Finding vintage items is an exciting part of being a vintage fanatic but as vintage clothing and accessories become more popular it is becoming increasingly difficult to discover items that don't come with a premium price tag. Recently a pair of adidas Superstars were auctioned for $10,000 - that's crazy! But imagine if you were able to find these products in a place where nobody was looking.
I was eager to find out what other people who had a passion for vintage but not necessarily for sportswear were doing to find their hidden gems and could we apply these techniques to finding adidas classics.
So I reached out to a range of vintage experts to find out their top tips for finding rare vintage items.
Here is the simple question
"What's your best tip for finding rare vintage items?"
15 Vintage Fanatics from a range of different passions got involved to share their experience! I'm sure you would agree there are plenty of ideas here to help us all out. Thank you to all that participated!
Juliet Siu- Lacenruffles
I guess my best tip to find rare vintage items is to be prepared to spend a whole day whether in a market or thrift shop to search through piles. If you're planning to buy a vintage outfit for an occasion, start looking in advance as you can rarely find the right vintage piece in a rush. If you're travelling, talk to the locals and they're most likely to point you to the hidden vintage stores where you're bound to score some gems.
I'd say to look into your own grandparents/relatives wardrobes and see if they have anything in there. Some of my best vintage clothing comes from my great grandmas wardrobe! She had the best style in the 60's and loved collecting gorgeous frocks that I know get to wear. Of course, always ask permission first!
Honestly the best tip for finding rare vintage items is to really know what you're looking for. Vintage items are available pretty much everywhere. Knowing the market is key because many items were mass produced while others were scarce during their original release. Anything vintage that has lasted this long is essentially rare but certain items carry more value because they were limited to start with. There is a huge difference between vintage and retro. Many companies draw inspiration from vintage items and put out retro pieces similar to original designs. Another key aspect to finding rare vintage items is obviously authenticity. Believe it or not, counterfeit items are not a new thing. They have been around forever and knowing what is real vs what is fake is another important facet of vintage. For example, the rise in popularity of throwback jerseys during the early 2000's created a boom of counterfeit jerseys. If you go to a sporting event in America (NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA) I would estimate around 60% of the jerseys fans wear are fake! Not many vintage dealers can tell the difference between an authentic and counterfeit jersey. There will never really be a shortage of vintage items as time goes on. Vintage dealers like myself live for the thrill of the hunt and will continue to track down what we love on a regular basis.
Helen Mae Green
My top tip is to shop little and often: the best quality vintage items as well as the best bargains always sell quickly, so by browsing online or in vintage or charity shops as often as possible you stand the best chance of finding the items you really want.
My best tip for finding rare vintage items is to do your homework and be prepared to put in the legwork. Research labels and styles, read up on the history behind your chosen area of interest and get to know what vintage textiles look, feel and even smell like! It’s a cliché, but the more informed you are, the better prepared you’ll be when that something special unexpectedly turns up in the least expected place.
You want to hone your skills so that you can quickly scan those rails at a car boot sale, charity shop, vintage fair etc. and immediately pick out something that you know is special. In the antiques trade it’s known as “getting your eye in”. You need to be able to make that snap decision and think: “Is it an original, a fake, an authorised re-issue or a limited edition?” Even the smallest detail like a zip or whether a seam is over-locked can yield important details as to a garment’s age.
The current popularity of vintage and retro means that there’s now more people clued up and on the search for those rare finds, so you need to think tactically and be one step ahead of the rest. In my opinion, car boot sales are still the best places to find special pieces, but you’ll need to get there early to be in with a chance against the professional dealers who will be there at the crack of dawn.
If you do find something special, ask the seller if they have any more. There’s a chance that they might have done a house-clearance and have left more stuff at home because they didn’t have enough room in the car or think that they'd find anyone to buy it. Remember that someone is more likely to be responsive if you’re friendly towards them and can strike up a rapport.
A final word of advice: never leave behind something you’re unsure about and think that you’ll come back for it later. You can guarantee that someone will have brought it in the meantime. Go with your gut instinct and if you get it wrong, then sell it on and learn by your mistake. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
In my opinion, finding a rare vintage item (for a good price) is about good luck. I guess we all have an address book filled with addresses of vintage shops in our city or in city we are about to visit, but these shops are not good for finding vintage treasures for a nice price. This is given by the fact that these sellers are well aware of what they are selling and how much to ask for it. So my tip is to wait on auction sites, where people put for sale things they do not want to throw in a bin, but do not have a purpose for them anymore.
For rare vintage items, my best advice is to put yourself in touch with vintage shop owners who you know carry items you purchase, like etc. and ask them to keep an eye out for what you are on the hunt for. These vintage shop owners (online or brick and mortar) have in's to unlisted estate sales, and connections with people you possibly could only dream of knowing and that will come in handy when looking for that rare piece.
When hitting yard sales and estate sales, have the mindset that someone hid a treasure and dared you to find it. Leave no stone unturned. Don't overlook piles of "new" stuff when looking for vintage. Hidden treasure can be found in unlikely places and those on the hunt often hurry past clusters of new wares. Look under tables at items on the floor. I once found two gorgeous architectural pieces dated 1905 under a table on day three of an estate sale for $5 a piece.
Finding rare and unique vintage pieces can be a long and difficult process. You've really got to be devoted and know your stuff to pick up gems which everyone else overlooks! The best place really is a car boot or vintage fair. Many carbooters don't quite realise the value of their vintage wares so it's a great way to pick up something beautiful! Likewise at vintage fairs - although traders are more savvy, fairs are full of stunning pieces which may just complete your collection! Good luck!
The best way to find rare vintage items is not to go to inordinate lengths looking for them. If you are to be the owner that a particular item needs, it will find you, and you will recognise it instantly.
When I’m looking for a rare vintage item, I check all the obvious places first – Ebay, Etsy, RubyLane, Craigslist, and even Freecycle. First I would begin using a specific string of words and see how many items the search returns. For example: “1930’s Womens White Ice Skates”. Then depending on my results I would whittle down the amount of details in my search phrase to maybe: “Vintage White Skates”. Continuing until I felt I had narrowed each search down to squeeze out the highest amount of results possible. Don’t forget to add possible misspells or alternative titles.
Another obvious place to go would be Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, or any other preferred search engine. Follow the steps for searching the above sale sites exactly the same way. This time however, you are not just looking for the actual rare item, you are searching for a Forum, a Bulletin Board, a Blog, or other common interest place that might put you in touch with others searching, bartering, selling, buying, or even just discussing the rare item you are looking for. You never know where these may lead.
If you don’t have much information on your rare item, a good way I have found items, especially when I am not sure of the exact name people have labeled them, is to do an image search (using the search engines we discussed)… you may have seen it on a movie, TV show, or someone else’s page. If you can name where you saw it, you may find the picture that will give you a link to more information on the item. When you search for items via the picture, don’t be specific i.e. if you are looking for a “Vintage Vase”, start with “Vase”. Look at the pictures, read the links/information they have attached to the picture that is similar to - or around the same era of - what you are looking for. Then add some key words like “Smoked Crystal Vase”. This will give you a different set of vases to look through. By doing a time consuming process of elimination you should have a great idea on what and how to find, and search your item to yield the best results. This is not easy and isn’t the best way to find things but it does work as a last ditch effort.
Other ways I have found rare items, is to research Makers/Manufactures. This can often take you to places that have a wealth of knowledge, and often information on where you can find items. In some cases people will post makers marks, part or model numbers that will get you on the right track to find and search items. All your major search engines save any information that is posted on the web, whether it be a blog, a search, webpage, Facebook post or just a picture someone wasn’t sure what it was and posted to find out more about. Use that to your advantage. Sometimes you can only find a patents number on your item - search that. A patent number can lead you to a manufacture that can lead you to a person asking about the same item. All patents are listed in Google Patents (and other places, Google is just what I use every day). Trademarks are the same way.
Part of the love of a rare vintage item, I find, is the “thrill of the hunt”. Again, go to your search engines or yellow pages and find any area Vintage Shops and either go there on a regular basis and search for your rare item, call and see if they have your rare item, or develop relationships with the owners of said retailers and have them let you know if they come across your beloved item.
Play around with things you remember from your childhood, locate them from memory to test your abilities... you will surprise yourself at what you can do.
Share your interest in vintage fashion and accessories with your network--your friends, family and co-workers. You can get some great pieces gifted to you as hand-me-downs when people know you're a vintage connoisseur. They can also be on the lookout for you when they are shopping and traveling. Garage sales and thrift stores can yield treasures too if you are patient and enjoy the search!