Photographed by Charles Roussel.
I want the world to know that I just had my first time. You probably wouldn’t guess it, knowing how much experience I have. But, the truth is, I’ve never gone thrift shopping — I’m a total vintage virgin. What did you think I was talking about?
While vintage style is certainly compelling, I find it intimidating, like something I’d need a course in to fully understand. When you don’t understand something, you ignore it so you don’t have to confront the fact that it totally confuses you. Examples of this behavior in my life have been French braids, organic chemistry, and vintage clothing. Eventually, I had to come around and master the first two, but vintage clothing has confounded me my entire adult life.
It’s not just vintage shopping that I have avoided; shopping in general is not an experience I enjoy. It is in no way any type of therapy for me. I don’t like the lengthy process and I don’t mentally stuff cashmere sweaters into the voids in my life. My short attention span, fear of finding nothing (or worse, finding something I loved that didn’t fit me), my reluctance to try anything on, and a penchant for instant gratification left me staying far away from thrift shops and flea markets for years.
The problem with all of this is that I’m a style blogger. I’m supposed to be an authority on all things fashion, yet I was ignoring this whole subset of that world. The best way to learn about something is to find someone who has mastered the subject, and I don’t know a better master of vintage clothing than Refinery29 editor-in-chief Christene Barberich. She agreed to take me shopping for vintage clothes, and I was eager to absorb all of her knowledge. If I couldn’t figure out this stuff with Christene, then it was never going to happen.
Click over to page two for the rest of this story.
Photographed by Charles Roussel.
The first lesson I got on the subject is that vintage shopping is different than thrifting. Shopping for vintage clothes in a vintage boutique is much easier and less of a challenge, because someone with a great eye has already sifted through everything and picked out the gems for you. You’ll find worthy pieces this way, but they can be pricey. Thrifting is finding those same gems at a fraction of the cost, and it’s more of a challenge because you are looking through the many rocks trying to find a diamond on your own. Thrifting, I learned, is an art, and I was about to get a master class.
“Don’t focus on labels,” Christene instructed me at Housing Works on the Upper East Side. “It clouds your judgement.” You don’t want to convince yourself you love something because it’s made by a big name designer, or put back something you really like because you don’t know who made it. Thrifting is all about finding out what it is that you like, and finding a little bit of yourself, too. The variety of designers, seasons, and decades makes for a combination of clothes that everyone looks at differently, and only you can decide what works in your wardrobe. That can be liberating, challenging, and a little terrifying, too.
“Don’t be afraid to look on the lower racks,” was my next lesson from Christene. “You can find some great pieces that people have not picked through yet.” Shoppers don’t always bend down to look at items on racks that are closer to the ground, so that area is supreme for finding great pieces. But, there’s still a LOT to look through, even in the smaller shops, and a person like me is bound to get overwhelmed and give up. There had to be a way for someone with my lack of patience to be efficient while still getting through everything, and of course my vintage guru had an answer for that. “Look for interesting patterns and nice fabrics that stand out” in order to find things of good quality. You can get basics anywhere; the best part about vintage is finding that unique piece — made even more unique by the fact that it isn’t sold at a retail store.
The only problem with finding one unique item is that it may not fit you well. Christene’s tip was easy: Get it tailored. Clothes just look better when they’re tailored. Whether vintage or brand-new, a thrifted piece that is tailored perfectly to you becomes a very special piece. I found an incredible pair of Derek Lam super wide-legged dark denim pants for $35 that were a size too big, and normally would have discarded them. But, after a trip to the tailor, they were now custom-fit to me, and still at a hefty discount. I was practically making money, they were so cheap. (Check my math on that one.)
My favorite tip from Christene was how to find great layering pieces while thrifting. She said I should visit the lingerie department, an area that people often avoid since they think of it as just underwear. Not so, said CB — the delicate camisoles are amazing finds for layering an outfit, and come in luxurious fabrics that peek out from a blazer or top, like satin and lace.
Click over to page three for the rest of this story.
Photographed by Charles Roussel.
I couldn’t believe I had been missing out all this time, living my life as a vintage virgin when this whole other world of clothes was waiting for me. I had picked up the Derek Lam pants, a cropped chambray Equipment blouse for $30, a black lace top for $25 that looked like something from the Valentino collection, and brown velvet Theory pants for $15. I also scored a never-worn pair of green snakeskin pointy-toed heels by Charles Jourdan for $60. Christene found a woven tote bag that looked like Prada and an amazing black and red necklace that resembled Marni.
I can’t say that I was surprised by all of the great things I found, given who my companion was. The part I didn’t expect is how well I was able to put the items together with my wardrobe, and how they added an element of style I previously lacked. Only buying new clothes keeps things current, but adding in vintage pieces keeps things interesting. There’s something about the thrift shop clothes that add character to the clothes I already have, making my wardrobe more than just one-dimensional. I’m also able to afford designers that were previously off-limits due to my budget
I was so lucky to have Christene to guide me through the thrifting process. Without her, I probably would have found myself lost and confused, crouched in the corner of a thrift shop muttering nonsense and clutching someone’s old bra. I know there’s other virgins out there, and CB’s tips can keep you from getting lost in the jungle of vintage clothes and accessories.