The High-End Vintage Hunt

Written by Anna Ruck


If you’ve ever been asked where an item of clothing you’re currently wearing was purchased from, you know that this can feel like the ultimate compliment. But when the piece in question is a one-of-a-kind thrift store discovery, you may feel particularly proud of your find. These items become treasures in our closets. They’re rare, unavailable in mass qualities, and symbolic of one’s shopping savvy.

However, some may feel that second-hand shopping just isn’t for them. That they just don’t have any luck and are utterly hopeless while perusing a thrift store. But in truth, anyone can unearth a high-end vintage gem with some strategic second-hand shopping knowledge. Vintage shopping simply requires a different mindset, an exploratory approach and an observant eye. Rather than marching into a store with a definitive mission to purchase something specific, embark upon your vintage shopping trip with an open mind and the following tips at your disposal.


The Quest for Quality

Make and fabric are the true hallmarks of a high-end vintage piece. This isn’t the time to be tempted by this season’s hottest colours or trends. Instead, focus on the basics. The good news is, for a piece of clothing to have made it this far, it’s probably survived some wear and a few dozen cleanings while still maintaining its structure and appearance.

In order to ensure that the clothing will endure a few more years in your closet, take the time to examine the fundamental details. Locate the garment label and review what material the clothing is made of. Fabric such as cotton, cashmere, wool, leather, ramie, linen, and flax are all strong staples that have withstood the test of time. Analyze the stitching of the piece, looking for straight lines and consistency. Gently tugging the seam should help you to identify any imperfections such as unraveling or snags. Features of the garment such as zippers and buttons will also provide some clues as to the quality of the piece. Metal zippers last longer than their plastic counterparts and buttons should fit easily into their corresponding holes. If you’re lucky enough to find spare buttons sewn into the inside of the clothing, you’ve encountered the ultimate mark of a high-end item. This is a sign that the designer anticipates the clothing to last so long that a few minor repairs may be necessary at some point during its lifetime.

Sifting Through Strategically

If embarking upon a vintage shopping journey has you feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the search, narrow the task down by exploring the right sections first and foremost. Many vintage stores are organized by clothing type, categorizing items such as skirts, coats, and sweaters together by size, as there is usually only one of each particular piece. This can be intimidating initially, as clothing may not be visually merchandized and styled as an outfit on a rack or mannequin.

Tackle this array of options by sticking to sections that are more likely to contain flattering pieces. It’s more feasible that you will discover some gems browsing through dresses, skirts, shirts, and coats as the cut and shape of these pieces hasn’t changed drastically over the years.

For example, A-line, fit-and-flare, and cinch-waist dresses are timeless classics and tend to look flattering on a variety of body types. If a skirt is the right length and it fits properly at the waist, you’re already halfway there. Many high-quality skirts also have a sewn-in lining to keep you from having an embarrassing Marilyn Monroe moment, so you won’t need to worry about transparency or purchasing a slip. A tailored shirt is a staple piece that can be worn to work or casually with jeans. Do a quick check to make sure there are no visible stains around the neck or armpits. Finally, today’s affordable coats just aren’t made like they used to be. Many vintage coats are constructed with quality materials such as wool; they are also lined, and include pretty buttons and other luxurious details. You may find similar styles that aren’t second-hand elsewhere, but certainly not at the same price point.

No matter what you find, be sure to try everything on before you buy. Thrift shops carry various brands that size clothing differently and some second-hand stores don’t allow returns.


Seeking Sparkle with a Story

If you’re new to the second-hand hunt, jewelry is the easiest, and arguably most fun way to incorporate vintage into your wardrobe. If you like the look of costume jewelry, vintage finds are often higher quality than their modern counterparts and tend to last longer. This is where you’ll be able to find truly unique statement necklaces, earrings, cocktail rings, and broaches that can easily elevate any outfit. Second-hand jewelry can vary wildly in its price point and quality, but as long as you’re not searching for precious stones or a vintage engagement ring, you can keep the search relatively straightforward.

To decide if the piece is worth purchasing, hold it in the palm of your hand and determine if it carries some weight; it should feel somewhat substantial. Check to ensure that the clasps aren’t broken, and stones aren’t loose. Genuine high-end finds will be made of precious metals, but some may simply be dipped in gold to prevent tarnish. Lastly, if you’re fortunate enough to spot any markings on the piece (such as 14k) you may have found something especially valuable.

Regardless of what your eye is drawn to, ask those working at the store if they have any information about the jewelry item. You may learn some unique facts or the story behind the piece and become convinced to purchase it.  

There is no need to fear the search for that second-hand steal with an adventurous attitude and a few simple strategies in your arsenal. With a little bit of luck and the right frame of mind, you may just discover that truly special thrifted find that has passers-by coveting your unique wardrobe for years to come.