The Fancy Bitch's Guide to Buying Vintage
Vintage hunting is one of our favorite activities, and we’ve learned quite a few tips and tricks over the years as we’ve hunted through thrift stores, estate sales, and online marketplaces.
There’s nothing better than finding the perfect piece at a great price, and being the person who was able to snag it before anyone else - because with vintage, it’s almost impossible to find the same piece in the same size, especially for older pieces.
So in this post, we’re spilling everything we know about finding and buying vintage pieces for your wardrobe.
What is considered “vintage?”
Anything between 20 and 100 years old is considered vintage. Anything older than 100 years is considered antique. By this rule of thumb, as of this post in 2021, early 2000s Juicy Couture tracksuits are now considered vintage, which… wow. We really need to start dedicating ourselves to a retinol regimen because we’re getting old AF.
While 100+ year old clothing is super cool to find and no doubt historical, it’s likely not very wearable. Clothes in the early 1900s and 1920s were made of natural fibers, not polyester or synthetics, and those natural fibers degrade much faster if exposed to sunlight and wear and tear. There are of course many antique garments in museums, but those are restored and in climate-controlled environments. If you find a killer antique garment in your travels, just be very careful wearing it! One of our friends wore an authentic beaded 1920s flapper dress to prom and by the end of the night, the fragile, 90 year old threads holding the dress together started to unravel with all of the dancing and sitting/standing/walking around.
Antique fine jewelry is, of course, a lot more durable and safer to wear - metal and gemstones are a lot hardier than cotton and wool.
Is vintage clothing expensive?
No, it doesn’t have to be! In fact, you can find true gems at amazing prices. But yes, some vintage can be extremely expensive. Let’s get into the pricing a little bit.
If you want an iconic designer piece, like a Dior New Look dress from the original collection, a 1950s Ceil Chapman, or a 1970s Halston piece, you’ll likely be paying a lot of money for it on a site like 1stDibs. These pieces are highly sought after by collectors, are hard to come by, and are usually in excellent shape. Unless you get really lucky and find a “unicorn” piece in the back of a Goodwill for $5, you can expect to pay a lot of money for them.
If you want something that’s not pristine, collector-worthy high fashion but still has a label, or doesn’t necessarily have a designer label but is beautiful, clean, and in good condition, you can expect to pay a fair price for it from a vintage shop. Why? Because they’ve done the work of hunting down the “good stuff,” restoring it, cleaning it, listing it for sale, and marketing it for you. Lady Jane Vintage is one of our favorite shops for well-priced vintage pieces. They’re about the same cost as a new dress from Macy’s, but it’s not bargain basement Forever 21 prices. Lady Jane Vintage talks about the “unglamorous” side of vintage on her Instagram sometimes - going through dingy attics full of piles of clothes, or showing up at buying appointments where there are hundreds of garments in garbage bags, and she has to pick through the icky stuff to find the gems, then restore them and clean them. You’re paying for her eye, her labor, and her expertise!
If you want inexpensive vintage, there are a few options. More recent vintage from 20-25 years ago, is usually less expensive than older vintage because there’s more of it on the market. If you want to try your luck at Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or local thrift stores, those are great places to find inexpensive vintage - but you’ll have to do more hunting and picking.
Most vintage lovers find the hunting to be part of the fun, though! You’ll go into a little thrift store and you might find a bunch of 1980s bridesmaid dresses, or you might find a gorgeous little coat, who knows? And even if the bridesmaid dresses aren’t your style, they’re still fun to look at.
Where to buy vintage clothing online?
The good thing about shopping for vintage online is that you can be very specific with your searches.
If there’s something high end and/or very specific in mind, we usually start with 1stDibs. They have a ton of inventory, and they vet their sellers extensively. Get ready to pay Bergdorfs-level prices.
Etsy is another great place to find vintage - there are endless sellers on there, too. We’ve bought a TON of vintage on Etsy and have never had any issues with quality or the product not being as described, but if you do, Etsy is very responsive to fixing any issues with the seller.
EBay has lots of vintage, too - but we avoid the auction option and only stick with products where we can use the Buy It Now feature. The auctions are stressful and we’ve lost too many good things in the last few seconds.
Poshmark is a good place to find more recent vintage - think 1980s-2000s.
Depop is THE spot for 90s and 2000s vintage for the Gen Z set.
Many vintage sellers also have their own standalone sites, or sell through Instagram too. At the end of this post, we have a roundup of our faves!
Where to buy vintage clothing near me?
If you want to go vintage hunting in person, there are usually a lot of options no matter where you live.
Not just any old yard sale that you drive by, with a bunch of stuff on the grass - you want the estate sales, baby. The ones in the bougie part of town, advertised in the local paper. These are rich people who want to get rid of their fancy stuff. The multi-day ones are even better, because it means they have a lot of stuff to sell.
Estate sales are generally better for furniture and decor, but there’s often some vintage clothing and jewelry there (our husband scored an authentic Scottish kilt at one once - he bought it just cause it was too cool to pass up).
Support your cool local vintage stores! If you have no idea if there are any near you, do a quick Google search. Follow them on social media, too.
Goodwill/Salvation Army/Thrift Stores
These are usually less curated and more anything-goes than a cute local vintage store. You might find something amazing, but there’s always something fun to look at. The clothes are usually clean at Goodwill and Salvation Army, but we’ve found some stanky stuff at thrift stores, so just make sure to fully inspect everything before you buy it.
Vintage fairs like Brimfield in Massachusetts and Round Top in Texas have both vintage and antique furniture and clothing. These sellers are experienced and curate their selections well, so they know what they’re selling and what it’s worth. It’s a good place to find quality vintage.
How to buy vintage fur and vintage coats - what to look for
We love buying vintage coats and furs! Actually, it’s an addiction. We have close to a dozen in our coat closet right now.
The nice thing about coats and furs is that they’re more size-inclusive than most vintage clothes, especially if you’re doing a little fur capelet or wrap. Also, aren’t we all sick of black puffy coats in the winter? Everywhere you go, it’s black puffy coats. It needs to end. BRING BACK THE VINTAGE COATS!
When buying a vintage fur, the first thing you want to look at is the quality of the fur itself. It can’t be ragged or patchy-looking. If it is, walk away. You can’t save it.
If it’s a non-fur coat, inspect the garment for major rips or stains. A tear on the seam or a minor hole can be fixed, but a big tear or rip anywhere else is going to be hard to repair.
The next thing to look at is the lining. The lining should be in good shape - getting the lining fixed is expensive, so unless it’s really cheap (like an otherwise flawless mink stole for $10), or a true unicorn piece (like a chinchilla jacket for under $1000 - a girl can dream!) we wouldn’t bother with it.
Next, check the pockets if there are any. Make sure they’re not ripped or don’t have any holes. This isn’t the most expensive thing to fix, but it is good to know the condition before buying and can maybe give you some negotiating power if the pockets aren’t in the best condition.
If that all looks good, do a subtle little sniff test - make sure there are no strong body odor smells or anything gross coming off it. Usually you can clean an item to get rid of any smells, but sometimes cigarette smoke or body odor is baked in (gross) and if it’s so offensive that it bothers you in the store, you might wanna walk away.
Now, try it on. Trying on coats is easier than anything else, cause you don’t need a dressing room. Make sure it fits!
Now, if it’s something notable, you might wanna do a quick little Google search for it. Look for the label, if there is one - you’ll want to search and see if there are similar vintage coats from this designer online and what they’re priced at. Or search “vintage mink stole” and see what similar ones are priced at. This gives you a ballpark for negotiating the price, or will let you know if it’s already priced well.
How to buy vintage clothing and dresses - what to look for
Here’s the thing with vintage clothing - depending on the year or era, and we live for things from the 1940s-1960s, the sizes are tiny. Also, the size on the tag is nowhere near today’s sizes, so don’t go by that - if you’re going to be buying vintage clothes, you’ll need a measuring tape to know your actual bust, waist, and hip measurements. Your inseam (your leg height) will be helpful to know if you’ll be buying pants.
To be honest, vintage hunting can be a wee bit depressing if you’re over a modern size 8 or so - most of our most favorite, gorgeous finds have a bust of no larger than 36 or 38” and a waist of no larger than 28”. For those of us who can’t quite fit into those measurements, we recommend finding great reproduction vintage from size-inclusive stores like Unique Vintage.
If you spot something you like, the first thing to do is inspect it for major stains, holes, or other damage. A little bit dingy? It can be washed, and it’ll probably be fine. A huge wine stain right in the middle of a white dress? Probably not gonna come out. A tear on a seam is a lot better than a big hole right in the middle of a garment.
Next, check the quality of the piece. Look at the label - is it designer? Is the item lined? If the answer is no it doesn’t mean that it’s not a great piece, but it can help you negotiate on the price. Check any pockets and make sure they’re not torn.
Do a little subtle sniff test to make sure there are no offensively strong odors.
Now, you’ll want to try it on. Vintage stores, thrift shops, and nicer booths at vintage fairs will have changing areas for you. If it’s a little loose, don’t forget that it can be tailored to fit by a local seamstress (your dry cleaner is a good place to find an inexpensive one). If it’s a little tight, check the side seam - here’s a post on how to do that. There might be extra fabric that allows your seamstress to let the dress out by an inch or so.
Can you buy vintage bathing suits/underwear/shoes? Should you?
Do people sell these items? Absolutely. Do you want to wear them? It depends on your comfort level. Our personal rule of thumb is anything with a naked crotch touching it is a no-go, but it’s up to you.
Vintage bathing suits: That’s a no for us, not just for the ick factor but because lycra and other stretchy materials get overly stretchy with wear/washing and lead to a weird, saggy fit over time. We stick with reproduction vintage swimsuits by Unique Vintage instead.
Vintage underwear: Vintage lingerie like nighties, pajamas, and robes - yes. Vintage underwear? No. Vintage bras? Girl, we can’t even find a modern bra to fit us right, let alone a vintage one, so that’s a no.
Vintage shoes: No, not just for the sweaty foot factor, but because shoes usually take a LOT of wear and tear due to, you know, stomping the ground all day every day, so they wear out a lot faster. Our recommendation is to not buy them based on the shoe size, but based on a try-on if you’re in person, or the measurements if you’re buying online (just like clothing sizes, shoe sizes aren’t always consistent). Also, we’d only buy vintage shoes that are genuine leather, not synthetic materials. Leather will last longer and can be resoled or repaired, whereas synthetic materials can’t.
How to buy vintage jewelry - what to look for
Vintage jewelry is a whole other kettle of fish! There’s vintage costume jewelry, which is fancy and fun and less expensive, but is not made from “real” gemstones. Then there’s vintage or antique fine jewelry, which is of course made from gold, diamonds, gemstones, and the like. We’re gonna start with the costume jewelry, cause it’s more budget-friendly.
If you’re thinking, “Ew, costume jewelry, t-a-c-k-y!” it’s time to change your thinking! Back in the mid century, costume jewelry was IT. It allowed ladies to look glamorous without spending a lot of money, and as we all know, the glamour is the point, darling! We can’t all afford a wrist full of $10,000 tennis bracelets or a Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor diamond, but we can wear costume jewelry to a big fancy dinner and look the part. Vintage costume jewelry was made to last, not the cheap stuff you find in the Target jewelry section now. It was sturdy and well-constructed, which is why it’s really fun to shop for in the modern day.
When shopping for vintage costume jewelry, you want to check the overall quality. Make sure it’s in good working condition - the clasps should work, the chain should be sturdy. Check the stones - they shouldn’t wiggle, and the prongs shouldn’t be broken. Anything beaded should be on strong, heavy string. Fixing costume jewelry is often more expensive than it’s worth, so don’t buy anything that needs extensive repairs.
If you’re buying vintage designer costume jewelry (think Chanel clip on earrings with the CC logo from the 1950s or something), it should be signed. That means that the brand’s logo should be stamped very small somewhere on the jewelry. If it’s not, it might not be authentic (or at the very least, they shouldn’t be charging you like it is). If someone is claiming something is real gold, it’ll be stamped with 14K, 18K, 24K, etc. on the piece.
If you’re buying real jewelry, you’ll need to be a lot more careful. Real gold will be stamped. Diamonds should be certified. Designer fine jewelry should be signed if they’re charging a premium for the name. Real pearls almost always have a little knot in the string between each pearl, so if the strand breaks, your pearls don’t go flying everywhere. Make sure to check the prongs and the stones.
It doesn’t hurt to ask the provenance of the piece. Obviously someone at a Goodwill won’t know, but a vintage seller or antique shop will LOVE to tell you the cool story behind a piece of jewelry!
Our favorite vintage sellers
We can’t BELIEVE we’re telling you our secret sources for vintage!! But here are our favorite vintage sellers, both in person and online:
Lady Jane Vintage: We’ve sourced so many special things from her over the years! We love her unique finds and great prices. She’s exploded in popularity and her pieces sell faster than ever, so make sure to follow her on Instagram to be notified of new releases. Our favorite purchases from Lady Jane: a vintage lady head vase, endless Ladies Bowling League pins, our absolute most favorite vintage party dress.
Butchwax Vintage: Amanda has the coolest, sexiest finds, and they sell lightning fast. Follow her on Instagram and be speedy with that DM finger to snatch them. We’ve been lucky enough to score a leopard print coat from her about 6 or 7 years ago!
Xtabay Vintage: They’re on Instagram and online, but also have a little store in Portland, Oregon. They have GORGEOUS little gems that, yes, sell very quickly. We unfortunately haven’t yet been able to snag one of their pieces, but we scroll through their site, dreaming.
Timeless Vixen: This is a great alternative to 1stDibs. They have haute couture and high end mid century vintage, but their prices are very reasonable based on how sought-after and high quality their pieces are. Scroll through the archive for some beautiful vintage clothing dreaminess. We just know we’re gonna snag a Ceil Chapman from here one day.
Paper Doll Vintage: This adorable shop is local to us on Long Island. They have both reproduction and true vintage. They recently outfitted the cast of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a ton of outfits for the new season! We once went in here, desperate for an outfit for a Blondie concert, and walked out with the most killer flowy, vintage sequin butterfly shirt (the best Blondie concert outfit EVER). Oh, also, the martini brooch we just bought from them WHILE we were researching this post. Oops!
The Times Vintage: No trip to Greenport is complete without a visit to the groovy Times Vintage. Their vibe is very 60s/70s, and we love their record collection and the housewares in the back, too. We’ve bought a ton here over the years, but possibly our favorite is this big, chic gray fur coat that would look fab with sunglasses and a Studio 54 style bodysuit, Jerry Hall style.