Secondhand Savvy: How to Save Time and Money When Hitting the Vintage Shops



If you’ve ever been vintage shopping, you know that all secondhand pieces are not made equal. But, what you might not realize is that you don’t need to break the bank to get the good stuff.

With these simple tips, youll be able to navigate a sea of so-so and jog away with gems, no matter where you shop– vintage, thrift, or that sidewalk sale down the block. Read on, and get ready to hunt.

1. Make a wish list

Like embarking on any other excursion, you have to have a game plan– what to look for when you hit the stores, what to snag, and what to bag. This will save time and money, since youll be on the lookout for specific pieces, rather than aimlessly wandering and picking up anything that looks cool.

Not sure where to start? Take inventory of your wardrobe. The change of seasons is the perfect time to get rid of things you dont need, and makes it easy to take advantage of stores like Buffalo Exchange and Tokio 7— which allow you to sell your old duds for cash and/or store credit. Clearing out the old helps you to see what you already have, and what items you might want to add to your cache (check out street fashion blogs like Jak & Jil, Facehunter, and The Sartorialist for inspiration).

Remember– the key to wearing secondhand and vintage effectively is mixing and matching your finds with items you already have in your wardrobe. Put pieces on your list that have character, but that also complement your existing style.

Need to know where to search for secondhand steals? Beacons Closet (88 N. 11th Street, Williamsburg), Village Style (111 E. 11th Street, East Village), Metropolis (43 3rd Avenue, East Village), No Relation Vintage (204 1st Avenue, East Village), and Buffalo Exchange ( for locations) are great places to start.

2. Look for texture

If youre shopping at a more reasonably priced vintage or secondhand shop, chances are the selection isnt as well organized as it would be at a more selective, high-end store. While it can be fun to dig through all of it to find the best stuff (who doesnt love to play dress up?), it can also be tiring and costly if you end up buying every unique thing that catches your eye.

A good way to make some headway is to search for texture first. Generally, you can pick out better garments by the fabrics theyre made from– strong tweeds and wools, soft angora, real silk, and chiffon are always good bets, as they have usually stood the test of time and will wear well in the future. Sequined or beaded garments can also be great finds, but be sure to try them on before buying, as the beading often distorts the fit of a garment once its been worn by someone else.

Also, keep an eye out for pieces with unique patterns and colors that pop– theyll be welcome spring pick-me-ups for any winter wardrobe.

3. Find the right cut

Sure, that flapper dress with a drop waist and authentic glass beading looks amazing on the rack, but will it look amazing on you? As any seasoned shopper will tell you, finding the right cut for your body is more than half the battle, no matter where you shop or what trends are current.

Luckily, most vintage clothes are defined by their structure, so in some ways this is easy– the hard part is knowing what types of clothes, and from what eras, look best on your body. Its important to buy only pieces that truly fit, because lets be honest– are you really going to trek to Madame Paulette for hefty (and possibly pricey) alterations? Probably not. It takes some practice to pin down your specific shape, but once you do, it will make shopping a bit more breezy.

4. Pay attention to detail

With secondhand and vintage, its the little things that make all the difference. Unique stitching, beaded accents, creative use of fabric, era-specific lining, ornate buttons– all of these details make an otherwise ordinary garment stand apart from the rest.

With accessories, this is especially important– skip the discarded Forever 21 pieces and wait to find things that will last. Strong hardware, genuine metals, and sturdy leather are sure to keep structurally as well as stylistically, whereas flimsy plastics, thin polyesters, and faux felts will lose their luster fast.

Look for the passage of time in your pieces as well– the way a pair of shoes has been worn in, or the natural curvature of a hats brim can tell stories (and add dimension to your style) that brand new items cant.

5. When in doubt, turn to the classics

Your mom has told you a thousand times, but when shopping secondhand, it really does hold true– you cant go wrong with the classics. For spring, keep an eye out for these pieces– theyre fairly easy to find and will last you for seasons to come:

  • Full circle skirts from the 1950s/1960s: Check out Louis Vuittons Fall 10 roster for inspiration
  • Vintage lingerie: Slips are great to layer under skirts and dresses, and if youre bold, bustiers can work with pretty much anything
  • High-waisted jeans: Deviate from the skinny with a sailor-cut pair from the 70s
  • Double-breasted trench coats in lighter fabrics: Even mens sized works here. Just cinch it with a scarf or belt, throw on some stilettos, and go
  • Espadrilles and boat shoes: Perfect for strolling the city
  • Mens dress shirts: Pair with skinny pants and heels, or belted as a dress
  • Hats with ribbon and feather accents: Try a classic fedora or a bold, extra-wide brimmed model for some extra spunk
  • Oxford shoes: Make sure to snag a pair thats been worn just so
  • Silk scarves in vibrant patterns: Can be wrapped around your neck, used as a belt, tied to your bag, or draped over your head la Grace Kelly
  • Sunglasses and spectacles: Add some character to any ensemble

Happy shopping!

Larkin Clark is an actress and writer based in New York. To read more or contact Larkin, visit

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