How To Go Vintage

The vintage hunt is a feat as intimidating as it is rewarding. Contrary to common belief, the vintage shopping trip can be just as successful as your last online spree. Aside from the self-curating aspect, the experience isn’t too much different.

As with every venture, finding pieces that build on your personal style is key. The standards to the items you hold when you choose to buy “new” remain the same with vintage: quality, longevity, and fit. Avoid purchases simply because they’re “unique” or simply “so boho.” Learning how to move quickly through the aisles of a vintage store doesn’t hurt either; the smells and unpleasant surprises you come across can more frequently be avoided (and sifting through old clothes can get gritty, so bring a pair of plastic gloves).

Practice makes perfect, and starting with classic vintage pieces provides a great foundation for adding to your wardrobe.

The Authentic Vintage Jeans

Although it may not always be an immediate find, the perfect pair of authentic vintage jeans is usually the most coveted and satisfying once found. Levi’s, Wrangler, Rustler and Lee are some brands to look out for. Start your search by looking for washes you’re drawn to. Perhaps you’ve been wanting that iconic lighter wash, circa Drew Barrymore in the 90s. Maybe a darker, heavier whiskered pair is the one that fits the job. Whichever it is, stick to that standard and make it your starting point.

After you’ve locked down a style, start gauging pairs that will fit you. Do this by using the handy neck-measuring tool, mentioned in “Ditching The Size.” Your neck is an accurate assessment of half your waist, so holding your jeans around your neck can help you guess-timate whether or not that pair will fit (and also save you a little time, from having to try on a million pairs). As mentioned earlier, vintage shopping is most successful when gems are found in an efficient amount of time. Find tricks that help you move faster. The less time spent in the shop, the less taxing and allergy-inducing the experience.

The Classic Blazer

Finding the perfect blazer requires few guidelines. First off, determine the neutral color you’re looking for. Beige or black is a good place to start. Anything louder than neutral will most likely remain a permanent fixture [this sounds like you’ll wear it a lot, but really it’s the opposite] in your closet, as you’ll soon realize how hard it is to incorporate it into the rest of your wardrobe. Outerwear shouldn’t take the spotlight, but accent your ensemble.

Decide on your fit: oversized or tailored. Depending on this, you can then pull ones you’re looking to try on. When in the fitting room, make sure to swing your arms forward and to the sides. Your back and underarms shouldn’t pull or feel uncomfortable. Shoulders should sit directly on your shoulders, not past them. As mentioned in “Dressing Like an Adult,” avoid elaborate decor like epaulettes and too many gold details. With eras like the 80s, you’ll run into a lot of accentuated detailing, so keeping this in mind will help you save time. You’ll want to keep reaching for your blazer, so timeless, minimal characteristics are vital. Besides obvious designer labels like Escada and Dior, look for brands like Carole Little or Ralph Lauren.

You’ll want to keep reaching for your blazer, so timeless, minimal characteristics are vital.

The Tee

You can never have enough soft, vintage tees. They go with everything and can be worn in almost any occasion. Follow these steps here, and you’ll be set. Avoiding obscure text and stains are the number one rule. You can never have enough t-shirts, so don’t hold back. When perusing the t-shirt aisle, make sure to keep things age appropriate. Too many graphics or images can look juvenile. Always envision it as part of an outfit you already have in mind. This will help you style it into your ensembles.

The Button-Down Shirt

The comfort of a button-down shirt is priceless. Here you can have fun with color and pattern. White, black, orange, plaid or even leopard print can work. Determine first the purpose of your button-down, whether you want it as a basic or a statement piece. Curate the pieces you try on accordingly. Solid colors will become your staples, and patterns will be a versatile piece for a night out or even a date. Look for silk or cotton blends, as these fabrics sit best on the body.

The Statement Clip-On Earrings

While jewelry is a standard item in vintage shopping, it’s important not to fall for every piece you see. Depending where you are, there can be a lot of pieces made of less-than-desirable metals and materials. If they have a strong metallic smell, steer clear. To be safe, look for cubic zirconia, gold plated, or sterling silver. Make sure to try them on for a secure clip. They shouldn’t be too loose or too tight. Turn your head from side to side; you’ll know if they don’t feel right. After all, you could be dancing in these.

Don’t be afraid to shell out a bit more for a pair of earrings you really dig. Understanding the style and era of the earrings always makes them more special, so ask about their background. That art deco pair may very well be the ones you end up wearing to every cocktail party.

Lastly, remember to enjoy the experience. After all, you’re bringing each of these pieces back to life!

What’s been your favorite vintage purchase? And what are some of your favorite vintage shops?

Image via Rebekah J. Murray


Janet is the Creative Director and founder of Denim Refinery, an e-boutique and style site where customers can send in their denim to be customized with industry treatments such as waxing, distressing, or even laser printing (leopard is always a crowd favorite). Along with this service, Denim Refinery also offers a carefully curated selection of classic vintage denim that has been gently "refined," while still preserving the original aesthetic. This collection is also carried at stores around the country, like Totokaelo, Olive Austin, Kick Pleat, and Frances May. Through simple styling, Sung strives to maintain a timeless aesthetic for the brand, encouraging her customers to regard vintage as an equivalent to contemporary wear.

  • Audrey December 8, 2016

    I own a curated vintage shop online! Would love if you stopped by. and on instagram @shopthewildgem

  • Yenabid December 8, 2014

    Hey is there any website of how to be a women and how they did back then like around 50’s or 40’s

  • Kate October 17, 2014

    Very useful list when navigating the lovely DTLA’s Shareen’s Vintage.

    • Janet October 19, 2014

      Or even your local Goodwill or thrift shop!