Larkin Basics  June 20, 2017

The Right Way to Shop for Vintage Clothes

by Larkin Clark

Wait – there’s a specific way to shop for vintage? Yes, and you’re probably doing it wrong. (Sorry.)

But first, let’s talk about my outfit in these photos. Whether you dig it or not, it includes a designer piece (vintage St. John sweater) and real leather jacket (thanks, Amarcord), and cost less than $200 from head to toe. It’s stuff like this that gets me pumped every time I pass a vintage or thrift store.


Not everyone gets the same thrill I do hunting for unique finds, and I get it. You’ve probably lost hours of your life digging through musty crap and keep coming out empty-handed and ready to strangle someone. That’s bound to happen if you don’t have a game plan. Lucky for you, I have a game plan.

As a seasoned vintage shopper with more than twenty years of experience under my belt (I started pretty young), I know how to home in on awesome pieces quickly and make it feel like a game, not a chore. Trust me: Once you secure your first successful haul that costs less than one new piece would, you’ll keep going back for more. Just try not to hoard.

Vintage Shopping Rules

1. Dress for the occasion.
This is important. Depending on where you shop, second-hand clothes can be kind of gross, so wear appropriate undergarments: full-butt underwear if you’re planning to try on bottoms, a smooth bra in a neutral color,  and leggings and a camisole in case you want to quickly try things on in the mirror outside the dressing room (if you go to a vintage fair or flea market, there may not be dressing rooms at all).

2. Choose your store.
For regular thrifting, I generally skip the more well-known, buzzed-about spots because they’re a lot more expensive and things tend to be picked through unless you get there right when the latest drop-off arrives. (That being said, definitely hit them up for inspiration, special occasions, and if you have time and money to blow.) I’ve found some of my all-time favorite pieces at more affordable second-hand “department stores” like Savers and the designer racks at donations hubs like Goodwill. If you live near an expensive neighborhood (in NYC, the UES; in Silicon Valley, try Menlo Park), it’s worth going to donation centers in those areas before hitting others – there are likely entire racks devoted to affordable designer pieces, thanks to fashionable women spring cleaning their wardrobes.

3. Scan the racks quickly. 
Don’t overthink your first pass. Keep an eye out for the colors and textures that you’re most into right now and pull anything that jumps out at you. If you’re hunting for designer finds, scan the labels as well. Don’t spend too much time on this – many people get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of random stuff in second-hand stores, so work on impulse and don’t go back for a second look until you’ve gone through your first dressing room haul.

4. Head to a mirror.
Before you go in a dressing room, bring everything over to a mirror and hold each piece up to your body. You can tell a lot about how a garment will fit and whether the color and pattern work with your aesthetic and skin tone without even trying it on. This cuts out many of the pieces you would have otherwise taken into the dressing room and wasted time on.

5. Examine the picks that made the cut.
Now that you’re in the dressing room, consider each garment carefully: Does it fit properly without alterations? Are there any buttons missing, snags, or other things that may lead to quick deterioration? For the ones that past those tests, think outside the box about how you could potentially style them with your existing wardrobe.

6.  Say, “Fuck yes” or “No.”
To make the final call, use the “Fuck Yes or No” decision-making method author Mark Manson outlines for dating. This principle can also be applied to shopping, which basically makes it the most useful principle ever. According to Manson, “The Law of ‘Fuck Yes or No’ states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say, ‘Fuck Yes’ in order for you to proceed with them.” To do it with clothing, put on each item to see if you hear the words “Fuck Yes” go through your head when you look at yourself in the mirror. If they do, get the item. If not, toss it in the “Fuck No” bin and move on – kind of like KonMari, but with swear words. And those make all the difference.



Words, styling, makeup, hair, lifestyle photography, and direction: Larkin Clark
Photos of Larkin: Robert Brockett

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