Nowadays, there are so many outlets for vintage and used clothing. Aside from your local charity shop, there are consignment stores, vintage shops, garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, eBay, Etsy, and other Web sources. I prefer the local charity shop. You can't beat the deal, and the proceeds go to a good cause. It's a "win, win."
Let's first cover some basics. You're probably asking "What counts as vintage?" According to Wikipedia, clothing items before 1920 counts as antique. Clothing items between 1920 and 20 years prior the current date count as vintage. So as of the writing of this post, anything between 1920 and 1993 count as vintage. Wow, I feel so old knowing that 90's items are vintage already! Anything after 1993 is just used clothing, which is O.K. -- they can still be treasure. After all, one person's garbage is another person's treasure, right???
1.) Know your fabrics. Be familiar with how fabrics look and feel. Go for natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk. They last longer, look better, and are less likely hold funny smells like polyester does. When you know your fabrics, good quality items will visually pop up easier. When you become an expert with fabrics, you won't spend so much time perusing the aisles, and you will be able to quickly go through a section/store. Good fabrics will POP at you.
2.) Know what you are looking for. It's always a lot less painful when you know what you are looking for. What does you closet need? Are you trying to match something?
3.) Know what is on trend for the season. If you are thrifting, you are probably looking for cheap fixes for trendy looks, so do your homework. This is part of knowing what you are looking for.
4.) Go one or two months before a season starts. Early bird catches the worm! Although charity shops get a constant supply, it helps to be shopping for items other people that shop there are NOT looking for -- less competition.
5.) Look for barely worn items. There are items that didn't get worn often, or never got worn, and/or were very well taken care of; strive to find items of this caliber. (Unless you are purposely looking for distressed items. Then go for it.)
6.) Be patient. Finding treasures need patience. Thrifting needs to be done on a leisurely day. Otherwise, you might get stressed out.
7.) Try the items on. If you are shopping for yourself, make sure you try the item/s on. Yes, it's cheap, but you don't want to throw your money away either. These items are "All Final Sale." Make sure it fits you well or only need minor alterations that you can do yourself. You don't want to pay for alterations more that the item is worth, unless you find designer treasure.
8.) Avoid items with a funny/bad smell, stains, or holes. I know, this is a "duh," but I thought I should mention you want to look "on trend" and not homeless.
9.) Make a day out of thrifting. Invite a friend/friends to go with you. Go to more than one charity shop. Have fun with it!
10.) Buy an item, get rid of an item from your closet. I don't always practice this one, but I really need to. As with any shopping excursion, it's a good idea that for every item you add to your closet, an item goes out. Donate it. Give it to a friend (I usually give it to my Mom.) Have a garage sale. Whatever, or your closet might end up looking like a thrift store.
11.) Don't overlook the little bins. I have found some great jewelry there. My Mom once bought a 14K gold ring with a stone over 10 carats (most likely a green tourmaline) from a flea market for a dollar. ONE DOLLAR !!! She has since given me that ring, and it is one of my treasured jewelry pieces.
12.) Clean the item before wearing. Most charity shops dry clean the clothing items before putting them on the floor, but I like to be on the safe side. Wash or clean accordingly. Read the label, if it's still visible or if there is one. Wipe down jewelry with warm water and soap. Same with shoes (if you are brave enough to buy used shoes.)
For me, every thrifting trip is like a treasure hunt. I always have a lot of fun with it. I don't always find things that I want, but I never find it a waste of time. I hope you have much success with your treasure hunt.