How To Shop For Vintage, According To The Pros


The allure of a shiny, new handbag or shoe is all well and good, but there is a special euphoria that comes with mastering how to shop for vintage. Tracking down unique pieces like the limited-edition tote you first missed out on or decade-old designer silk dress that you relish in. There's no shame in responding to compliments with a nonchalant reply, “Oh, this? It’s vintage.”

That said, for the sake of authenticity (literally), it's important to define what vintage means these days. “Traditionally, vintage refers to any item that is 20 to 100 years old. After 100 years, it’s an antique," says Tracy DiNunzio, Founder & CEO of Tradesy. “But I believe the new defining point for vintage is ten years, not twenty, especially in fashion. The internet and social media have accelerated trend cycles so dramatically that one decade is now culturally equivalent to two.”

So, that means a Gucci shoulder bag manufactured in 2008 has already hit vintage status? Yep — at least according to DiNunzio: “I remember when I was in high school in the ‘90s, and we would take the train into New York to shop at secondhand stores for vintage ‘70s bell bottoms and pea coats.” she says. “Those styles had been out of fashion for so long that it felt exciting, edgy, and subversive to revive them. Today, we can get the same feeling from aughts fashion – styles straight out of the 2000s — Sex and the City, Paris Hilton, logomania era — are having that same exciting revival. Looks from a decade ago are now vintage fashion.”

Now that you're armed with a definition, what's the best way to actually find a vintage diamond in the rough? Between the rummaging through racks upon racks of clothing and filtering out potential fakes, tackling vintage shopping can seem a bit daunting. To help you master the art of it all, four experts from the vintage and consignment world revealed their key tips for streamlining the process.

1. Research Your Investment Piece

Always remember that a true vintage buy, whether it be jewelry, apparel, a handbag, or shoes, is an investment. It’s meant to be loved and appreciated for a long time, so do your due diligence on the item of choice and, when in doubt, get a professional second opinion on whether or not it’s a worthy investment. “Generally, bags and jewelry from global luxury brands are the safest vintage investments,” says DiNunzio. “If kept in good condition, they tend to maintain their value, and sometimes even increase in value with age. A great vintage Chanel bag or Cartier watch will always remain valuable, fluctuating by 20 to 30 percent over time as certain shapes and styles come in and out of favor.”

Seth Weisser and Gerard Maione, founders of luxury vintage retailer What Goes Around Comes Around, second the notion that a well-known and respected brand purchase is the way to go here. “From a more practical perspective, vintage Hermès and Chanel are always great investments — especially rare pieces and items from the runway collections,” says the duo. “Hermès Birkins and Kellys have been known to increase their value faster than stocks or gold.”

While not off the table completely, Rati Sahi Levesque, chief merchant of The RealReal, says shoes land a bit lower on the value-holding spectrum. “We get the most wear on them and, unless they’re in mint condition … they don’t get the best resale value,” she explains. So, if you're more interested in wear and less in long-term investment, shoes may be the way to go.

2. Remember That Price Is Relevant To Demand

Authentic vintage finds can be pricey, especially if the item or brand you’re eyeing is a hot commodity. So, don’t let the price tags take you by surprise. “Vintage items are often priced by demand and availability,” say Weisser and Maione. “If the demand for an item is high, then the price for the item will surely go up. Gucci is hot right now, so you will see that vintage Gucci prices may only be slightly lower than what you may find in store ... If there is no demand for the item, the price will drop. If there is a high demand for an item, or if it’s harder to find, clients will find that it’s typically more expensive.”

3. Know How To Spot A Fake

Nothing is worse than shelling out good money for a seemingly authentic vintage find, only to discover it’s not so. “There are so many very small details that need to be looked at when deciphering if you are looking for a fake,” says Robyn Goldberg, owner of Los Angeles-based The Kit Vintage. “Quality being the largest red flag.”

In the bag department, Goldberg says to educate yourself on the exact placement of labels, fonts of the letters and the stitching that is being used. As far as clothing is concerned, she says the quality and richness of a fabric, (or lack thereof) can be dead giveaways. “The quality of the finishings that are being used such as the zipper, the snaps, hook and eyes, buttons, trim, even the quality of a bead or sequin is a tell tale sign,” she says. “The lining inside a piece also is very telling. Lastly hand-stitching versus machine stitching is very important when looking into the quality of a piece.”

According to Levesque, even the soles of a shoe can be signs of foul play. “Sometimes, the red shade at the bottom of Louboutin soles won’t be right or the stamp will be blurry,” she explains. “Labels are always really important in spotting fakes.”

Still, counterfeit techniques are getting more and more advanced and harder to detect. “These fakes are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing,” says DiNunzio. “A few years ago, there were replica Celine luggage bags listed on Tradesy that were near-perfect clones of the original bags. The only way we were able to identify them was through investigating their sellers and learning where the merchandise had been sourced.” For this reason, the vintage expert says it’s crucial to buy from a trusted source that not only possesses an efficient authentication system “but also validates the seller of the item and its source, in order to create a more complete picture of item authenticity.”

4. Don’t Disregard A Non-Designer Item

While a big-name designer piece holds its weight in gold, there’s something equally golden about a unique, non-label item that is representative of a particular era or place in time. “We make a point to continue sourcing true vintage that is just as iconic now as it was when it was first produced like rock tees, vintage Levi’s 501s, authentic Hawaiian Shirts, and kimonos,” say Weisser and Maione.

At the end of the day, remember that vintage pieces are special and should be treated as such. “Although most vintage has been previously worn, I like to think of them as pre-loved,” says Goldberg. “If they have lasted this long, they were kept well and cared for, and are meant to still be here, be worn, and be loved again.”

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