I were one of those people who posted amazing pictures of complex meals they made on Instagram, I’ll always be the type of person who just makes pesto and pasta then spends an hour on eBay, instead.

Connect with As/Is