Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shopping a vintage sale: 12 tips to improve your game

Vintage sales. You either love them or hate them. But one thing is certain: the better the bargains, the more stressful they can be. I've been to my fair share of vintage shopping events, from high-end expos to crazy free-for-alls, so I thought I'd share my tips for surviving (and winning) at a vintage warehouse sale. Some of these tips also apply for flea markets, vintage fairs and of course the vendors at Viva Las Vegas!

It's about to get real in here.
1. Full skirts are your friend.
The first thing you have to think about is what you’re going to wear. Weather permitting, I always like to wear a full skirt and fitted top. You can’t rely on accessible change rooms, and you may have to try stuff on in public, so a full skirt is handy, because you can try on skirts or pants without taking anything off. (You can even wear leggings underneath if you want.) In the case of tops or dresses, you can usually throw them over your fitted top, again without having to strip off.

At the last vintage sale I attended, there were no fitting rooms, and some poor rookies were attempting to hide behind the clothing racks to try stuff on. The clothing racks did very little to hide their public nudity, and they got yelled at. Not by me though. I thought it was funny.
Plenty of room to try on things under here!

2. Take a hands-free handbag.
I usually bring a small bag with a cross-body strap, so I don’t have to worry about it sliding off my shoulder. If it’s really crowded, it’s probably a good idea to wear your bag around the front, just in case there’s any thieves lurking in the area. Another good option is a Chimayo purse with a belt loop. It’s like the classy version of a fanny pack!
My first 'fanny pack' since 1989.
3. Bring cash.
Depending on the kind of sale you attend, there may or may not be credit card facilities. Best to bring cash just in case, and it also improves your bargaining power with vendors.

4. Don’t forget your secret tape measure.
I can’t count the times I’ve wished for a tape measure, but forgotten to bring one… Not anymore! Next time you go to IKEA, take advantage of the free paper tape measures they offer. You can fold them up and put them in your purse or wallet, so you’ll never be caught without a tape measure again!

If you like polyester, you're in for a treat!
5. Separate yourself from the pack.
When you arrive at the sale, do a quick survey of the room. It’s amazing how many people like to start from the far left and work around the room. A crowd will often form at that starting point, and that’s exactly where you don’t want to be. Find the least populated area and start from there.

6. Shop like the professionals.
I once saw a segment on a current affairs show about the pickers who worked for the big fashion houses. They were responsible for going to vintage wholesalers and buying pieces to “inspire” the designers, who then got so "inspired" they copied them exactly. Anyway, that ten minutes of television changed the way I shop forever.  

The pickers explained their system for shopping an entire warehouse with ease. First, they would walk along the racks, looking for COLOUR. The colour is the first thing that catches your eye on any outfit. Once they spotted an interesting colour, they would zero in on the FABRIC. If it turned out to be 70s polyester, they would instantly dismiss it. If the fabric looked interesting, only then would they reach in to examine the dress for a closer look.

This system is much quicker than leafing through the racks piece by piece. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

A whole rack of jumpsuits? There must be at least one Ceeb here.

7. Bypass the roadblocks.
When you’re trying to shop like a professional picker, chances are you’ll be moving along the racks at a faster pace than others. That’s okay! Rather than getting annoyed at the slowpokes, just keep moving. Make a note of the rack you’ve missed and go back there later.

8. Don’t think until the end.
If you see something interesting and find yourself pondering it for longer than about ten seconds, just grab it. Pick things up, drape them over your arm and keep moving. Once you’ve finished your first pass of the racks, you can find a quiet place to examine each item and think about whether you want to buy it or put it back.

9. Dive in with dignity.
Ah, the bargain bins. For a dedicated treasure hunter, I have a surprising lack patience for digging through bins. I like to just cruise past and peer into the bins to see if anything catches my eye. If that doesn’t bear fruit, then I’ll grab a handful of stuff, and have a good look underneath. I rarely dig further than that. I like to trust that the vintage gods will help things rise to the top if I’m meant to find them.

Who likes short shorts? Apparently everyone.
10. Do the hover.
It happens to everyone. You turn around, and you see someone holding an item you really want. Nooooooooo!!!! There’s only one thing to do. Hover. I have perfected The Hover over years of thrift shopping, and it really is an art form. You want to hang around and look busy, while watching your target like a hawk. There’s always a chance they will lose interest in Your Item, and you can swoop in and grab it.

Of course, subtlety is the key here. If your target suspects you’re interested in whatever they’re holding, chances are, they’ll buy it. (If someone else wants it, it must be good!) I like to face away from my target, pretending to focus on something else entirely, while watching them intently in my peripheral vision. As soon as they put down that full skirt with starbursts on it… BAM, it’s mine!

Is that a Lilli Diamond? Nope.
11. Do a lap of honour.
If you have time, it’s always worth doing a quick second lap. Staff or customers may have been holding onto some good stuff, which has now returned to the racks. You never know what you may have missed.

12. Step away from the madness.
Some people hit vintage sales like their lives depend on it. (I once saw two grown men almost come to blows over a coffee table. A coffee table! And it wasn't even a nice one.) So if you find yourself surrounded by a pack of crazy people, just move on to a quieter place. There’s probably good stuff there they haven’t even seen.


Good luck out there… And may the vintage gods smile upon you wherever you go!

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