For a rookie secondhand shopper, it may seem as though the environment of a thrift store is not for the faint of heart. Between the overflowing boxes of clothing and the overwhelming musty odor (Eau de Mothballs, anyone?), it can be nerve-racking to conquer your first vintage shopping trip without an extensive guide on how to navigate the crowded racks. But fear not, Trim readers – I’ve braved the front lines of the local Goodwill and prepared some vital tips for how to score all the best vintage treasures.
-Arrive in uniform.
Thrift stores are not meticulously organized like a boutique. Unlike a small shop where the items will be categorized and styled, at a thrift store, it’s pretty much a free-for-all – which guarantees a lot of walking, reaching, stretching, and digging. Wear comfortable clothing that you can easily slip on and off in the dressing room, flat shoes (all the better for fighting fellow shoppers to the death over a 1970’s floral Missoni minidress), and a cross body bag that allows you to keep your hands free.
-Inspect your garments.
A big part of the thrill of thrifting is the fact that you never know exactly what you’ll find. I’ve scored Chanel earrings from a hole-in-the-wall secondhand costume shop in NYC, and came across five dollar cowboy boots in a San Francisco consignment shop that were unworn, the most perfect shade of caramel brown, and exactly my size. (Thank-you, thrifting gods.) However, for every gem discovered amongst junk items, I’ve almost made certain purchases only to realize there was a stain on the shoulder or a large rip in the side. If you find yourself interested in a vintage garment, inspect every inch for stains, make sure all zippers work, and take the time to try them on and see if they’re flattering. It’s better to be thorough than to spend half your last paycheck on items that just end up banished to the back of your closet.
-Know what you’re looking for.
This is your chance to score some authentic looking pieces without paying for their overdone, unauthentic knock-offs in Urban Outfitters for more than triple the price. Search through the outerwear closely for Levi’s denim jackets, leather motorcycle bombers, and camouflage army jackets. High-waist denim shorts, bustier tops, tie-dye band tees, and printed rompers are also certain items that are commonly found in these types of shops that you won’t find for such low prices anywhere else. Make sure you take the time to dig through the jewelry and accessories for one-of-a-kind statement necklaces, sparkling vintage brooches, and silver rings, along with belts and scarves. I once found a floral Coach scarf and braided leather belt from a thrift shop called Nearly New in Red Bank that I purchased two years ago and still wear frequently.
-Don’t forget the fun stuff.
Check out the books section, along with the shelves of vintage records and housewares. Instead of dropping a few hundred dollars to redesign your dorm room at Target, pick up a few one-of-a-kind trinkets for a unique, bohemian vibe in your living space while you’re at college – I’ve found stained glass lamps, tapestries, and framed vintage maps for my room that really add character to an otherwise bland space.
-Check out other local opportunities to score vintage finds.
Flea markets and antiques shops are also some of your best bets for finding some of the best vintage items from local vendors who dedicate their lives to traveling the area to find the best items to sell. The Punk Rock Flea Market, held in Trenton and Asbury Park every year, specializes in edgy, punk finds that will have you wandering between the aisles and leaving with your new favorite dress and your old favorite record, along with handmade goods from local artists and shops.
After you head out on your vintage shopping adventures, make sure you upload your finds to Instagram with the hashtag #VintageTrim so we can repost our favorite finds. Happy thrifting!