Macklemore made thrifting look so fun, but it’s not always so easy to find the cool gator shoes and flannel zebra jammies buried in the massive piles of garments and garbage stacked ceiling-high in some second-hand stores.
Still, thrifting can be super rewarding, yielding all sorts of amazing finds, if you know how and where to look. There are a few items that turn up in vintage shops again and again, and we go straight to the racks looking for them.
Here are 11 items we always keep an eye out for when on the thrift.
Crew neck sweatshirt
Sweatshirts are back in style, especially when paired with high-waisted skirts or jeans. Luckily, there are thousands of these beauties on the racks, leftover from the last time they were popular in the ’90s. Look for lighter colours, a neck that hasn’t been stretched out, and unique prints–like an old college logo or wolves howling at the moon.
Not all footwear is thrift-able, but cowboy boots can be. Obviously, fit is the main concern here, but also look for quality leather that’s been lightly worn, or worn in a cool way. Bonus points if you can find something with interesting embellishments. Pair them with a midi-length skirt or dark denim to avoid looking like a washed up country star.
Jean vest (or jean jacket)
There’s lots of denim to be found in most thrift stores. You could buy the latest “stressed” styles from the store for $200, but the naturally faded vintage version for $20 or less is what you should be scoping out. Keep an eye out for a Levis tag–much like wine, this brand is only getting better with age.
Even if they don’t tick, some vintage watches, like the mini Bulovas that seem to be popping up everywhere for $5, make great little pieces to layer with other jewellery, or to wear on their own. They usually keep these behind the counter or in a case, so if you don’t see any sitting out, always ask.
Thrifting a skirt can be tricky because sizing has changed over the decades. A size four in a 1940s frock will be much more snug than a size four option nowadays at, say, Old Navy. That’s why elastic-waist vintage skirts are always such a score. Pattern is key when you’re on the hunt, so look for something that speaks to you. We favour oversized florals and denim, and always check that the elastic hasn’t been stretched beyond its limit.
These often require a bit of digging through boxes, but you can usually pick up a beautiful silk scarf on the cheap (we’ve even seen them for free). Hunt for quality silk, which you can feel more easily than see, interesting patterns and bold colours. Wear them tied around your neck (oh so on-trend this season) or casually wrapped around a belt loop and let it dance around in the wind.
Chunky knit cardigan
You definitely need one of these in your winter wardrobe, and you definitely don’t need to spend $150+. A few details to look for when shopping for a chunky knit cardigan are the buttons, which are often gorgeous and ornate, and the level of wear of the wool. Look for wools in cream, dove grey, or navy blue colours, wear with any of your fall outfits for an an instantly cozy look, or keep it at your office for the days you just can’t seem to get warm.
These are back in style, and owners of vintage shops couldn’t be happier about it–they’ve got plenty of ’em. A good pair of high-waisted jeans will sit above the hips, at your natural waistline, and fit a bit loose. Avoid extremely wide-leg versions, and look for a boot-cut option in a medium to light wash.
Vintage fan-wear is arguably cooler than new fan-wear. Your favourite sports team has been making the stuff every year since they were founded, and much of it ends up in the thrift store. Keep your eyes open for your favourite player’s numbers and old versions of the logos. And don’t be afraid to look for over-sized tees in the kids’ section, too.
Suede was cool, then it wasn’t, and now it is again. Any time we find a suede jacket–the bomber jacket is the shape we look for–we pick it up immediately. And if there’s fringe on said jacket, it’s like the Holy Grail of outerwear. (It reminds us of Sloane Peterson in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.) We look for neutral colours as the material is loud enough to speak for itself.
Leather or beaded belts
For someone who thrifts, it’s hard to imagine paying full-price for a brand new belt when there are so many interesting vintage options out there. From an intricate buckle to a soft leather or a hand-beaded belt, these accessories should always be scavenged for. Wear with your weekend jeans, of course, or pair with a work-ready skirt for a corporate-cool look.