You can’t even walk through a Target these days without seeing some piece of “vintage-inspired” clothing or accessory. From broken-in denim, to band tees, to artfully distressed leather jackets, the vintage look has never gone out of style – even if the items of clothing have gone out of production.
“I think a lot of it has to do with nostalgia,” says Avery Plewes, a Toronto-based costume designer who pulled racks of vintage designer clothing for the Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern film, JT LeRoy. “While you may outgrow the phase in your life where you listened to a particular band, a tee is a reminder of a period in your life, and the artist that was the soundtrack to that time. Also,” she adds, “a vintage T-shirt is almost always more comfortable, because it has been broken-in by the person who owned it before you.
Vintage is big business these days for both retailers and individuals alike. While you can spend your weekends scouring flea markets and thrift shops, a number of sites have also made vintage shopping more accessible than ever before, letting users browse, shop and order everything online. The key to getting a good deal: make sure you do your research and due diligence before hitting the buy button. Here are a few tips to help you succeed in your vintage shopping experience.
WHERE TO SHOP
If you’re looking to score that special piece, your first bet should be eBay. The online marketplace is one of the largest and most popular places for vintage apparel and accessories. The site’s huge breadth of inventory has everything from luxury and designer items, to rare, one-of-a-kind pieces.
“When it comes to vintage, we offer an amazing selection of retro and hard-to-find clothing and accessories that our community of sellers from around the world are listing daily,” says Bradford Shellhammer, Global Head of Buyer Engagement & Growth at eBay.
What we like: eBay has easy-to-figure-out filters in place that shoppers can use to narrow down the style, brand and decade that they’re looking for, from iconic brand tees, to a 1960s band jacket, to 1990s Dr. Martens. “And,” Shellhammer adds, “we have tons of styles for any type of budget, whether you’re looking for a unique, designer coat to add to your wardrobe, collecting vintage rock band tees, or on the hunt for trending items like Champion sweatshirts or Dior saddle bags from the 90s.”
Another good place to shop: Etsy. Once a haven for crafters and DIY enthusiasts, the site is now home to many well-curated and well-stocked vintage boutiques, run by super knowledgeable and enthusiast vendors from around the world. Like eBay, you can either buy an item outright, or try to contact the seller to negotiate a better price (or package a couple pieces together for quick sale). “In the past, I’ve bought Victorian dresses from Etsy for Grimes videos and found it way cheaper than buying at the vintage store in Los Angeles,” says Turner, a commercial and celebrity stylist whose clients also include Julia Michaels, Kim Gordon and the DJ, Porter Robinson.
For designer items (think: vintage purses, jewelry or shoes), you’ll want to go with a trusted site, like What Goes Around Comes Around, which boasts one of the best selections of luxury vintage goods in the country. Along with its physical boutiques in New York, Beverly Hills, Miami and the Hamptons, the store’s website offers everything from one-of-a-kind custom gowns, to hard-to-find Rolex watches. What Goes Around Comes Around has become a favorite of celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Adam Levine, who flock to the store’s – and website’s – extensive selection of vintage tees.
These days, even popular e-tailers like ASOS are getting into the vintage game. The ASOS Marketplace features hundreds of curated vintage tees, denim, jackets and accessories for men and women, while Urban Outfitters has a special section online for vintage and one-of-a-kind pieces as well. Among the items we’ve spotted in the past: everything from a vintage Christian Dior tux, to 90s-era Polo shirts, tie-dye and camo prints. The e-commerce site, Farfetch, also carries a solid inventory of vintage goods, with designer names like Chanel, Fendi, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, just to name a few. And sneakerheads love StockX, which is a “bid/ask marketplace” where buyers and sellers transact on things like Retro Jordans, streetwear and more. A perk of shopping with these sites: many of them offer weekly promo codes and discounts that can be applied to their vintage pieces, in addition to new merch.
A last resort: “Instagram has been incredibly helpful in my search for my own wardrobe collection, which has come in handy for last-minute videos with a $2 budget,” Turner says.
Plewes concurs. “I love Etsy and eBay for vintage graphic or band tees [but] Instagram is also a great resource, especially if you are looking for something that is more niche.”
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
While some people swear by vintage T-shirts, others prefer holding out for more unique or special pieces. Kacey Musgraves’ stylist, Erica Cloud, says she’s always on the hunt for a well-worn leather or suede jacket, vintage Levi’s, “beautiful old robes or kimonos, and my favorite, mechanic jumpsuits.”
Cloud, who says Musgraves “loves all types of vintage as much as I do,” recently found a vintage Willie Nelson tee for an appearance that Musgraves and Nelson had together. She also works with Busy Philipps for her show, Busy Tonight, and says the actress loves to wear vintage pieces mixed with current designers. “[Vintage pieces] add personality and uniqueness,” Cloud says, “but are still classic.”
What to look for: unless you’re a collector, you’ll want pieces that are still in wearable condition, with original stitching still in place, and without any modifications. If it’s a well-made piece, especially from a reputable designer, someone should be able to wear it for years. “The best way to identify vintage is the quality of the garment, cut and fabric content,” Plewes says. “The quality you get in a vintage piece is not available anymore unless you are paying a premium for designer pieces.”
Another thing to look for: any visible stains or permanent discolorations. That vintage Grateful Dead tee might be super soft and perfectly-distressed, but if there are pit stains or food stains on it, you’re going to have a hard time getting those out. (Not to mention a hard time unloading the shirt if you want to re-sell it in the future).
HOW TO DETERMINE A REAL FROM A FAKE
Not all vintage is created equal – nor is all vintage actually real vintage. The best way to spot a real from a fake: “Look at the tag,” says Cloud. “Most vintage tees and other pieces are produced by companies that aren’t around any more.”
If it is designer vintage you’re after, there are several websites that will authenticate an item for you. Plewes recommends Entrupy, an app that lets you snap photos of items you like, and then uses AI algorithms to analyze the images to determine authenticity. Another way to validate: take it to a vintage dealer or store. “Any proper vintage designer vendor should be able to validate the authenticity of an item for you,” Plewes says.
Shellhammer says eBay has a ton of measures in place to ensure the authenticity of items for sale and to remove false listings. “In the rare case a buyer believes that he or she has purchased a counterfeit item, eBay has a Money Back Guarantee that applies to virtually all transactions and will cover them accordingly,” he says.
Another tip: “I recommend that shoppers look out for positive feedback on the seller’s account, check the photos and descriptions carefully,” Shellhammer says, “and don’t be afraid to reach out to the seller with questions.”
Read carefully too. You can find original artist and concert tees from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s on eBay, but you’ll often see those designs reproduced on new apparel, and then listed as “vintage inspired.” “Original tees from an artist’s specific tour or show are often mentioned in the seller’s listing and include the year, overall condition of the item, and a price that reflects its rare nature,” Shellhammer says.
FIND SOMETHING THAT FITS YOU… TO A TEE
At the end of the day, a vintage piece should not only appeal to your sense of style, but to your personality and way of life as well. Many people use vintage clothing to tell a story, or to transport themselves back to another time.
For this year’s Grammys, Cloud styled Musgraves in a vintage, red jumpsuit with ric rac detail from L.A.’s Palace Costume. “Kacey performed with Dolly Parton in the tribute for her, and we decided to go old-school Dolly,” Cloud says. The best part: “It fit her like a glove. No alterations necessary. The attention to detail and designs were just such better quality before fast fashion came around.”
“What I love about vintage, especially in my field is that there is always a story attached to it,” adds Plewes. “[The garment] has lived another life previously to my use. My job is storytelling and it is such an added bonus when the pieces I work with come with a past life.”