If you asked me how my weekend was or where I went during a day off, it’s most likely that I’ll tell you I went vintage shopping of some sort. I love it! I think it’s the combination of the thrill of never knowing what good stuff you’ll find mixed in with seeing some frighteningly odd items along the way (that are usually at least good for a laugh or a snapchat). I actually loved the vintage markets we had back in Springfield, MO, and they were for sure one of the things I was the saddest to leave. Such. Cheap. Prices. Thankfully, the Nashville vintage game has been pretty good so far, but we are still finding where all the good shopping is as the months go by (we took these photos at the super cute Pre to Post Modern vintage store). There’s certainly a strategy to vintage shopping because you want to make sure that you are getting really good pieces amongst the clutter, and it can be hard not to get lost in all the overflowing shelves and aisles. Here’s a few of my top tips:
Make a list: If you’ve ever been to a flea market or vintage store, then you know how incredibly overwhelming and packed those places can be. I literally get dizzy vintage shopping because my eyes and head are going crazy looking up and down and back and forth for hours. However, knowing what you want can really help you focus your search and cut down on the time you spend shopping. For example, if I know I want to look for an awesome living room chair and some cool books, well then I can bypass the giant shelves that only hold glassware this trip or just head straight for the furniture section (if they separate out the bigger items like some do). Knowing that I’m looking for a specific size or color of object also helps you scan booths as you walk by without feeling like you have to inspect every single tiny item.
Ask how special/rare the item is: The longer you vintage shop, the more you have a good idea of what’s rare, what’s easily found, pricing ranges, etc. Knowing what’s already out there and what’s hard to find can help you decide if you should pay extra, buy it somewhere else, or wait for a better version or color later if it’s common. This skill takes time to develop, but you can also go with a gut feeling if you are over the moon about it or just feel “Meh.”
Set a price limit… As with any purchase you make, you want to know what your budget is. You’ll also want to take into account any additional work or cleaning the item might need, as that will also contribute to the total cost (for example, sometimes getting an item reupholstered can be more than the original item!). Don’t be afraid to make an offer either! I always offer less to try and get a deal (a lot of places won’t let you make an offer unless it’s over a certain price though), and they usually take the offer or at least counter.
…but be willing to go over if needed: Wait, didn’t I just tell you to not overspend? I did, buuuuuuuuut every once in a while there will be a thing SO SPECIAL and SO AMAZING that you just may have to reconsider your budget. For example, our new house has a wood-burning fireplace, and I knew I would have to get some fire pokers if we wanted to use the fireplace. So I almost jumped out of my body when I saw a set of brass unicorn fire pokers at a local vintage place. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? I think the set was listed for $175 (which was way more than I wanted to spend), so I made an offer of $125 (which was still more than I was wanting to pay), which they agreed on. While I did overspend, I knew that the chances of me running into another amazing find like that was slim to none, and so it was worth it to go over a bit on such a special find.
Do a quick online search: Before you commit, it can be a good idea to do a quick online search for the item and see what comes up. Can you get it on Etsy for $40 cheaper? Does it come in a color you like better on Ebay? It’s amazing what vintage stuff you can find online, and if you see a bunch of the same item, you’ll know if it’s a more common or rare item to begin with.
Walk away if you aren’t sure: Like with many purchases, it can be hard to know if you really want to buy something or not and you may feel on the fence about a few things. I find that it works best for me to only buy items I’m really excited about and put back any items that give me reservations. Doing this makes one of two things happen – you either totally forget about the item by the next day (which usually means you shouldn’t have bought it anyway), or you end up thinking about it non-stop until you go back and see if it’s still there. That’s basically what happened the first time I went to check out the Nashville vintage stores after we moved. I saw this giant pink phone advertisement from the 70s that was so good, but it was more than I wanted to pay for wall art at the time, and I just wasn’t sure. I left without it, but I ended up thinking about it all the time for almost two months before finally going back to see if it was still there. Thankfully no one else had bought it (I was sure it would be gone by then), so I made an offer and took it on home! It is true that this strategy of coming back days later if you’re still thinking about it only works for flea markets that are always there (rather than the pop-up flea markets), but even if you go to a temporary market, you can always walk around for a while, see everything else there is to offer, and go back if you are still fixated by the end of the day.
Think if the item can be used for a different purpose: Sometimes the cool thing about vintage stuff is the fact that it can be reused in a different way than what the item actually was to begin with. If you find something you like but you don’t want it for its original purpose, think if it can be used in a different way! Maybe you find an awesome record cover for a band you’ve never heard of that you can use for wall art, or a blanket you can recover a chair or bench with, or a piece of serving ware you can use as a planter or vase. Think outside the box when something catches your eye!
I thought I’d show you my two favorite vintage finds in the last year (the brass unicorn pokers and the 70s pink phone) – not bad, huh?! Of course sometimes spending hours looking at every single thing is kind of the point of vintage shopping, so feel free to also have those coffee-in-hand-browsing-carelessly kind of trips. Those are fun too! Do you have any vintage shopping tips you swear by? xo. Laura
P.S. Check out our podcast episode on some of Elsie’s favorite vintage finds!
Credits//Author: Laura Gummerman. Photography: Laura Gummerman and Elsie Larson. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.