If there's one thing that ties all the staffers at Refinery29 together, it's our shared love of vintage. Sure, finding a cheap thrill at the mall or unwrapping a designer pump fresh from its shoebox can be really special, but we don't think anything can beat the feeling — the thrill — of unearthing a stunning find for $5 in a heap of secondhand castoffs, leaning in to read the label, and seeing Chanel…
For those shoppers cut from the same cloth as we are, the hunt, the products, and the community of vintage are what the rituals of shopping are all about. But, not everyone will be able to find a gem in the middle of a sea of broken toasters — there's an art to mastering vintage that, like all skills, needs to be learned and practiced. We hit up thrift oracle Amy Yee from Maeven Vintage to teach us a few tricks of the trade (plus, keep an eye out for an exclusive R29 Shops collab with her in March). So, strap on your fanny pack and pull out those Tide pens — it's time to get dirty!
Photographed by Mark Iantosca
Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza
Make It Count: Shopping For It In Person
Unless you live in Antarctica, chances are there's a secondhand thrift shop in your neighborhood. If you're in an area with a vibrant thrifting culture, look for smaller, independently run stores that'll resell directly from the community. If you aren't, look in chain shops like The Goodwill, whose products oftentimes come from a national distributor, which means that the clothes you're seeing on the racks aren't actually from your 1st-grade teacher's closet.
Start small. Says Amy, "The easiest pieces to shop for are separates like blouses, sweaters, and skirts, as well as dresses and jackets. I'd skip over anything that is damaged or too worn out: pieces that have stains, holes, pilling, or weird smells." Oftentimes, those can't be saved. Furthermore, "be patient and shop often, as you never know what you'll find and when you'll find it. Ask when the stores restock merchandise, as some put out merchandise at the same time every day and those are the best times to shop. Also, be sure to ask about sales. Some stores have half-price sales certain days out of the week or daily color-coded discounts." Ka-ching!
Make It Work: Tailor Your New Finds To Fit
It's a smart move to thrift with the knowledge that even if it doesn't fit in the dressing room, it can fit after taking it to the tailor. Says Amy, "I wouldn't hesitate for a second to hem a coat or dress to fit you properly. It's one of the easiest alterations for a tailor." When shopping for dresses of form-fitting blouses, keep in mind that the woman of yesteryear was built a little different, so focus on the waists. "If you come across a dress that you love that fits perfectly in the waist but is too large in the bust, you can easily get the chest taken in to fit."
Not everything you buy is worth the extra TLC though; avoid anything that's too small. Vintage fabrics can be much more brittle and delicate than new materials, so letting anything out is an extra challenge.
Make It Digital: Taking Your Vintage Addiction Online
The biggest issue with online shopping for vintage is that you can't necessarily trust a seller. How can you be sure that Bottega Veneta bag is real and not a knockoff? Or that "small stain" isn't actually the size of a donut? Start by reading a seller's online reviews and buyer feedback. Got more questions? Email them! Says Amy, "Sometimes, the seller's response or non-response will make your decision to buy that much easier."
Also, if a designer purchase seems like it's too cheap to be real, it oftentimes is. To avoid getting swindled, study up on telltale signs of counterfeit (a simple Google search of "how to tell fake ___" should bring up plenty of info!) and keep an eye out for inconsistent imagery (oftentimes, scammers will steal images from a variety of different sources to sell a single product).
If payment fraud is your main concern, use Paypal or a credit card with a solid protection plan. If you're really paranoid, keep track of all your receipts, screengrabs of the site (along with any promises made about the product), and correspondence between you and the seller. It'll come in handy if you're trying to make a return.
Make It Last: Taking Care Of Your Treasures
Though your finds might be cheap, it doesn't mean that you can treat it like that. Only certain durable fabrics are suitable for at-home washing, but anything that's silk crepe, rayon, or velvet should definitely be dry-cleaned (keep in mind that rayon and velvet cannot be ironed either — steam those from the inside only!).
As far as storage goes, it's best to keep things clean, dry, and in rooms that have consistent, even temperatures ("This means no attics or basements!"). Got something super-special? Those may require more work. "Very delicate materials like lace from the '20s should be stored in acid-free tissue paper and laid flat, rather than hung. For long-term storing, items should never be put in plastic bags, but rather in breathable materials like cotton."
Make Money: Reselling Your Over-It Items
There are lots of secondhand shops that'll stock your old items and offer you a cut if it sells. If you're looking to make a quick buck at places like Crossroads Trading Co.
or Buffalo Exchange
, it's important to make sure that you're selling clothes that are in-season on slightly on-trend. If you know that your old trench coat's going to make someone else very happy, but it's in the middle of summer, just wait a couple months before bringing it in.
You also know that when you're shopping for vintage, there's nothing as off-putting as weird smells, unsightly stains, or pieces that are so wrinkled you can't even tell what it is. So, when you're ready to sell, don't submit it in a state that's less than presentable! Clean it, wash it, dry clean it, iron it — all those things will help guarantee your item gets picked up first.
Looking to do it online? Shops like Threadflip
, and Material Wrld
let you easily set up an online shop and sell to a community of vintage die-hards.
Make It Your Life: Turning A Hobby Into A Business
Ready to become the next Sophia Amoruso or Amy Yee? It's not as easy as just coming up with a clever .com name. Start by setting up a shop on a pre-existing platform. Says Amy, "I can't say enough good things about Etsy. It's by far one of the most collaborative community of sellers out there. For beginners, its seller handbook blog is filled with great tips, everything from how to photograph your items to how to price them. Auctioning off your thrift and vintage finds on eBay is another great option for selling, plus auction format listings can lead to higher bids than you may have anticipated."
Once you've gotten a handle on things, have a few loyal buyers, and are making consistent sales, it's time to buy a domain name and list your wares independently. It'll definitely be worth investing in a good camera, a makeshift set, and a graphic designer to do up your new website — you of all people should know by now how important presentation is!