The Handlebar Guide to Thrift and Vintage ShoppingSix thrift store masters divulge their secrets for digging up incredible threads at shockingly low prices

THERE’S NO DENYING IT: thrift stores can be a little intimidating. They’re grimy and musty and smell like that homeless dude on the subway—who, coincidentally, is probably there trying on a sweater. The employees are often cantankerous and uncooperative. Migraine-inducing fluorescent lights flicker from above, and awful smooth jazz pumps deliriously from the speakers. And, of course, there are racks upon racks of pit-stained, moth-holed clothes that look like they came straight from the set of Oliver Twist.

But hidden deep amongst all the dregs and rubbish are spectacular vintage gems at heart-stoppingly low prices: Harris Tweed sport coats and preppy madras pants; silk knit ties and handmade English brogues; hardy Woolrich flannels and lavish cashmere sweaters. If you can overlook the rather squalid ambience and take the time to dig, you’ll quickly discover there is simply no better way for budget-conscious guys to add well-made, beautiful items to their wardrobe.

To aid in your pursuit of secondhand sartorial glory, we’ve enlisted an all-star squad of vintage connoisseurs and had them spill the beans on their hard-earned techniques for uncovering thrift store gold. 

GIUSEPPE TIMORE

Blogger, An Affordable Wardrobe

Best Vintage Find: My first Barbour Jacket, which I found new with tags for $9.99. That just blew me away.”

Giuseppe’s Advice:

Giuseppe Timore of An Affordable Wardrobe

The looking has to be part of the fun of it. If you don’t enjoy getting in the dirt and digging around in the hopes that you might turn up a diamond in the rough, then you’re not going to enjoy it.”

“There was a time when every town had its own individual little store in it. The name inside the tag would be the shop that sold it to you and not the company that made it. That’s where you find the good stuff. You’ll find a suit from “Murphy’s of Akron, Ohio” or something. It’s as nice as the old Brooks Brothers stuff—it’s kind of the same thing—but it either doesn’t get snapped up as quickly or doesn’t get priced as high by the people tagging the clothes, because they only look for the brand names.”

“You have to have a little bit of vision sometimes. If you find something that’s really nice but it’s got ugly buttons on it, it doesn’t take much effort to change them.”

“You can’t say to yourself, ‘I’m going to go buy a pair of gray pants in size 34.’ If you find them, that’s great, but you can never be that specific. Maybe that’s what you’ll go expecting to find, but instead you’ll find a couple of shirts or half a dozen neckties or you won’t find anything at all. If you sift and go frequently enough, though, all these things have a way of turning up eventually. You have to keep a running mental list at the back of your mind. It’ll take some time, but it’ll all get filled.”

“Be persistent and keep your standards up. A lot of people will settle for stuff that’s a little dirty or broken down or doesn’t quite fit because of how cheap it is. You should just ignore the prices—stick to quality stuff in good condition, no matter what it costs.”

 

BRIAN DAVIS

Owner, Wooden Sleepers

Best Vintage Find: “My grandfather’s closet of flannel work shirts. I was 13.”

Brian’s Advice:

Brian Davis of Wooden Sleepers

“Thrift stores are a mixed bag—you have to be willing to go home empty-handed. It’s all about the dig.”

Avoid clothing that makes you look like you’re wearing a costume and housewares that make your home look like a dorm room.”

Guys should look for pieces that they connect with. I am drawn to clothing and objects that remind me of my childhood on the North Fork. Everything in Wooden Sleepers ties back to the things I loved about growing up out East: exploring the woods of Nassau Point; sailing the Peconic Bay; skateboarding in Greenport; helping my grandfather with chores around our house. Thrifting has a visceral way of connecting me with the past and helping me understand what I loved the most about youth.”

Look through everything. Do not skip over any section. I always find interesting things in bins or shelves of dusty miscellanea. I gravitate towards the disorganized and unruly. “

 

OLIVER HARKNESS

Owner, The Quality Mending Company

Best Vintage Find: A child-sized sweater vest. It was hand-knit by someone, probably in the 1930s. It’s the most beautifully designed little object—the mix-match of wools, the pattern that the person tried to make was a little uneven. The detailing on it is beautiful.”

Oliver’s Advice:

The Quality Mending Co.'s NoLIta storefront

“In thrift stores, you really have to look everywhere. I always look in the women’s section, and I find men’s stuff. People in the thrift store think that the smaller men’s stuff is women’s, or it’ll be loud and colorful because it’s from the ‘30s, ‘40s, or ‘50s, and whoever separates these things puts it in women’s section as well.”

“I have a friend that sometimes comes with me when I go thrift shopping for the day. He’s no competition for me whatsoever. I laugh at what he buys, but when he puts it on it’s fantastic. That’s the great thing about shopping in thrift stores—you can try things out and take risks and it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t cost that much.”

“Bring your grandpa with you on a Wednesday, because thrift stores always have Senior Wednesdays where they get half off. Thrift stores have all kinds of specials, so it’s important to know which days the colored tags change in the half-price cycle. If you’re only going randomly, find out what’s discounted before you start looking.”

 

TROY BROOKS

Blogger, Quality Inspires

Best Vintage Find: “An amazing, beautiful leather trunk. The way it’s worn-in, it looks like it may have been dropped down the stairs or something.”

Troy’s Advice:

Troy Brooks of Quality Inspires

“Modern stuff is cool, but so often companies today base their designs off of the classics. When you buy vintage, you get the authentic version—the original. These pieces have stories behind them. If you buy something that’s been weathered or worn and it has a little bit of character to it, it makes it more beautiful.”

“If you’re planning on going to a thrift store, make sure you get there early. When it’s just opening, everything is neat, everything is clean, it’s in it’s proper space, it’s easier for you to search through things. Same thing goes for flea markets: the earlier you get there the better. That way you don’t have to rush, you don’t have to scurry. You don’t have to feel like you’ve got to rip something out of somebody’s hands because you both want it.”

“When you’re shopping at flea markets, don’t be afraid to barter. I’m in a New York state of mind so I’m always looking for the best deal. Make sure you write down what you buy from each vendor, so that if you come back later on you can remind them you’ve purchased something already and ask for a discount.”  

“Also, don’t jump out the window and buy the first thing you see. At flea markets, they’re always marking up the prices on what they have just so they can make a little overhead, so definitely just look around, take your time, see what everybody has to offer before you start investing in anything.”

JAHN HALL & KURT UHLENDORF

Co-Founders, BKLYN Dry Goods

Best Vintage Find: “A super rare chess set from 1962 by the Austin Company. We don’t even play chess but the thing is incredibly beautiful.”

Kurt & Jahn’s Advice: 

BKLYN Dry Goods Pop-Up at Loren

“Generally, the finds aren’t as good in New York as they are elsewhere, especially in Manhattan. Everything is overpriced. Get out of the city and you’ll find better deals and better treasures.”

“Stick with the classics—the same brands and shapes you want to be wearing today. It keeps it from looking like a costume. Avoid anything that dates an item too much, like polyester pants or a huge collar.”

“Brand names are always a plus, but you can find a lot of great American vintage that doesn’t have a big name. Look at the label and see where things are made. Made in the USA is always a plus.”

“Look things over carefully. Are there any stains, missing buttons, or rips? Especially look closely at ties; they are the worst for stains. We usually pass on things if they aren’t in excellent condition, but sometimes you can repair pieces and make them look really cool.”

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Top image by Jeremy Wolf at No Relation Vintage. Photo of Brian Davis by Justin Chung Photography.

All other photographs courtesy of respective individuals.