Hunting for Vintage

Last week I was a guest over on The Vintage Traveler, and today I’m pleased to host blogger Lizzie Bramlett here. I started reading Lizzie’s blog earlier this year, and I love it. She is an expert vintage shopper and loves to research her finds. I always learn something while I’m over there.

I asked Lizzie to share some of her best advice for hunting for great vintage pieces, and this post does not disappoint. I can’t wait to put her recommendations into action.

It is my pleasure to be the guest writer of today’s post on The Hourglass Files. I am Lizzie Bramlett, the writer of The Vintage Traveler blog. I’m also a collector of 20th century sportswear and fashion ephemera. Today I’m going to share one of my favorite places to find vintage treasures.

Everyone knows to shop in vintage clothing stores and thrift stores to find vintage clothing, and savvy shoppers will add antique malls to that list. Antique mall shopping is pure serendipity. You never know what will be found in the booths as each one is different and reflects the interests of the booth owner. If you have never tried shopping in an antique mall, keep an open mind and be alert so you will spot that perfect item when it presents itself.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Antique malls are excellent sources of clothing accessories. It’s the rare mall that does not have a few dozen vintage hats scattered throughout. Look for scarves, gloves, and hatboxes too.

Antique Malls are notoriously over crowded, and the dealers try to use every available bit of space. Be sure to look inside of wardrobes, trunks, and chests of drawers, as dealers often store textiles in them.

Don’t be afraid to dig through piles of textiles, even if the pile looks like nothing but a bunch of rags. I once found a 1920s beaded dress in a pile much like the one here!

Beware of the dreaded NFS tag. It means “Not for Sale,” and it almost always will be found on vintage mannequins and heads.

I have a theory that in every antique mall, there is at least one excellent piece of vintage. In this particular mall that piece was this wonderful rayon dress from the 1940s.

Try to stay focused. There are many, many distractions in an antique mall, and if you are not careful, you’ll find yourself attracted to any number of interesting objects.

Be careful when it comes to adhesive price labels. I passed on this pillbox because the sticker was pulling on the enameled decoration. Don’t ask me why dealers do this, but I’ve also seen stickers on the fronts of vintage photos and on paper items as well.

Just because they are called antique malls does not mean that everything you will find inside them is old. These wire “dress forms” are new, imported items and were priced at a crazy $125 each.

The people who sell in antique malls are usually not experts in everything they sell, and most are not experts in textiles. Don’t believe everything that is written on the price tags, and trust your own judgment. People tend to think that antique stores are expensive, but that is not usually the case. Just have an idea of what things are worth so you can determine if things are fairly priced.

Happy shopping!

all photos by Lizzie Bramlett


  1. Liz Tregenza says:

    Ah, labels on paper items. My nemesis. Great post. I bought the most amazing costume history book a while ago (1930s one), it was absolute bargain at £1, but it had a huge £1 sticker on it, and even though i was ever so careful to pull it off it still ruined the front cover.

  2. This is all excellent advice! I especially like the tip to stay focused: antique malls are like candy stores if you love old things, and it’s easy to become distracted. And the advice to remember that not everything you see in an antique store is actually “antique” is spot on.

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