10 Vintage-Buying Tips From The Queen Of Second-Hand Shopping

It’s no secret that the Bay Area is something of a vintage lover’s dream. What with the stellar second-hand offerings on Haight Street—and well beyond!—and a bevy of amazing local flea markets and vintage fashion fairs constantly popping up around town, we couldn't ask for more. Chances are you’ve already marked your calendar for this weekend’s Alameda Point Vintage Fashion Faire (Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22), which will include over 50 vintage dealers spread across three ballrooms. But do you have a plan when it comes to navigating the offerings? If not, Sandra Michaan, the Fashion Faire’s co-founder and chief curator, is here to help. After the jump, check out her 10 must-read vintage-buying tips—everything from how to handle stains and stenches to finding a retro silhouette that flatters your shape. Commit it all to memory and get ready to rummage with a new-found confidence.

1.) Check The Condition
“Always inspect vintage garments. You’re buying as-is merchandise. If you're buying at an auction, ask for a condition report. When shopping at vintage fairs, most dealers are pros and often take care to mend holes, replace sequins and buttons, dry clean, and steam and press clothing. Just remember that you get what you pay for. If something is ripped or threads are loose and the lining is falling out, factor in what the cost would be to have it repaired, before purchasing.”

2.) Check For Stains & Odors

“Hold the garment in natural light to check for any stains. If there are stains under the arms, pass. These stains and odors are set and cannot be removed. If you buy online, odor could be an issue. However, a trusty dry cleaner is your best friend. Oxiclean is the industry choice and can help remove difficult set-in stains.”

3.) Know What Eras Work Best For Your Body Type

Hourglass and plus sizes:

“The ‘50s and early ‘60s celebrated a shapely hourglass figure like those of Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. Cinched waists, fitted cardigan sweaters, or pencil skirts and capri pants make an hourglass figure stand out. Many ‘80s styles can flatter the hourglass shape, too.”


“A-line dresses from the ‘60s are flattering on pear shapes, but pay attention to the length and fabric. Longer skirts from the ‘70s have an elongating effect. A long skirt combined with a fitted top really work well for pear shapes. Maxi lengths are a good choice, too, and, now they’re back in style.”


“An ample bust and shapely legs are juicy assets, so pick one to show off. Any decade that didn't emphasize the waist will flatter this body shape, including the ‘30s, ‘60s, and ‘70s."


"Flapper styles form the ‘20s and ‘30s and straight ‘60s mod styles were made for this Twiggy-like body shape. Any waist or bust line emphasis is not the best silhouette for
super-skinny or boyish bodies.”


Photographed by Julia Lola Wang

how to buy vintage fashion

4.) Try It On

“Always try on vintage pieces since the size on the tag will not correlate to today’s sizing. Ignore size labels — they are not consistent throughout the decades. You may have heard that Marilyn Monroe was considered a size 12 in the '50s, but with today's vanity sizing would have been a size 6 in this era. I recommend trying items on or to measure them before purchasing.”
5.) Dress In Layers While Shopping

“Wearing layers makes it easier and faster to try on clothing. Wearing a dance leotard or leggings and a camisole under a skirt makes it possible to try on clothes even
without a dressing room. This comes in handy at flea markets and garage sales.”

6.) Always Go Bigger

“Finding vintage clothes that are a perfect fit is usually not possible, but if you find something you adore and it is too big for you, that can work. Larger sizes can usually be taken in and tailored to fit depending on the fragility of the fabric and the
construction. Smaller sizes rarely have enough extra room in the seam
allowance to make it larger.”

7.) Know Your Bargaining Options

“At flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, or at a vintage fashion fairs, bargaining is an option. The best time to bargain is if you're buying multiples from a dealer. Buying several items at a time can often yield you a discount. Also, cash is an incentive for a lower price. Shopping at the end of the day increases your chances of haggling for a better price, since dealers don't want to pack it up and take it home. Just be nice and don’t insult
them with your request. Thrift stores are usually run for charity, so bargaining there is never appropriate. However, most thrift stores have sale days, so if you want to get an item at a reduced price you can try to nab it on one of those days.”

Photographed by Julia Lola Wang
8.) Bring Cash

“Though some vendors accept credit cards and personal checks, flea market dealers prefer cash. You wouldn't want to lose an amazing find to the next shopper because you
had to run to the ATM. Dealers rarely put items on hold, although you can offer to pay 50% down to hold merchandise. Also, small bills are best to have on hand for bargaining power.”

9.) Be The Early Bird

“To get the most coveted items at estate sales and flea markets, the old saying still rings true. The best pieces are snapped up first, so get there early if you want to compete with the pros.”

10.) Love It? Don’t Lose It!

“Losing out on a rare vintage item that you might never see again is a tough part of the vintage-buying game. So if you love it, buy it!”
Photographed by Julia Lola Wang

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