10 Tricks to Shop for Vintage Clothing Like a Pro

Lara Kaluza and Rebecca Emlaw, owners of Citizen Vintage

Buying vintage clothes is a story filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, you find a real gem and other times, all you seem to find are old dirty joggings that once belonged to a 50+ man.

Let’s forget the inevitable for a second: there’s got to be a way to maximize your findings when you go thrift shopping, right??? To solve this style conundrum, I asked two top vintage experts: Lara Kaluza and Rebecca Emlaw, boutique owners of Citizen Vintage. The two women clearly have more than one retro treasure or two under their belts – they both started thrift shopping with their moms when they were little – and often venture on North American road trips in order to fill their Mile End store’s shelves.

Bottom line, if you need advice to shop for vintage goods, clearly, those ladies clearly know what they’re talking about.


1. Be flexible
“Don’t limit yourself, looking through both the women’s and men’s section, you might find your dream pair of boyfriend jeans. You never know what to expect in a vintage shop, so it’s better to go in with an open mind.”

2. A tailor can do magic

“Tailors are an amazing resource for a beautifully made piece, but they can only do so much. If the piece is several sizes too small and doesn’t have much seam allowance, there’s not a whole lot they can do. Most tailors can fit things that are slightly too big or too small and they’re great for hemming and altering 80s shoulders that are too big, for instance.”


3. Price? What price?

“We think it’s about falling in love with a piece. If a piece is really unique, there is no price too high! We often price our pieces on how much like we them. If we fall in love with an item, we’ll usually price it higher because with think it’s special and worth it.”


4. Pick where you dig

“We both have several pieces from our mother’s closets. Charity shops can be great places to find amazing deals, but you usually have to spend a lot of time searching through racks of duds before finding a gem.

Vintage stores like Citizen Vintage collect the best of the best. We make sure to only stock pieces that are in impeccable condition. If we find a piece that is damaged we make sure to repair it before putting in the shop. We also try to pick out pieces that are relevant with current silhouettes.”


5. Forget about sizing

“Give no power to the size that is written on a tag, size 14 in the 1970s is closer to a size 4 today.”

6. Get to know your fabrics

“All fabrics have their pros and cons. Polyester gets a bad rep but it’s really easy to take care of – there’s no way you can shrink it, but it isn’t the most breathable fabric. Natural fibers like wool are beautiful but they can be difficult to care for. It depends on your lifestyle and what you’re looking for from your wardrobe.”


7. Care for your amazing finds

“It’s better to be safe than sorry. Tailored pieces like blazers and wool pants should never go in the washing machine. If you don’t want to pay for a dry cleaner, a trick I learned working in the theatre is to spray the piece with vodka (or rubbing alcohol) to kill the bacteria and spot clean any stains. Silk pieces should be hand washed and wool sweaters can be washed on a wool or delicate setting in your machine but laid flat to dry.”


 8. Take pleasure in the simple fact of owning something special

“As vintage collectors, we both own lots of pieces that we never wear but love them regardless for their history and uniqueness. We don’t see buying these pieces as mistakes, it can be fun to own a crazy 1960s dress that you dance around your bedroom wearing but never leave your house in. But the key is to know when to let go of these pieces and pass them along to someone else to enjoy. Clothing swaps are great for this!”


9. Online shopping: get out your measuring tape

“Measure, measure, measure! Most online vintage shops include measurements of the pieces in their descriptions. Compare the measurements of the piece to something similar that you already own to make sure it will fit.”

10. Be aware of knock-offs

“We don’t specialize in collectors pieces, but designer brands from the last 60 years will usually keep their value over time. Just be sure you are buying the real deal! We have found a couple of very good knock-offs designer bags that we only realized were fake after doing lots of research!”


All photos by Justine Paquette

What are you best tricks to find vintage treasures? Write them up in the comment section :)


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