One Seller’s Tips for Finding Vintage Gold
Before JJ Matchett started making her own timeless, Italian acetate jewelry, she ran her own super-chic vintage shop online—and her studio in Atlanta still has a few racks of throwback denim and other treats she just couldn’t bear to pass up. Since stepping into a thrift store or Salvation Army in search of the perfect Levi’s or loafers can be totally intimidating, here’s her extremely expert advice for knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
BIG CITIES ARE NOT YOUR BEST BET.
“I grew up in a very small town in Florida near West Palm Beach. I was really fortunate as a young shopper because if you’re in a small town but surrounded by well-off areas, it’s much easier to find good vintage. In big cities, unless you go to a really great, great vintage shop, they’re pretty much picked-over. For the last 20 years, I’ve always found the best stuff in smaller—even rural—areas.”
IF TROLLING TINY TOWNS ISN’T IN THE CARDS, GO BIG.
“If you’re looking for specialty things, like pieces from Chanel or any other major items, I always like going to bigger fairs. A Current Affair is my number one place now. It happens a few times a year in New York and California, lots of vendors come, and they have everything. You can find twenties vintage, classic workwear, costume jewelry, Gucci—I really mean everything. It’s also just really fun and is run by an amazing group of people. It’s so good.”
BE REALISTIC ABOUT REPAIRS.
“This has been a bit of a problem for me over the years! You should make sure clothing is not stained or in need of major repairs like huge size changes. I’ve fallen in love with so many pieces like that, and then I end up with a whole rack of repairs waiting in my laundry room. I am not picky about damages if I love something, and I also want to grab everything just to save it from becoming trash. But you shouldn’t buy those things!”
GO ALL-NATURAL, AND KNOW ORIGIN MATTERS.
“Definitely go with natural fabrics—100% wool, cotton, or silk for clothing. And check to see where it’s made. For example, if it’s made in Italy, that’s usually a good sign. But I stay away from certain areas depending on the decade. Something from the fifties made abroad can be amazing, but the same thing made in the same country in the eighties or nineties is probably not the same quality.”
CLEAN WITH CAUTION.
“How you wash something depends on where you got it. If you bought it from a consignment shop or something like A Current Affair, it’s likely already been cleaned or treated. For that stuff, I usually just hang it on a rack to air it out and maybe steam it to get out any vintage-y smell. But for anything else, just take it to the dry cleaner. They can get can get almost every stain or scent out. Especially with the things that are older, you don’t want to make a mistake washing it yourself and having it fall apart. It’s happened so many times to me even when I have known better. I just go for it, and then that skirt I was in love with and saving disintegrates.”
BEWARE OF LOTS OF ROT.
“Shoes are another thing that I love to buy, but they can be really, really difficult. I pick stuff from the fifties to the nineties, but you have to be really careful, because even if it looks absolutely perfect, the leather can be dry-rotted—and that is the worst thing ever. There’s nothing that can be done—you have to throw it away. To check for rot, I take my fingernail and push or scrape it a tiny, tiny bit on the inside of the shoe, and if anything sort of peels off, that’s dry-rot. If the leather indents and doesn’t bounce back, it’s bad. But if the leather’s sound, getting vintage shoes resoled is easy and makes them almost-new. I’ve saved many a Chanel loafer that way.”
Follow these tips and you might also successfully score an Ungaro dress.
ONLINE RESEARCH IS KEY.
“There are some really great Etsy vintage shops that are curated by decade. DearGolden is a really good one for fifties, sixties, and seventies. The thing about eBay is that you can find the best stuff, but it can take you six hours to find two things that you love. If I find something on there I like, I find something similar and do a comparison—how it’s worn over the years and what it’s sold for in the past. There’s also usually another one out there. There have been times where I have missed a vintage tee or jacket by the skin of my teeth and found exact same thing on Etsy or some other website.”
SIMPLE, SOLID JEWELRY IS BEST.
“I tend to go with minimal shapes, a similar aesthetic to my own designs. I look for solid-colored pieces made in unique molds. As far as checking quality, see if metals are marked as sterling silver or gold, and they should never be rusted. I don’t buy a lot of vintage fine jewelry, but for that, I suggest going to estate sales.”
DRESS THE PART IF YOU’RE GOING IN PERSON.
“If you’re going to make it a full vintage shopping day, dress light even if it’s cold. It’s exhausting, and it’s a workout—you will sweat! Bring wet wipes and hand sanitizer and lots of cash.”