How to: Shop for Vintage Clothes and Accessories

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How to: Shop for Vintage Clothes and Accessories

01 of 10

Choose your venue

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For bargains, shop thrift stores in ritzy zip codes-or vintage stores in less cosmopolitan cities, where things might be less picked over. Call ahead for store policy; if it's a buy/sell/trade store, bring in your own castoffs for cash or store credit. Shopping online can also be worth the time, since prices there are often 40 to 50 percent less than in high-end boutiques.

Liv Tyler brightened up the city sidewalk in a vintage dress from pal Helena Christensen's N.Y.C. shop, Butik. "I often pop in on afternoons off," Tyler has said of the spot.

02 of 10

Do a thorough inspection

Jessica Alba, style, vintage, The Way We Wore, stylist
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Many vintage boutiques have a strict no-return policy, so carefully examine garments before buying. If possible, give them a once-over near a window, since natural light might reveal flaws that dimmer light won't. Look at items inside and out, checking linings, buttons and seams.

Jessica Alba donned a mint-condition print dress from The Way We Wore for a stop on her Silver Surfer press tour. "I wanted to infuse some vintage pieces into her wardrobe," stylist Daniel Caudill told us. "Because she can really pull them off."

03 of 10

Think cheap

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A thrift-store find can pack as much punch as designer dress: just be sure and calculate in the cost of any necessary alterations. And beware the smell of closets past: If the piece has an odor that bugs you, it's best to pass, since dry cleaning won't necessarily eliminate it.

Angelina Jolie made headlines with a $26 velvet find from L.A.'s Wasteland. "We didn't know she was going to wear it," inventory manager Ernest Carter told People. "We've had a lot of people coming in to see if we have something similar, but it was one of a kind-it has caused quite a hullabaloo."

04 of 10

Go for the big buy

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You can pay hundreds for a pair of cotton Pucci pants from the sixties or thousands for a pristine Halston gown from the seventies. Just be sure to consider the piece's condition and craftsmanship before splurging.

Jennifer Garner dazzled in vintage Valentino couture at the Costume Institute gala. "Women don't often see clothing so rich in detail or in design for the sheer beauty of it," the designer has said of the appeal of vintage. "They pick these dresses that look to the past, because in the present it costs a fortune to reproduce."

05 of 10

Know what you'll wear it with

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Before you buy a true statement piece, have some idea of what you'll pair it with at home. Does it go with jeans? You're done. Or try adding a vintage jacket to a formfitting pencil skirt.

Ali Larter wore a Balenciaga top with Levi's for the reopening of her favorite vintage spot, Decades Two. "Everything here is timeless," said the actress. "You're investing in the pieces here, not just buying something trendy."

06 of 10

Consider the cut

Sienna Miller
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Will the item blend in with the rest of your wardrobe? When it comes to dresses and skirts, straighter cuts (more sixties, less eighties) are easiest to pair with existing items in your closet.

"I like to mix new things with vintage pieces, then add odd little trinkets," Sienna Miller told In Style. Her classic Ossie Clark gown can be accessorized in countless different ways.

07 of 10

Bags, bags, bags

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Buying vintage versions sets you apart, and they often cost less than the priciest "it" bags. They may also sport softer leather and weightier hardware.

Thrift-shop fan Chloe Sevigny added her personal flair to a Lela Rose lace dress with a vintage Hermes clutch from L.A.'s Decades. "She?s hands on, she wants to know about fashion," owner Cameron Silver has said of the star he considers "family."

08 of 10

Know what you can fix

Mary-Kate Olsen
Richard Young/Startraks

A broken clasp can be repaired. An unhinged bag handle can be refastened. A bag ripped along a seam can be restitched. Avoid stiff leather, stains or scuffs on a bag, signature hardware that's damaged, missing stones or beads.

Mary-Kate Olsen uses unique pieces like her pristine vintage elephant belt to create the "vintage rocker chic" look she loves. "I'm inspired by sixties and seventies rock and roll and Woodstock," the actress has said.

09 of 10

Know what's hot

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Eighties aviators are on the list (go slightly oversize) as are belts from that decade (seek waist-cinchers). Classic clutches are hip and timeless.

Nicole Richie adds to her extensive sunglasses collection with vintage frames like these from YSL.

10 of 10

Hunt down costume jewelry

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Alexandra Wyman/WireImage

From faux pearls to Lucite cuffs, it's hard to go wrong with pieces under $100. And inventory is high, so there are deals to be had.

"I like shopping vintage stores and finding really funky, original stuff that no one else will have," Rachel Bilson has said. She wore a one of a kind vintage necklace to a fashion party.

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