Thrifting Tips from a (Former) Consignment Shop Owner

Vintage Lilly Pulitzer dress- perfect for croquet.

Vintage Lilly Pulitzer dress- perfect for the annual St. John's vs Navy croquet event.

Our shop at 88 Maryland Avenue, from 2012 to 2016.

Our shop at 88 Maryland Avenue, from 2012 to 2016.

My sister and I had a small consignment shop (Navette) on Maryland Avenue for four years. We just closed last year, after designing a silk capsule collection.

We originally started our business with a trunk full of samples from NYC- I reached out to my friends in the fashion industry and they gave us our starting inventory. 

For example- if a mass brand was inspired by an old Prada print for their current collection, we'd get the Prada reference piece!

The constant travel became too much for me (plus the Kondo craze caused massive supply and demand headaches) so it was time for us to move on.

I'm thankful for the experience (full disclosure- I miss the people more than the clothes) and I learned a LOT about the second-hand market.

Before Navette, I worked in Contemporary for years (the level between mass and luxury) so it was interesting to learn about this facet of the industry.

Here are a few of my tips!

I bought the Central Park Hermès scarf (on the left) to frame, and my friend bought the Hermès birds scarf.

I bought the Central Park Hermès scarf (on the left) to frame, and my friend bought the Hermès birds scarf.

Feel all the fabrics.

If I'm in a rush, this is the quickest way for me to edit. Fine fabrics are a lot harder to find than polyester or rayon. 

I know the feel of linen, cashmere, and silk- the three fabrics I look for the most. They have such a nice hand.

Denim also holds up well- one of my favorite finds is a 90s Italian Helmut Lang jean jacket.

Be wary of fakes.

There are a lot- especially accessories. 

I usually buy items for their own merit, rather than for the label.

Some online second-hand boutiques claim to only sell authentic designer items- I don't buy it.  I think they do their best to research and just offer a refund if you complain or if they get it wrong. Most pieces probably are authentic- but definitely not 100%.

There's just so much out there and there are so many fakes. 

I don't blame anyone for wanting a deal but after what I've seen... if I want Gucci, I'm going to the Gucci store

That's why it's best to buy what you like, for a price that you think is fair.

One of my best eBay finds- a fully sequined fair isle Jean Paul Gaultier cardigan. The picture was blurry and there were some sequins missing.

One of my most beloved eBay finds- a fully sequined fair isle Jean Paul Gaultier cardigan. The picture was blurry and there were some sequins missing.

Another favorite eBay find- a Sonia Rykiel jacket with Mille et Une Nuits embroidered on the back. 

Another favorite eBay find- a Sonia Rykiel jacket with "mille et une nuits" embroidered on the back. 

Look for potential.

If the bones are good- quality fabric and an interesting or classic design- it's worth putting a little extra energy into a piece.

You can always sew up little holes, especially ones on the side seam. You can even do like the Japanese and turn your mending into artwork- this is a great post.

A tailor can fix something that is too big or too long. I rarely look at items that are smaller than my size- you can't make things bigger!

If the picture is blurry (on eBay, for example), you can usually score a great deal.

You can replace tacky buttons, or remove ugly trim.

And ignore wrinkles or surface dirt- that's such an easy fix. Owning a steamer is one of the best life hacks ever- I have this one. We had it in our shop, but now I use it in my daily life.

Ignore the size labels.

Sizing can be so arbitrary- vintage items run a lot smaller, and designers tend to mess up their fits a lot.

Best to just know your own measurements.

You can bring a small measuring tape with you, or do the "waist around the neck" trick to see if pants or skirts will fit. For example- if you have a 28" waist, your neck will be around 14" in circumference. So lay the item flat and loop the waist around your neck to make sure it doesn't choke you!

Spring was our busiest season by far- we sold so many bright Lilly frocks that I can't even begin to count.

Spring was our busiest season by far- we sold so many bright Lilly frocks that I can't even begin to count.

Visit when the seasons change.

We always got the best pieces- and had the quickest turnover- right as the season was changing. 

People tend to do spring cleaning and switch out their closets in April- that's the best time to shop! 

Similarly, the dead of winter and the dead of summer were our slow times. Yes, there may be deals but the turnover may not be there. The energy in the shops often feels stagnant.

Prepare like you're going to Disney World.

Go to the bathroom ahead of time. Bring a water bottle and a granola bar. Don't wear a handbag that's too heavy and digs into your shoulders. Longchamp totes are perfect because they're light as air.

You need to be alert and at the top of your game.

Vintage Ralph Lauren Collection enamel bangles- these may have been runway samples. 

Vintage Ralph Lauren Collection enamel bangles- these may have been runway samples. 

Embroidered anchor mules- didn't have these for long.

Needlepoint anchor mules- didn't have these for long.

Set some parameters- but nothing too specific.

Shopping consignment, vintage, or second-hand can be very overwhelming.

After closing our shop, I actually needed a long vacation from it! Truth be told, there's a lot of stuff out there in the world, and unless you go to a very edited (and probably very expensive) shop, you'll be doing some digging.

I like to go in with at least some idea of what I'm looking for- especially if it's a big thrift store. Even if it's just a category or color- something red, work blazers, new jeans, a date-night dress, a piece that emotionally moves me, etc.

If you're too general or too specific before you even walk in the door, you'll strike out a lot. Shopping second-hand is about being decisive in the moment- you can't usually sleep on it.

Making quick decisions is a good muscle to flex sometimes. Not every choice needs to be overanalyzed. It feeds the inner "hunter" that's coded in our DNA.

I bought this huge Miu Miu leather swallow pin from one of my NY consignors- I love the scale.

I bought this huge Miu Miu leather swallow pin from one of my NY consignors- I love the scale.

Laamhults Cinema Easy Chairs in our space during a pop-up event- now they are in my apartment.

Laamhults Cinema Easy Chairs in our space during a pop-up event- now they are in my apartment.

Splurge if you fall in love. 

Some things are just rare and expensive. That's life.

I bought these Swedish 1993-era Cinema Easy Chairs at a shop called Two Jakes in Brooklyn. They were pricey but I've had them for 10 years and I still adore them!

Time is money.

Tough love time. You're not going to find everything at a discount- especially the classic pieces. Them's the breaks. 

I had dibs at our shop for FOUR YEARS and I never saw certain things I wanted. I still shopped at retail.

I've been hunting online (for a decade, kind of embarrassing!) for a certain Bottega Veneta dress yet I've never found it listed in my size.

I saw the dress in person ONCE- on an Italian buyer at our showroom in Soho- and never forgot it. She looked like a goddess and it became my holy grail dress. I may never have it, and that's okay.

I shop everywhere. I stock up on basics as needed (just got a couple of these linen tees and I'm wearing this linen cardigan a lot lately), look in small shops when I can, check out what the contemporary and high-end designers are doing every season, and thrift occasionally for fun.

If you know exactly what you want- just buy it and be done with it. There's a peace of mind to that.

WHERE TO SHOP

I'm obviously most familiar with my options around Annapolis and around NYC. 

In New York- I like the buy/sell/trade stores the best. It's where people in the industry quickly dump off samples or freebies- they don't want to be caught listing things on eBay.

Crossroads, Beacon's Closet, and Buffalo Exchange are popular. There are a few locations for all of these chains. Fox & Fawn is a cute shop in Brooklyn- Greenpoint and Bushwick.

Housing Works often has good finds, and INA and Tokio7 are popular if you want high-end. I've also heard there's a nice string of consignment shops on the Upper East Side- though I've never been.

Consignment is bigger in Annapolis- we don't have great buy/sell/trade stores because the supply just isn't here. I've found special pieces at One Petticoat Lane, Savvy, and Honeysuckle.

Lutheran Mission (on West Street) is popular with the Johnnies, and there's a charity shop in Severna Park called Partners in Care that I like. I've heard good things about the hospital shop at the AAMC, and Hunting Ground in Baltimore.

There's also the popular She-Sale/Wee-Sale events- one of them is early May. They look VERY intense but I've heard it's quite the experience.

For antiques and home goods, definitely check out Maryland Avenue downtown.

And online- eBay, the RealReal, and Poshmark are best. These are great places to browse when you want something specific.