How To Find Quality Vintage On A Budget

Tips and tricks for finding quality vintage online without breaking the bank or losing your mind.

Most of us can identify with Julie. We appreciate a well made garment, but cost is a major deciding factor in what we wear. One of the amazing things about incorporating vintage into your wardrobe is that the value for money, in my mind, most often beats  traditional retail or fast fashion. 

Because there are so many online marketplaces for secondhand clothing now, it’s helpful to understand which ones speak both to your style and to your budget. Even though it’s fun to daydream on platforms like The RealReal, Farfetch, Vestiaire, and Resee, I’m going to skip over them for a moment to focus on more budget-friendly options.

Below are a few tips for finding the marketplace that’s 'on brand' for you. 

eBay, the OG destination for resale, is still great if you’re a seasoned thrifter and know exactly what you’re looking for, otherwise the experience can be daunting and uninspiring. The product images are often tragic — we joke at the magazine about doing an article on ‘how not to photograph your garments if you want them to sell’, and we could source all the images for that story on eBay. It’s also annoying that certain offerings are still subject to competitive bidding rather than buy-it-now listings. The whole process feels antiquated and complicated in this Depop world.

Although Etsy, Garmentory and Poshmark are more user friendly than eBay, and are full of hidden gems, you still have to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. My advice when shopping these sites is to search for your favorite brands (ex: ‘vintage Levis’) or by specific item type (ex: ‘vintage trench coat’). Make sure to include ‘vintage’ in the search terms so you know you’re getting pre-owned items. Use the ‘Favorites’ feature to save any item that pulls at your heartstrings before adding anything to your cart. When you find an item you like, also look at the ‘Similar Items’ the platform serves up; their algorithms are usually pretty good. Once you’ve had a good look through the site, go to your ‘Favorites’ tab, identify the themes, edit out the lesser interesting items. Don’t give into resale FOMO and buy impulsively. Step away for a minute and come back to it with fresh eyes. Once you finally decide to buy something the reward of taking time to consider what you’re bringing into your life is worth it.

Although Gen Z makes up over 90% of Depop’s users, the site is not just for Zoomers. If you want a reverse-weave Champion hoodie, you’re going to have to dig on other platforms but you’ll find them in spades on Depop, styled in a cool way and extremely well priced, plus those amazing price points can be negotiated even further. Depop is also social. It’s literally a thing to shop what your friends and style muses have ‘liked’. Once you find your people on Depop it’s like a hundred editors curating your personal closet. Object Limited is another great social shopping app with a more Millennial feminine vibe. This destination is in app only though, no website, sorry.

If social shopping and deep diving isn’t your thing then thredUP is for you. The product is photographed clearly and consistently, just like your favorite fast-fashion brand, and it’s just as easy to search by category or brand as any major retailer. The price points are equivalent to fast fashion too. Their program for selling clothes is effortless, so you can make some extra cash for those new purchases while you’re at it.

Grailed and Stadium Goods are a no-brainer for finding cool-kid, pre-owned streetwear and sneakers.

Another way to shop online for pre-owned clothes is to use the search engine called Gem, which aggregates vintage items from all over the web. This tool is helpful if you know the brand, or specific item you're looking for, but don't want to scour multiple websites — as they say, time is money. And about that… you can create a price filter so you only see what's in your budget. 

1_ You can tell a lot from a picture. How does the garment drape or hang from the model, mannequin or hanger? Does the fabric look substantial or does it look cheap and flimsy?

2_ Look at ALL photos, especially the close-ups. Are there any stains or tears? Can you see a close-up of the stitches? Does the thread look synthetic and thin and poorly sewn? You can see good craftsmanship in the stitches. Same thing with notions and hardware.

3_ The label (not 'label' as in brand but 'label' as in the actual tag) is another place to look. If you’re trying to determine whether something is truly vintage or not you can often spot an imposter by how the tag looks. The material shouldn’t be too bright and shiny. The graphics shouldn't seem like they've been designed to look weathered. There should be a bit of genuine wear and tear and discoloration. For name brands you can sometimes find the tag history online if you really want to dive deep.

4_ Read all product descriptions for notes on make and condition. If there’s something you’d like to know that’s not mentioned, most recommerce platforms allow you to ask a seller questions. Make use of this feature!

5_ Look for natural materials over synthetic. 

Cotton vs. Cotton/Polyester/Elastane blends: For example, denim that’s 100% cotton lasts longer than stretch denim. It also holds its shape better and doesn’t contain elastane, which is a plastic product made with toxic chemicals that are bad for the environment. The elastane itself isn’t biodegradable either. The jeans don’t last, but the elastane does… forever.

Silk vs. Polyester/Rayon blends: There are different schools of thought on whether silk is ethical but if you’re buying pre-owned my personal feeling is that it’s ok and 100% silk is better quality.

Leather vs. PVC or Polyurethane

Wool or Cashmere vs. Polyester or Nylon

Linen, Flax or Hemp vs. Cotton/Polyester blends

6_ Sometimes quality actually doesn’t matter. Sometimes style is more important than quality, and if you love a piece and wear it with confidence, it could be the most poorly constructed thing on earth and you would look great and be saving something from going to the landfill. Win win.