7 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Shopping For Vintage Clothing


Going shopping for vintage clothing is exciting, affordable and better for the environment. But it’s a high risk, high reward situation: there are a few very common mistakes that people make when they’re thrift-shopping or scouring flea markets and vintage stores that can sour the experience.

Here are our top tips of what to avoid when you’re out looking for your next secondhand clothing bargain.

7 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Shopping for Vintage Clothing

1. Not keeping an open mind 

Found the perfect dress but it’s too long? A couple of missing buttons on a great short? A jacket that needs a pocket stitched on, or a pair of trousers that could do with a bit of tailoring? Don’t pass up something fantastic just because it’s not perfect.

Alterations are easy, whether you farm them out to tailors or pick up a needle and thread and do them yourself, and going into a vintage store looking for everything to be a perfect fit on you isn’t going to yield the best results. Go in with an open mind and think of the finished product when you try things on. Don’t let a little alteration keep you from picking up something fantastic. 

2. But… Do practice a little tough love 

Having said that, it’s important to be realistic about how much altering something needs. If an item is great but is in need of heavy duty care, or is in pretty bad shape, then think seriously about whether it’s right for you. Even if the fabric or print is incredible, if an item is on its last legs, or has plenty of stains or holes, then no amount of tailoring can save it. Sometimes, you have to just let it go.

3. Think about sizing

This is an evergreen suggestion, not just for vintage shopping, but it’s especially true here. Sizing information on vintage clothes is often confusing and doesn’t match up to our current day sizing. Don’t let the number on a tag put you off trying something on you never know what is going to be a perfect fit.

When you’re in that fitting room, think seriously about the piece and how it fits. Like we mentioned, there’s a lot that can be done with alterations. But if it’s too small, or way too big, don’t buy it just in case. Buy only what fits you really well, or that you know will fit you with a couple of small changes.

4. Go basic 

A common mistake people make when vintage shopping is looking only at showstopping pieces, like jackets, jumpsuits, dresses and skirts. Those are all fantastic, but don’t forget to look for basics too. The perfect, softened t-shirt or a great classic button down shirt are some of the sweetest vintage finds you’ll ever have, and are often overlooked by shoppers making a beeline for party fabulous outfits.

5. Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap

There are some incredible buys to be had on the vintage circuit, and those who are willing to put in the time scouring Depop or online stores, or in person at vintage boutiques and thrift shops, are likely to be rewarded for their effort. But there’s always a but don’t just buy something because it’s a good deal. Do you really want the item? Do you really need it? Does it really fit into your wardrobe and aesthetic?

Just because something is cheap doesn’t necessarily make it a good purchase, and by shopping up a storm, even at vintage stores, you can still be contributing to unnecessary waste. When sizing up whether or not to purchase, try to think of at least three outfits where the piece will slot seamless into your wardrobe. If you can, then pick it up. If not, leave it on the rack for another lucky customer.

6. Don’t forget to ask questions 

Whether you’re shopping in store or online, make sure you ask questions. Vintage store owners, market stall holders and the account managers of Depop or Etsy and eBay stores are all the real experts in this field and will know a huge amount of things about the pieces that you are interested in.

And aside from giving you information about an item’s provenance or history as well as other vintage stores to check out they also know their back catalogue and stockroom intimately. Get on their side and they’ll be the ones to bring you bargain after bargain.

7. Not spending enough time 

Again, this is a good tip for both in person and online vintage shopping: but in order to really find gold, you have to dig through a lot of… not gold. Good vintage shopping takes time. Be prepared to invest weekends sifting through your favourite secondhand stores, or block out an evening to trawl accounts online looking for those vintage Levis of your dreams.

This isn’t to say that you should devote your whole life to it, but just remember that what you put in, you’ll get back. If you’re online, start following some sellers you like and on Depop, begin to curate a feed. Switch up your search terms. Have a look around Facebook marketplace and join some swap and sell groups. Don’t go in expecting to find something perfect immediately. Vintage shopping is a marathon, not a sprint. Good luck! 

Want more shopping tips? Here are 8 emerging Australian artists whose work you can pick up for less than $1000

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