Thrifting, vintage and consignment shopping are the contemporary version of treasure hunting. Except instead of crossing the Atlantic in search of El Dorado or pledging piracy for the Fountain of Youth, we’re crossing Charles Street in search of a one-of-a-kind cocktail dress.
Each of these types of seconds store is different so know what you’re walking into. Here’s a brief lesson in the lingo:
Thrift Stores: These are your Goodwill, your Savers, your Salvation Army. These operations work on a donation basis so you get a wide selection ranging from diamond-in-the-rough to rags for cleaning. But, they’re the lowest cost on the spectrum.
Vintage Stores: These shops and pop-ups sell — surprise — vintage items. The standard definition of vintage is anything 30-plus years old. Yes, as horrifying as it is, those 1990s jorts you still have hanging in your closet are almost there. This is a great way to get an authentically retro piece, but they can often run pricey.
Consignment: This is when people sell their gently used items via a third party store. These tend to be newer items and often they’re higher-end. The prices are higher than thrifting, but you’re guaranteed quality control.
Now that you’re equipped with knowledge of each store type, here are some pro tips for maximizing your shopping experience.
Pro Tip: Clear Your Schedule
You may come away with a barely worn Ralph Lauren blazer (or you may not), but either way it takes time. You need to go into a thrift store, vintage market or consignment shop prepared to spend time searching for that hidden gem. This is not a casual stop-in-and-grab-something outing; it’s a full on expedition. Fuel up on brunch, cancel your plans and prepare to get serious.
Pro Tip: Size Doesn’t Matter
One of the biggest mistakes people make while secondhand shopping is that they approach it like a regular store. Throw all those rules out the window. Perhaps most importantly, the sizing on tags means nothing. All brands are different and in these shops you’re bound to find a wide range of brands from a wide range of years. You never know until you try it on, trust your eyes over the tag number.
Pro Tip: Keep an Open Mind
Don’t confine yourself to one section. Check men’s, kids, maternity, everywhere. No one will know when you style that plus size top like a dress or pull a hat from the men’s section. Remember, too, to look at things with a creative eye. Sometimes it only takes minor (typically inexpensive) alterations, a hem here, a tuck there, to make a garment amazing.
Pro Tip: Bring Tools
Bringing supplies never hurts on these trips. For example, a few pins and a belt. The pins (safety pins, sewing pins, whatever) will help you visualize any alterations to a garment. Sometimes a slightly loose skirt can even be fixed on the spot by pinning an artistic brooch to the back. You’ll also be amazed what a difference adding a belt can make on clothing of varying sizes and styles. Sometimes that’s all it takes to see something in a completely different light.
Pro Tip: Try Something New
This is especially true of thrift stores, but it can apply to all secondhand categories. Since prices are almost always cheaper than buying new, this is the time to try something you would normally never pick out. That leopard-print suit, yes. That sexy leather jacket, yes. If it doesn’t work out, you’re only out a bit of cash. And, well, if it does … you may end up discovering a whole new sartorial side of yourself.
Here’s a guide to some of our favorite secondhand spots around the city
Bobby From Boston
545 Washington St., Lynn
An old-school Boston spot with a warehouse full of beautiful vintage items. Schedule an appointment, and you’ll have this treasure chest to yourself.
391 West Broadway and 109 Charles St., Boston
A well curated consignment boutique with trendy and high-end items. Plus, a brand new store in Beacon Hill.
40 South Street
40 South St., Jamaica Plain
An alternative vintage shop in the über cool JP neighborhood. Even better, it’s a woman-owned business!
716 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 1870 Centre St., West Roxbury; 563 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 1407 Washington St., Boston
An eclectic thrift shop owned by AIDS Action, 100 percent of proceeds go towards prevention and treatment initiatives. Washington Street location offers exclusively designer items.
175 Newbury St., Boston
A high-end consignment shop heralded as one of the best in the city. Lanvin, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana all live here.
122 Brighton Ave., Allston
Extensive thrift shop with a huge clothing section and 50 percent off three different colored tags on Thursdays. But keep in mind — cash only.