10 Things To Look For When Shopping Vintage

Courtesy of The Manhattan Vintage Show
Courtesy of The Manhattan Vintage Show

Shopping vintage is all about the thrill of the hunt. After all, you never know what you will find. And for the vintage shopper, unearthing a gem from a bygone time can delight like no other shopping experience. But what should you look for when you’re on the second-hand prowl? Vendors from The Manhattan Vintage Show, the largest vintage show in the US share what they look for when buying vintage, so you can hone your thrifting skills like a fashion boss.

The Manhattan Vintage Show, which took place in New York the weekend of April 7, included a special exhibition on vintage rock t-shirts called “The Rock & Roll T-Shirt Hall of Fame,” which happened to coincide with the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (where Tupac Shakur, Joan Baez, Journey, and Pearl Jam were amongst the honorees). Over 30 vintage (1990s and older) rock t-shirts were available for purchase at the show.

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

If rock t-shirts aren’t your pleasure, there were hundreds of other looks to hunt through—a task which, admittedly, could get a little overwhelming.

From knowing what’s worth a repair to how to tell if an item is indeed couture, vintage shopping tips can help take your thrifting game to the next level. “Look around without expectations,” says Meika Franz of Another Man’s Treasure, one of the show’s premiere vendors. “And above all, let the items grab you.” The following is a guide on what to look for when shopping vintage, from The Manhattan Vintage Shows international vendors.

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Is it in excellent condition?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Lenore Newman of Patina Vintage specializes in buying from estate sales, and has a fondness for clothing and accessories from the mid-century, specifically the 1950s through 1970s. Newman, whose soft spot is handbags, doesn’t buy the big three (Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel), but rather seeks out brands that are lesser-known yet still luxe, like Koret and Morris Moscowitz. “You must pay attention to the construction, when looking at condition. Look for attention to detail and styling.”

What is the quality of the fabric?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Although you generally want to buy items in impeccable condition, the one item where distress is desirable is t-shirts, especially if they’re rock & roll. Says Cherry from Cherry Vintage, “I like t-shirts that have had a life already.” To tell if the t-shirt you’re buying is truly vintage, look for natural fibers. Vintage t-shirts are tough and durable; back in the day, t-shirts weren’t treated, like today’s reproductions.

Are flaws repairable?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Lisa Victoria (pictured above), who has a predilection for Victorian and Edwardian finds, knows a thing or two about repairing garments that are literally over 100 years old. Look at how white she was able to get that turn-of-the-century ensemble above, just by hand washing with care. “Do buy something if it’s fabulous. You can have it relined or re-weaved.”

Jen McCulloch, a stylist and vintage clothing dealer from Olive’s Very Vintage suggests soaking a vintage garment in soap and water and treating it with a little bit of lemon juice and letting it dry in the sun. Additionally, if the item is white, make sure you treat the garment when it’s dry by dipping a Q-Tip into bleach and spot treating. Rinse immediately.

Is the print rare?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

One of the reasons to shop vintage is the plethora of prints that are not available today, like this original Keith Haring print pictured above.

Is there distinct artistry?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Masako Ogura of Mingei Japan specializes in Japanese kimonos that are both rare and vintage. She visits Japan twice a year to hand-pick “hand tie-dyed or hand-embroidered” kimonos that display stunning artistry. Although there’s no market in Japan for a second-hand kimono, people outside of Japan are thrilled to pick up a silk kimono for a fraction of what it would cost brand new. Plus, some of the designs are extremely rare because they’re vintage.

Is it an authentic designer?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Serge Liagre of Vintage by Rosemaine is a former principal ballet dancer with the French ballet and preeminent collector from Marseille. “I like history,” he says. Holding up a Gaultiler dress, Liagre adds, “This Gaultiler dress says so much about the 1980s, doesn’t it?” Indeed, you want to make sure the designer item is authentic, so carefully examine the labels. “Ask questions,” Liagre says. “By doing research I learned that Balmain hand-numbered early 20th century couture.” The more you know about a designer, the better you are to invest in its authenticity.

Does it fit?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Meika Warren of Another Man’s Treasure suggests you try on any vintage purchase before buying. “Cuts are so different depending on the era, and sizes have changed over the years.” Vivian Rodgers Hill of Lady V’s Second Time Around also suggests you have a friend, or store owner, take a photograph of you wearing your vintage find.

Does it look like a costume?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Rodgers-Hill adds that shopping by eras is a fabulous guide to thrifting. Her suggestion is to be authentic, as you don’t want to look like you’re wearing a costume. “Vintage shopping requires self-examination,” says Rodgers-Hill. “What’s authentic to you?”

Can it be incorporated into your wardrobe?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

You want your vintage find to blend seamlessly into the rest of your wardrobe. “It doesn’t have to be so out there,” Franz adds. “In fact, you want to be able to incorporate vintage into your closet for a modern look.”

Does it tell a story?

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

Amanda Dolan and Meagan Colby of Spark Pretty, which specializes in everything 90s, suggest that a piece you shouldn’t pass up is one that has a narrative. “I love dressing up,” says Dolan. “The best thing about vintage is it now becomes part of your story. The item keeps living.”

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article