Outlet Shopping, Thrifting & Finding a (Chanel) Needle in a Haystack

Ever since I can remember, I’ve  gravitated toward the most expensive item in a store. But shopping for expensive things comes at a price (quite literally) and I unfortunately don’t have money trees growing in my backyard. Needless to say, learning to hunt for bargains has become a big part of my routine. I’ve been visiting antique stores, thrift shops and live auctions since I was a girl. At first, my grandmother would drag me


A collection of Chanel earrings, found at various estate sales, antique galleries and my grandmother's closet.

begrudgingly and I would sit in the corner of an antique store reading books. Eventually, though, magazines became my periodical of choice—specifically, fashion magazines. Around the age of 12, I started reading every issue of InStyle, cover to cover. I memorized the names of fashion houses, their head designers and the styles for which they were known. Occasionally, on one of our trips to an antique gallery, I’d look in the jewelry cases, or happen upon a rack of clothes—and that’s when it started. I’d notice the sparkle of a jeweled brooch, or a pair of gold earrings with the same interlocking C’s I’d seen in my fashion magazines. The labels I had thought were so unattainable were actually right in front of me—I just hadn’t been looking closely enough.

So began my love affair for vintage, and it’s a love I haven’t given up to this day. I’ve found some pretty amazing pieces over the years and, while a lot of my friends will be quick to say I’m “lucky,” I think there’s a certain skill to unearthing vintage and discounted treasures. Some might say that thrifting or antiquing is akin to “finding a needle in a haystack.” I am fairly confident that I could indeed find a needle in a haystack—especially if it was a Chanel needle.

Here are some of my tips for unearthing a diamond in the rough:

  • Use your eyes. Shopping should be a sensory experience—utilize your sense of touch and sight, paying careful attention to textures. Fabrics like silk, cashmere and wool are easy to spot and are generally more expensive than fabrics like polyester or rayon. No need to take every item off a rack and check its tags—often when I’m looking at an enormous rack of clothing, I’ll just flip through very quickly, glancing at the fabrics first. I spotted this Christian Dior blouse at a thrift store utilizing this technique. Thrift stores are often chock full of cheap fabrics and lots of cotton—when you see a slip of silk fabric peeking out from a rack, grab it and check the tag. The Dior top was a whopping $2, by the way.
  • Search in unexpected places. High-priced consignment stores might seem like the place to go when searching for labels like Louis Vuitton and Hermes, but in my experience, the most high-priced items are found at antique stores. Case in point: my Goyard trunk. This has been, by far, my best vintage find to date, and was found in a shed behind an antique gallery. The tag attached said, simply, “Old trunk, $95,” but I knew immediately what it was. It was in great condition, but mixed with old furniture, rather than designer wares.
    A vintage Goyard wardrobe purchased for $95 at an antique store in Orange Park.

    A vintage Goyard wardrobe purchased for $95 at an antique store in Orange Park.

  • Look at accessories. This applies to both outlet stores and antique galleries. While larger items, like bags, hats and clothing, might be more noticeable, jewelry often gets lost in a large case at an antique mall. Don’t pass it by. My mom bought me an absolutely stunning Karl Lagerfeld cuff at a large antique mall (it was under $100, and it’s signed). At outlet malls, I always check the belt rack—again, check for high-priced materials like snakeskin and leather, and check the back of the belt to see the brand (oftentimes, department store outlets will put all the belts on their own hangtags, so an Alaia might end up with a Saks tag attached).
  • Check the clearance rack. This mostly goes for outlet stores. Depending on where you live, higher-priced items might be the last to go. This is especially true at stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, where the typical shopper might not necessarily be looking for an Elizabeth & James top. If those higher-priced items don’t sell, they make their way to the clearance rack, where they are drastically reduced. In the past year, I’ve found clothes by Rag & Bone, Helmut Lang, Equipment, Elizabeth and James, Pucci and Gucci at Tj Maxx—all on clearance racks.
Virginia Chamlee
Managing Editor