How To Shop For Vintage Like A Pro!

It’s happened to all of us. You are out and about doing a little recreational vintage shopping and spy an object that stops you in mid meander. We’re not talking a fleeting glance or passing fancy here! But, rather,  a subtle gasp accompanied by an immediate flip flop of the heart while your brain simultaneously starts racing with all the reasons that this is the perfect object to satisfy every life issue that you have ever faced! Okay, maybe not every issue, but you know with all your being that it is a VERY special find!

You turn over the price tag and the age old internal debate begins. Is it really worth the asking price? Could you do better? Is it in the budget? Those pesky questions that are the rational side of your brain endeavoring to recapture your attention in order to bring you back to an emotional state that will enable you to make a wise purchasing decision. It is the eternal dilemma for every flea market and vintage aficionado!

My most recent brush with this dilemma happened when I came upon this pretty little girl while wandering through an antique mall a couple of months before Christmas. My heart did that little flip flop, my breath caught a bit and that’s when it happened–I fell just a little in love with her!


Vintage shopping is far from an exact science! Arming yourself with a few basic guidelines will turn you into a seasoned pro at the vintage shopping game!

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Now it should be said that I had actually added a female bust to my vintage/flea market shopping list a few weeks earlier.  Partially for sentimental reasons (my mom had one when I was young), but mostly because I had seen them used in such fun ways in decorating and I thought it would be an item I  could use in several ways throughout the house. Can’t you just see her with a cute little mask for Halloween, or donning a vintage necklace while presiding over the farmhouse cabinet alongside pieces of vintage silver! I had all sorts of plans in mind for her!

The busts that I had found up to this point where never quite right. Many of them where either too large or had too much decorative detail.  I was in search of a simpler version in a medium size that I could endow with my own decorative touches. Prices where all over the place and I had yet to be able to hone in on an exact price range that I felt would be suitable. (My technique for avoiding overspending on vintage items.)

Then I saw HER . . . a sweet little lady with a huge tulle pom pom in her hair! Such panache! Such joie de vivre! In other words this girl had one big personality even though she stood only about 8″ tall. When I flipped the price tag I found that she was $36. While I know that doesn’t sound like much,  you have to understand that I was still reeling from a case of sticker shock after having just been forced to buy a new air conditioner and furnace. (Does anybody else find that even though you have saved for such situations, it still really hurts to let go of the money?)

My brain went into overdrive with arguments such as:

Is she really worth that price given her diminutive size?

Weren’t you looking for a larger piece?

Should you really spend the money on her with Christmas just around the corner?

All very inconvenient, but rational reasons why this was probably not the best time for me to make this purchase. So I walked away.

One of the sure fire signals to me that I should have made a purchase that I have passed on is that it tends to haunt me a bit.  When I got home and really analyzed the ways that I envisioned using such a piece, I realized that she was very likely a better size for me than a larger version because she would be able to be used in more spaces throughout the house.  However, I still really felt that she was overpriced given that the only thing truly unique about her was her tulle head adornment. But I just kept thinking of her as I decorated for the Christmas, then winter, then Valentine’s Day. Boy did that girl haunt me!

Shopping vintage presents a set of unique buying circumstances. Prices are typically based heavily on what the proprietor thinks you will be willing to pay as apposed to a standard markup added to what the item cost them.  Because of this you may find that vintage sales or shops and booths that are beautifully displayed and merchandised will have higher prices than shopping opportunities with a more utilitarian look. Some sellers will negotiate while others will not.  You will have to decide how much digging you are willing to do to find what you want and how much imagination you bring to the table to help you visualize how you will use the item.  If at all possible do some comparison shopping ahead of time to find price ranges that you are comfortable with. There are seldom multiples of vintage items, so walking away to “think about” a purchase may mean that the item is gone when you return. Since returns are typically not allowed there is no room for a case of buyers remorse.

 A little intimidating, right?

No worries! Here are a few basic guidelines to arm yourself with in order to be an astute vintage customer.


Making Wise Vintage Purchases

Furniture and Decorative Items

1–Look for items in good condition. If something needs repair, only buy it if you have the skills to mend it or have a good idea of what it will cost to have fixed and figure that into the price you are considering paying.

2–Know your measurements when buying furniture! I keep mine in my phone so that they are always with me! Be sure to measure not only the space, but any doorways that lead to the space! There is nothing more frustrating than getting a prized purchase home only to find out it won’t go through a stairwell or doorway!

2–Don’t let color become a problem! Paint can be easily changed! Even upholstery can be updated. Again, figure in that cost when determining your ideal purchase price!

3–Linens should be checked for stains and holes.  You decide what you can live with. Most vintage sellers will have already tried to remove stains, but if they are faint or in an inconspicuous position, a little stain might not matter.  Vintage linens can be a great source for unique fabric and handwork. If your plan is to use the piece to make a pillow or table runner for instance, you may be able to omit the stained or torn area completely.

4–Look beyond the items original purpose to decided if a piece will work into your home.  Crates become planters, toy boxes, or a way to coral blankets during the winter.  Vintage coffee servers become a vessel for flower arranging. sugar bowls become a desk accessory to hold paper clips and cream pitchers make the perfect container for pens, pencils, make up brushes, whatever your imagination can conceive! If you love it, that’s all that really matters! Some vintage finds may simply become one of a kind pieces of art to use in vignettes around your home!


1–Try clothing on!!!! Vintage sizing is very different than modern clothing.  It is not unusual for the size of vintage pieces to be either cut out or faded so be ready to try on anything you are thinking of purchasing.

2–Fabrics are also very different  in vintage clothing depending on its era! This is something that a lot of inexperienced vintage shoppers don’t think about.  They get a garment home and end up not wearing it because it is uncomfortably stiff  or ruin it because they are unfamiliar with the fabric’s care needs. Check care instructions and be sure you will be comfortable with how the fabric feels for the amount of time you will typically be wearing the item. Another very good reason to try pieces on and do all of the sit testing and shoulder movement tests necessary to be certain that you will be comfortable.

3–Check for stains and tears. Some defects may be fixable, but stains are probably there to stay! If it is in a position that you could cover it with an accessory of some kind, it could still be a viable option.

4–Jewelry should be checked for loose settings on stones and broken clasps. If something needs repair, figure that cost into the price before deciding whether to buy.


Oh, wait! I almost forgot to finish my story!

Last weekend the Wildman and I decided to take advantage of a uncharacteristically warm winter day to head over to do a little vintage Valentine’s shopping in the area of town that I had originally found the sweet little girl bust.  Based on the number of times she had come to mind over the last few weeks, I was fully prepared to splurge on her if she was still there which I fully expected not to be the case. We stopped at another store first where the Wildman made a surprising discovery.


Small bust of a girl with faux wood finish.


That’s right. It is the very same little lady, except that this one had a partner and was a rather unfortunate blotchy faux wood color.


Vintage shopping is far from an exact science! Arming yourself with a few basic guidelines will turn you into a seasoned pro at the vintage shopping game!


The pair was $19 and the booth was having a 20% off sale.

Score! Happy Valentine’s Day to me!

For that kind of savings the color could easily be fixed and I could make my own tulle pom pom for her hair. Plus the obvious bonus of having her little partner if I decided I wanted to display them together.


Vintage shopping is far from an exact science! Arming yourself with a few basic guidelines will turn you into a seasoned pro at the vintage shopping game!


Vintage shopping is far from an exact science! Arming yourself with a few basic guidelines will turn you into a seasoned pro at the vintage shopping game!


Small busts of girl and boy painted.


One coat of primer, one coat of paint and just look a the results! I’m going to put one more coat of off white paint on them to mellow them out a little, but I am totally smitten and am chomping at the bit to start accessorizing! The tulle is standing at the ready to be made into a pom pom and I also ordered some rusty metal banding from Etsy to use to make crowns for these two!

By the way, do you see that awesome vintage coffee urn filled with flowers? I also found it on this trip. You’ll never guess where! In the ladies room!!!! I brought it out and did my “wouldn’t this make a perfect birthday gift” bit (see this post), but the Wildman had a different agenda and surprised me by filling it with roses for Valentine’s Day!

The bottom line? Vintage shopping is far from an exact science, but it is so much fun and can help you reap great rewards in finding economical and distinctive pieces for your wardrobe and your home. Pieces that showcase your personal style!  Just be sure to go in armed with your wise vintage shopping guidelines and you too can be a winner at the vintage shopping game!

Hugs ’til next time!

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Other Posts You Might Like!

Flea Market Shopping List–Mine Just Got Longer

Flea Market Finds Volume 1

Flea Market Finds Volume 2

Flea Market Finds Volume 3


Vintage shopping is far from an exact science! Arming yourself with a few basic guidelines will turn you into a seasoned pro at the vintage shopping game!

10 thoughts on “How To Shop For Vintage Like A Pro!

  1. Debbie

    You are my vintage soul sister, I do believe! I just scored a pair of busts just like yours at an estate sale. For now, I’m decorating my antique booth with them, but when they come home to live with me, I love the idea of decorating with tulle or a crown!!

  2. These are some great tips Terri! I remember being in an antique mall before Christmas & spied a Beatles mug I really wanted….to the tune of $88, no less. Not even for the Beatles will I spend that much on a mug! You really scored with the bust…congrats for finding just what you wanted. My problem is I don’t always know what I want. I just know it when I see it.

    • Terri

      Thanks Maria! You are so right about having a bust for the garden!!!! Now I want one for that too!!!! Guess I better add it to my shopping list.:)
      Have a great day!

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