The expert-approved check-list you should bring when you next go thrifting

By Josefin Forsberg

Speaking to four vintage dealers, we explore the do’s and don’ts of second-hand shopping

Anyone who’s ventured into a vintage store would be quick to tell you that the experience can be overwhelming. It takes time and effort to learn how to sort through rack after rack in an unorganised store or the keywords to know when searching high and low online – all in pursuit of nabbing some unique pieces. One could almost call it an art form, which is why we enlisted the help of four vintage dealers in devising a fool-proof thrifting checklist.

“Vintage and second-hand shopping is a great way to shop ‘the one that got away’ or pieces that seem out of reach given their high retail prices,” says Marie Louise Schultz, creative director and founder of The Vintage Bar. While her website has grown to host private sellers, Schultz still has some serious second-hand chops from her days sourcing second-hand.

Lovisa Källström, the founder of Worn Vintage, agrees that there’s unparalleled quality when you find the right pre-loved pieces. “I think it’s a beautiful philosophy to cherish what’s already there,” she says. The adrenaline-fuelled hunt can be almost as satisfying as the final treasure, after all. A sentiment that upcycling brand Havre Studio’s founder Madeleine Frandsen shares: “I enjoy the hunt and the thrill when you put lots of hours into getting that one special piece.”

This proficiency in finding pre-loved takes time to develop. Case in point: Cherie Balch, the founder of Shrimpton Couture, who has been honing her skills since she was a teenager. She describes her first vintage find as a “light-bulb moment”, saying, "I realised that I could get the looks I was after by being clever about finding things from the past.” Today, her inimitable eye for vintage designer has resulted in a vast archive of couture pieces frequently worn by celebrities on the red carpet. An archive that Balch says is based on genuine curiosity for vintage fashion and hours of research.

Below, we’ve gathered their hands-on tips on what to look for when second-hand shopping.

Do your research

"After all these years, knowing what to look for has become second nature," says Balch. She believes that getting good at sourcing vintage is a learning process and urges rookies to not be deterred by the comprehensive information available. "It's Ok if you don't know everything to watch out for when you first start buying vintage," she says. "You can make it easy by starting to buy from someone like me who is doing the curation for you already or just dive in. There are lots of resources out there these days." Her best tips are to go to your local vintage shops and ask questions. You should also read up on it with books on fashion history. "Immerse yourself in finding out what to watch for and learn what appeals to you," she says. "Then every time you hunt for something great, you build the skills to inherently know what to look for."

Know what you’re after

“I always start with the design and silhouette,” says Källströrm. “The first look of a piece is very important. Some clothes you love at first sight, others you need to learn to love slowly.” A rough idea of what you’re after will cut precious time spent in second-hand shops short, making your hunt more effective. “After that first selection, I sort out the ‘yes pieces’ and then the ‘maybe pieces,’” she continues. “I slowly scroll through the 'maybe' pieces and always try them on because they might look quite different when wearing them. Then I can decide whether it’s good enough to buy or not.” Of course, buying pre-loved still has the same traps as fast fashion with attractive prices, as Frandsen points out, so it's always important to remember "quality over quantity."

Steer clear of synthetics

“I usually stay away from synthetics,” says Frandsen. “I check the lining of pieces,” she says. “and how it falls on me.” Both aspects affected by the type of fabric used in a piece. “Also with vintage," she reiterates "it is about quality over quantity." For Källström, the feel of the fabric is crucial. “I always check the materials. Is it soft and sleek or heavy and solid?" she says. “I like it when it’s either of those, nothing in between.” As such, shopping for second-hand is about falling in love with a piece, not spur of the moment shopping landing you with sweaters that itch or dresses that don't permit your skin to breathe.

Keep an eye on construction

Construction is one of the aspects that ensures vintage pieces last longer. Detailed attention to seams and stitches, or if a piece is handmade will keep some clothes looking off-the-rack for decades after purchase. This craftsmanship is something that Balch keeps in mind when considering investing in a piece. “Look at how things are made inside,” she says. “Go to higher end shops and fast fashion stores and look at the difference in how things are put together and the difference in fabrics.” With that said, certain parts of pre-loved pieces are under more duress and therefore more likely to be worn out. “I always check the buttons," says Frandsen.

Think twice when faced with a hole

Imagine finding the perfect pre-loved piece and bringing it home only to discover a small hole. Devastating, we know. That’s why it is always good to check items for rips in the fabric before purchasing. “They can be difficult to repair depending on where they are,” says Frandsen. For example, damage along seams is easier to mend than in the middle of a panel. For Källström, she always keeps two words in mind when considering a piece: refresh and repair. “I start to check if there are any flaws; stains, holes, missing buttons, loose threading or any awkward smells,” she says. “Many flaws can be repaired pretty easily, so it’s just a matter of how big the flaw is and whether it’s fixable.”