How to Find Vintage Clothing + Accessories at a Thrift Store

Posted February 4, 2012 by in Shopping

Hi ladies, Natalie here from The Closet de Natalie. Vintage is a hot thing right now, but can get pretty pricey at those fancy vintage stores. People donate beautiful vintage clothing to thrift stores daily, not knowing it’s actually worth a pretty penny. I’m here to teach you how to find those treasures!

There are some really easy ways to determine if what you’ve picked up is vintage or not. Here are some of my tried-and-true tips:

#1. The first indicator is the tag. There are certain types of tags that can help you determine if the clothing item is truly vintage.

Many clothing companies began outsourcing their production internationally during the 80’s, so if the tag says made in the USA, it’s likely that your piece was made 30+ years ago.

A union label indicates that an item was made by a union, such as the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which existed before companies began mass-producing overseas.

It’s rare to see fancy tags on clothing these days, but vintage clothing often features brand names stitched in a pretty font on the tag (above).

A lot number (below) was a common way for companies to keep track of clothing before computers. The lot number refers to a group of the same items from a particular store.

#2. The fabric of an item is also a very good indicator of what decade it’s from. Polyester was all the rage in the 70’s and 80’s, but is a rare sight today.

Rayon, another synthetic material, surged in the 90’s, and was often the chosen material for dresses and rompers.

#3. There are certain details that can help you determine if an item is vintage. If you find a polyester dress with a big butterfly collar, I can almost guarantee it’s from the 70’s.

Elastic on dresses, skirts, and blouses became very popular in the 80’s when clothing companies began using spandex. Bold, abstract patterns, such as tribal and animal prints, floral patterns, and colorful art-deco prints were all the rage on clothing in the 90’s.

#4. Clothing sizes have changed dramatically since the 70’s. Vintage clothing, especially from the 50’s and 60’s, usually run 4-6 sizes smaller than modern clothing. If you find a dress that looks about your size and fits great, but the size on the tag is bigger than what you’d normally wear, it’s probably vintage.

Clothing from the 80’s and 90’s aren’t as drastic in size differences, but they still run about 1-2 sizes smaller than today’s clothing. I normally wear a size 8 in modern clothing, but I wear a size 14-16 in vintage clothing. This vintage skirt (below) is a size 14 and it fits like a glove.

There are many other ways to tell if something is vintage, but this list is your best bet when first starting out. We’d love to hear any tips you might have for identifying vintage in a thrift store. Let us know in the comments below!

About the author: Natalie Garza is Broke & Chic’s resident thrift & vintage expert, and the voice behind The Closet de Natalie. She loves to mix thrifted treasures with classic wardrobe staples to create a unique style that’s all her own. Click here for more of her articles.