In a world powered by fast fashion, nothing is more refreshing than a one-of-a-kind vintage find. From throwback designer bags to perfectly worn-in Levi’s, such treasures add character to your look. Plus, they’re simply timeless, meaning you’ll cherish them for years to come. But as much as we’d love to stock our closets full of it, good vintage is hard to come by. You’ve got to be willing to dig, which can be intimidating, but we believe discovery is the thrill of vintage shopping—the piece will mean a lot more to you because you worked for it. We’ve tapped three experts to sound off on how to score the best clothing and jewelry. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, find your ultimate vintage shopping guide ahead.
Vintage veteran Amy is the founder of marketplace Artists & Fleas, where celebrities, designers and stylists from Kendall Jenner to Isabel Marant shop her phenomenal vintage collection.
Know the piece's value.
"It's really helpful to understand the value of a particular item in terms of how ubiquitous it is. For example, I love vintage Indian printed gauze dresses from the '70s, but there are so many. A few styles—Adini Sultana caftans, for instance—are really hard to find and pretty pricey, but others—peasant blouses, dresses—are widely available and shouldn't cause sticker shock.
Check for stains, tears and smells.
"If something has a bad odor, skip it. Also, stains have generally been on the item for a long time so may not come out. Sometimes tears can be mended, but you really want to know what's involved in fixing something before you buy it."
Enlist a good tailor.
"If you have a good tailor, the world is your oyster."
Respect the merchant.
"Some vintage vendors are open to giving a discount if you're purchasing multiple items. But don't ask for 50% off. You'll insult the merchant and he'll not be inclined to negotiate."
Buy items you'll actually wear.
"I'm a big fan of buying things that integrate into your existing look and wardrobe. Purchase items you don't feel are too precious to wear—and once you buy them, start wearing them!"
Make sure the collection is thoughtfully curated.
"You can quickly gauge if a vendor has a good product by looking at his overall collection. If it's curated by era or style, he'll often have an understanding of the product and its value."
Ensure the merchant is knowledgable.
"One of the most fun things about purchasing vintage is hearing the merchant talk about his or her collection. Often, they're very passionate about it. They can share history, details and sometimes how they found the piece. Once you're an educated vintage consumer, you'll know if they're a good storyteller or a true expert."
Blair Fox & Sunny Bond
With backgrounds in gemology and a shared love for antique jewelry, Blair and Sunny co-founded online boutique Fox & Bond, which offers a stunning selection of vintage baubles.
"If you're new to vintage jewelry, you’ll likely come across some unfamiliar terms describing the construction of a piece and the time period it came from. Ask about its origin, its finish and its gemstones. Don’t hesitate to ask the seller a lot of questions!"
Notice what initially catches your eye.
"Vintage pieces have a way of speaking to you! Keep your eyes open and see what makes your heart jump. That's the piece you should go for regardless of whether it's your typical style or not. Antique and vintage pieces are often one of a kind, so once they're gone, they're gone."
Don't hesitate to buy online.
"Thanks to clear images and detailed descriptions, you can find amazing treasures from all over the world."
Beware of false vintage.
"Jewelry that's in good condition tends to show minimal signs of wear and damage. Expect to see scratches and small dents in the metal for any piece that has a long history. Be wary of a piece that looks brand-new but is being sold as an antique. Reproductions are often hard for the untrained eye to detect."
Inspect before buying.
"Condition is important because it can affect durability and in turn your ability to enjoy the piece for years to come. You want to make sure the construction is intact or has been properly repaired and restored. Make sure to inspect the front, back, and sides—in person or via images if you are buying online. Rings are especially important to examine since they endure the most wear and tear."
Consider repair costs.
"Loose stones, worn out or missing prongs and broken clasps are simple repairs for an experienced jeweler; however, be sure to account for the cost and time to do so. Deal breakers include cracked or missing gemstones, mismatched parts, loss of enamel and badly done work. These issues can be costly and risky to fix, repair and replace."
Combine vintage with your current collection.
"Don't be afraid to mix jewelry from different eras! There's no reason not to pair a Victorian necklace with a black leather jacket and your everyday stack of delicate diamond bands. It shows off your style and sets you apart from the crowd."
"Just because your Art Deco engagement ring is platinum doesn't mean you can't pair it with yellow gold. Don't shy away from wearing platinum, rose gold and yellow gold all at once! If you like a more cohesive look, find a two-tone piece that ties in your white gold with your yellow gold."
Vintage aficionado Annette shares her tips for navigating flea markets on her blog A Vintage Splendor. She's a pro at mixing treasured finds with of-the-moment pieces as exemplified by her gorgeous outfits.
Go in with a plan.
"List three to five current trends or pieces you love, and shop for those items specifically. For example, if you love slip dresses, shop the lingerie section or search for dresses that have that look. I also recommend the men's section, where you'll find structured blazers, sweaters, and jeans."
Get ready to dig.
"Be ready to really hunt for pieces, which means digging through piles of clothes or racks and racks of stuff. I call it 'thrill of the thrift' for that reason, because you can find a vintage Gucci scarf or Manolo Blahnik mules in the clearance bin at the Salvation Army—true story."
"Everything is negotiable if you have cash. It gives you the upper hand. If you're new to negotiating, always ask the vendor, 'What's your best price?' That's the friendliest way to negotiate and the vendor will always come back with a lower price than is marked."
Wear clothing you can easily change.
"Dressing appropriately is so important given the lack of fitting rooms. Wear a dress or leggings and a tank. You can easily pull on jeans under a dress or throw a dress over leggings to see if it fits. To determine if pants or jeans will fit, hold the waistband's side seams in each hand and drape them around your neck, like you're putting on a necklace. If the waistband comes together and you have breathing room, the waist is your size."
"Vintage Levi’s run much smaller than modern denim, so expect to go up two to four sizes. If men's and women’s styles are separated, shop the men's. Most vintage Levi’s are men's. 501s and 505s offer a straight and relaxed fit, and they're the classic vintage jeans, plus they're great for cutting into shorts and crops, or hemming and rocking a seriously awesome pair of boyfriend jeans. 501s have a button fly, while 505s have a zip. 551s offer a looser and tapered fit for a serious mom jean. It's perfect for the petite gal since it's a vintage women's jean and will fit a smaller frame better than 501s. Finally, if you love the wash but the jeans are too baggy, take them to Dr. Blue Jeans (if you're in LA) and he'll get them tapered and fitted in all the right places."
Do your research.
"When it comes to finding great designer pieces online, a little bit of homework will come in handy. Check out some old books or magazines and see which designers or trends appeal to you. From there, start your search on eBay or Etsy. I love the '60s, '70s, and '80s, so you’ll find me searching for YSL, Oscar de la Renta and Norma Kamali. Very specific searches pay off. I recently searched for 'vintage french dress with cutouts' and found the most amazing dress on eBay."
Know your measurements.
"Modern and vintage sizing differs, so taking your exact measurements will help you determine if an item will fit or not."
Shop on trusted sites.
"Always shop from a seller that guarantees authenticity and offers plenty of pictures. The Way We Wore, Malleries, eBay, and The RealReal all provide buyer protection and some offer authentication services. If you buy from eBay, ensure the seller guarantees authenticity, and when you receive the item, take it to the brand's store and ask the salesperson to verify."