The Only Vintage Shopping Tips You'll Ever Need

Vintage Shopping Tips from Chairish
Photo: Rus Anson

Vintage clothing has found a place of permanence in our everyday lives. Whether you own a just a handful or an entire wardrobe of previously-worn pieces, there's no denying that a closet benefits from such one-of-a-kind finds. And in the way a classic Chanel jacket can add a little moxie to an outfit, a piece of vintage furniture can invigorate a room.

Heed our words: It's time to jump on the vintage bandwagon. And if you need a hand discerning the good versus bad, you're in luck: We chatted with Anna Brockway, co-founder of Chairish, an online boutique that sells vintage home items from around the country. Brockway (above, visiting Brooklyn's Flipping Vintage) shared her top tips for shopping for vintage clothes and furniture.

Why buy vintage?In many cases [with vintage furniture] the stuff is better made, its 70 to 80 percent less than new items, you get it immediately, and it's cooler. Why would you not? I also think [art and lighting] are the quickest way to change out a room. They bring so much style and uniqueness to the room and the best stories come with them. Rugs, in my opinion, look better worn and they're more comfortable. And rugs are so expensive that the idea of buying them used is just hugely valuable. [With clothing], it's about finding the right style and of course you have to get in to the fit. But when you find those two things, why not? I wouldn't buy used bathing suits, and I would not buy used sheets and towels. That's it.

How can you make sure an item you're buying is good quality?The great thing about Chairish is we do a lot of that editing for you to make sure you're only seeing great stuff. But if you're looking yourself at pieces, anything with a broken frame—I'm talking chairs or tables—is not reparable. Check out the connection, like where the table meets the leg, to see if it's sturdy. Most pieces [of furniture] can be refinished, but if there are deep gouges, those are there to stay. And sometimes that's ok. Sometimes you want that old farm table that has the gouges and the black rings because it looks cool—it was a working farm table. When you're buying upholstered pieces, just be cognizant about whether or not the person smoked, because cigarette smoke smell does not go away. You're in the reupholstery zone.

With vintage clothing, it's a lot easier because you can go off brands. But a lot of times in clothing and in home, the good stuff and the most fun stuff is the stuff that doesn't have a brand name. I think in all of this, you kind of just have to go with what you love. Sometimes that may mean a rickety chair or a piece that's made of rayon instead of silk, but it's the most awesome chair and the greatest rayon ever from 1968. So you need to just go with it.

What tips do you have for mixing vintage pieces with more modern pieces?Have one really great super fabulous piece that kind of anchors the room and then think about how you'd use and complement that piece with the things around it. It's sort of like planning a dinner party—the seating arrangement, who plays well together. Also think about scale. A really diminutive chair is probably not going to look great in front of a huge sofa. And don't be a slave to style.

In clothes, it's all about editing. You want to be a self-editor to the extent that you don't want it to look junky. You want to pick that one splash item and kind of work your way around it.

How can you make sure you're getting a fair price?I think the trick to vintage shopping in general is you just have to look a lot. The more you look, the more educated your eye becomes. The more you start to look at things you like, the more you educate yourself about pricing and value. Chairish allows you to do this in such and easy and fun way so you're not waking up at 4 a.m. and standing in line at a flea market. You have that educational process and expose your eye to so many things in such an easier way.

Do you have a motto when it comes to vintage shopping?Pounce on it. Everything is one of a kind, so when it's gone, it's gone. You have to move on it. And then if I could have two mottos, the second one would be to be open to surprise. A lot of times you measure your room, you decide the style you want, you say you're going to do this, you're going to do that, and then you walk in and you see something else that's just beyond fabulous. Go for it. You know it when you see it. You can't sit and consider things when it's vintage. You have to just go for it.

Check out or get the Chairish app to start your hunt for vintage pieces that speak to you.

Plus, take a look at InStyle home editors' favorite pieces from New York Design Week.

Related Articles