Vintage shopping 101

May 15, 2015
Clothes rack
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Before vintage shopping became a thang, my fashion-forward friend, Kelsey, was already way into it in high school. Yes, that may or may not have been 10 years ago. (Aside: We’re still very cool and relevant people haha). I have to credit her for introducing me to the vintage/upcycling lifestyle. It’s entertaining, but also environmentally-conscious, fashion-focused, budget-friendly and has become one of my favourite past times.

There’s something about the thrill of finding a hidden gem that makes you feel like you’re winning at life!

Vintage shopping can be for everyone, depending on your level of patience.

Below are some tips and tricks I’ve learned throughout the years to guide you through the racks.


1) Don’t be a snob: “Ew, someone touched these,” you may think. Yes, you are buying things that other people have used. But, remember, you can wash them and don’t buy anything you feel is unhygienic or can’t be cleaned. The bigger picture is we’re trying to reduce, reuse, recycle, stop spending like we can make it rain and just have fun!

Also, I think women tend to change over their wardrobes more frequently, whether it be to keep up with trends and clear up closet space, things don’t fit anymore, or the novelty has worn off. You’ll find a lot of vintage items that are very gently used or actually unused (some with tags still attached!).

2) Pay it forward: Donate clothing, jewellery, accessories, even the money you saved back to the community so you can keep the vintage cycle and good vibes going!

3) Have fun: Look at it as a treasure hunt. You could find something in particular you’re looking for or a gem to add to your wardrobe.


General thrift stores, like Value Village, can be very daunting because of the sheer volume of items. Yes, you can find things there beyond Halloween costumes, ugly Christmas sweaters or 80’s party gear if you take the time to look.

I would only recommend trying a thrift store if you are a shopper who enjoys spending time digging through the racks. Best practice if you are pretty much never into leisurely shopping and just want to find something good and get out:

  1. It’s all ordered by size: Look for your size and start from there. Clothing is also usually separated by type, like short sleeve, long sleeve shirts, pants, shorts etc. so target what you want, know your size and find your size.
  2. Patterns and colours: Look for patterns and colours that you like so you don’t have to go through each piece on the rack one-by-one. Do a quick scan and then pull out items that catch your eye. Do you like it? Then check for quality (does it look too faded or worn out), damage (can you repair it or even want to repair it) and your likelihood of use (is it your style, on-trend, will you actually wear it).
  3. Would you buy it if it were new? If you got overzealous and ended up with a gazillion items, go try them all on. Start cutting by thinking about if you would actually want the item if  you found it new at the mall. You don’t want to clog your closet with cheap ‘B’ list items you’ll never wear.


Consignment stores have done the initial fashion weed out for you and are filled with great items. Generally, they are pricier than your average thrift store, but you can find some really great brands for a lot less.

  1. What’s their style? Look up consignment stores in your area and scope out online if they match your style. Feel free to explore in-person to see if they have the look, brands and quality you like.
  2. End of season: A lot of consignment stores have end of season sales to clear out their old merchandise, which means deep cuts on great pieces. I follow a couple of my favourite stores on Facebook. It’s a great way to keep updated on new things on the floor and their sales.
  3. Consign your clothes for $$$! Consigning your brand name clothing is a great way to get rid of those more expensive items that just don’t look right on you (perhaps they were gifts), but you’re having a hard time giving them away for free.

I consign a lot of my clothes/jewellery/purses/accessories for store credit at several stores for variety. Usually you can bring a bag of clothes in, they’ll sort it and give you back what they don’t want to sell. However, some stores don’t have the same “give-back” policy. Some will conveniently donate your items for you that they didn’t select to sell and the items that didn’t end up selling at the end of the season.

So be aware of the stores’ policy and do your research.  Compare the percentages stores give back to their consignors and go with the ones that fit your preferences best. Consignment stores usually give close to 40% of the selling price back to their consignors. The selling price of items is also determined by the store and may be discounted over time.

Some of my #yyc favourites include: Danielle’s, Fiesty, Rewind, Peacock Boutique and Trend Fashions.


Clothing swaps are a fun way to trade clothes to freshen up your wardrobe. However, they are rarer and it can be hard to find a group of ladies to swap with.

  1. Finding them: I specifically joined to find clothing swap events. I’ve been to a couple and they are pretty good! You could also host one with your own friends or search for them online.
    The Swap Team also hosts many “Take off your clothes” mega-swaps all over Canada that are super fun, with donations from the events supporting community charity partners.
  2. Learn the rules: The rules for clothing swaps vary. Some of the smaller ones are a free-for-all where you display your goods and everyone can browse and take as they wish. The “Take off your clothes” mega swaps have a ticketing system and a small fee to attend the event. Each item you donate in good swappable quality earns you a ticket to be used in exchange for anything at the event.
  3. Be prepared to let go: Clothing swaps can be hectic and unruly. Be prepared to let go of any of the items you bring. Swaps are pretty much never one-to-one scenarios where you only give an item away to someone if they have something you want in exchange. Rest assured, your items will find a new home where they will be cherished, or donated for a good cause.

I vintage shop a lot for work clothes. It can be the most expensive part of your wardrobe since you want to keep looking polished and fresh at the office, but don’t want to spend that much of the money you’re earning there. Below is a gallery of some of the recent gems I’ve found from vintage shopping. (Excuse my bad or actual lack of ironing!)


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  • Reply Emma P May 29, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Hey, loved this post and you have some great tips, especially for a vintage shopping newbie like me! However, I am quick-shop kind of girl, so the thought of vintage shopping scares me as I know it requires patience to go through a rack and find those gems. Are there any options for someone like me who isn’t willing to put in the time to scour racks but loves the style?


    • Reply Michelle Seto June 10, 2015 at 7:18 pm

      Thanks for reading, Em! Vintage shopping does take time and patience. But, checking out consignment stores that match your style are your best bet for time and patience saving. They’re more organized, nicely display their items and do the initial style/fashion weed out for you so you can get in and out with your vintage treasures. OR, take a friend with you who likes to do the work (me)! You can chill out and have a coffee while they look for cool things for you to try on 🙂

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