How to score the best vintage and thrift store finds

Oct 1, 2012 at 8:00 a.m. ET

Hunting for fab vintage finds can be one of the most fun shopping experiences, but the thrill of the hunt only lasts so long. If you leave empty handed store after store, the fun wears off.

Woman shopping for vintage fashions

But there are a few key strategies that can help you find exactly what you’re looking for -- and a few cool things you weren’t.


This isn’t “find the random Chanel handbag for $20” vintage shopping we’re talking about, or "find the ultra-rate, super-exclusive piece of jewelry" vintage shopping either. This is vintage (or thrift store) shopping for those of us who want to find on trend pieces for less than what they cost at most stores that manufacture items with a “retro-twist” or which are “vintage-inspired.”

Be patient

First things first -- unlike at GAP or H&M, what you want likely won’t jump out at you from the racks for an easy purchase. No, at a vintage store, you often have to search for what you want among multiple racks and likely more than one store. This is made even more difficult in the absence of multiple sizes. Unlike your average store, a vintage shop will only have limited sizes, which means you end up searching for three times as long as you normally would for something that fits. The key? Be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to find something great.

Keep an open mind

OK, maybe you set out on your day of vintage shopping to find the perfect pair of faded denim, ultimate lace mini dress or pretty peasant blouse. But sometimes the things you really think you want just refuse to be found. When that happens, keep an eye out for other gems you might overlook when you’re obsessively searching for something else. You never know what you might find when you relax and remember to have fun as you shop!

Know the trends

You might not be able to afford the new “it” bag from your favorite designer or the blazer that keeps taunting you from the pages of Vogue, but if you know what to look for, there’s a good chance you’ll find something very similar (and much more unique) at a fraction of the cost at a vintage store or even your local thrift store. Trends are so often brought back from other decades (this fall it’s the ‘50s), so it’s not surprising then that you can find trendier pieces for less when you get them second (or third) hand.


Not finding what you want? It pays to ask the people who work in or own the stores. They might have boxes of back stock in the basement that contain that cropped denim jacket or swing dress you’ve been coveting. If they don’t have it, they may be able to source it for you, either from other vintage purveyors or the next time they go searching for new items.

Watch: Retro style

Project Runway's Michael Costello breaks down what makes up retro style.

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