Luxury Thrift Shopping Tips

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Last week we chatted about my top tips for shopping thrifted apparel. Today, we’re going to get to the holy-grail of thrift shopping… that’s right, luxury! Since I’m fairly new to shopping for thrifted apparel I thought it was best that I went to the pros for this one. Helen Siwak is a Vancouver based marketer, freelance writer and former owner of a luxury re-sale business. Helen’s knowledge of luxury re-sale goes deeper than you can imagine and I could listen to her chat about it for hours. Today, Helen is going to give us her best luxury thrift shopping tips including locations, pricing and what to do when you spot a designer handbag. Read on…

Finding the top thrift stores for luxury and designer items is like solving a mathematical equation. The first part of the equation is ‘location,’ and this is why the large corporate charity affiliated chains are tops. Large easy-to-access facilities and the sheer volume they work with increases the odds of finding items overlooked by busy but underpaid staff. (This bit of info should also answer the question the age-old question of how a Calvin Klein dress or Michael Kors jeans are priced higher than a Versace blazer. Staff who are responsible for pricing place the highest value on brands they desire and see as pricey. If Kors, Baker, and Spade are the pinnacle where they shop, a higher value is placed on those items when tagging. It is unlikely they are familiar with Yamamoto, McQueen, or Acne Studios. These luxury designer pieces will get the standard ‘it is a blouse for $8.99’ tag).

Added to location is the ‘store size’ plus the ‘age of the population.’ When you look at my favourite location to thrift – Value Village on West Hastings – all the elements are present. It is a massive store located on a main thoroughfare which results in donations from many communities and is home to an aging population. This results in lots of traffic and high turnover of stock, a wide selection from casual to formal, and from new to vintage.

Unlike their retail counterparts, thrift stores are not bound by trend or style ideals. They are in the business of quick sales to support their charities, and sell all seasons, all styles, colours, patterns, as this is their business model. The only items that do not get hung are ones that are very noticeably damaged, dirty/smelly, or inappropriate (think fetish gear and lingerie).

While it may sound morbid, the aging population contributes to large sets of vintage being donated at the same time. On one trip I found a series of mint condition Escada pencil skirts in size Medium. Playing a hunch I went to blazers and found matching jackets, and going through women’s blouses found a series of beautiful silk blouses in Medium. Most likely a woman of impeccable taste had passed, and her wardrobe was donated and was now accessible to a new generation to appreciate.

In my years I have turned many a fashionista onto thrifting. Once they get past the ‘there is nothing in here’ whining in the second or third hour, arms hanging limply at their sides, they learn to embrace the notion that every rack contains items utterly unrelated to each other and it is mathematically impossible to foretell what is coming up. The smart decision is to keep on thrifting until the job is done! A large location can sometimes take well over six hours so come prepared with water and snacks.

Top Locations for Large-Scale Thrift Adventures (1-6 hours):

  1. Value Village: West Hastings (all decades of designer and vintage), Richmond (more current streetwear and designer), Victoria Drive (vintage, designer from last 5-15 years).
  2. Salvation Army: West 4th Avenue (current designer, women’s footwear, men’s outerwear), MacDonald & West Broadway (dressy men’s wear, women’s shoes), Marpole (vintage, designer from last 5-15 years).

To keep the price tag as low as it can go, I recommend not patronizing stores where the preloved merchandise has already passed through a set of experienced hands. Stores like Faulkner & Co and Burcu’s Angels, have great designer/vintage finds but also have sets of experienced eyes looking for desirable labels such as Dior and Chanel or Fendi Sport, so there will be a markup but, keep in mind, the items will still be affordable. A beat-up Chanel for $200 still carries with it a certain level of prestige and to thrift Chanel proper (not a diffusion line or Chanel Boutique, etc.) is rare. I accidentally thrifted a jacket after eight years of searching! It was days later when bored, that I started looking at what I had bought closely and found a small ‘double c’ embroidered on the side that led me down a rabbit of hole of ‘how to authenticate 1960s Chanel’ when I realized that I had thrifted a collectible embellished bouclé Chanel for $14. The resale? Currently between $1,100 to $3,500 on 1stdibs.com.

I have been recently turning my sights on consignment in the city. For decades there has been a dearth of good consignment but there are many new players, and once again consignment is booming. What I consider a true consignment shop is one where the prices are dropped incrementally every so many weeks, finally ending up on the 70%+ off rack. Many times you will find designer/luxury items here merely because the colour is off-trend, the cut is out-of-date, or there is some small damage which is easily repaired. With thrift stores getting savvier with their pricing, consignment is once again worth considering.

Turnabout Luxury Resale laid the groundwork for consignment in Vancouver. Opened by a 20-something over 30 years ago, it boasts six locations across the Lower Mainland. What? Is exactly what I said! From Surrey to West 4th, their image and over the decades their stock has become more sophisticated, and now each location comfortably offers a community-reflective selection of leisure to luxury. Their sales racks are amazing. I purchased a white Jean-Paul Gaultier Femme top for Diner en Blanc for $32. Ridiculous!

Top Consignment for Affordable Luxury:

  1. Turnabout Luxury Resale – 6 locations throughout the Lower Mainland (South Granville is tops for luxury brands ‘new with tags’ and large selection of Sale items), Main Street and West Broadway also carry Men’s, and West 4th is more boutique-like with a focus on chic mid-to-high price points. Wide range of sizes.
  2. Mine & Yours – downtown location easy-to-access. Caters to shoppers looking for current or last season items. Excels in handbags and shoes. Sizing tends towards Small to Medium.
  3. Modaselle – one location on Seymour Street. Heaven for handbag lovers. From Birkins to Balenciaga.

There has never been as great an opportunity in Vancouver to ‘have your cake and eat it too’ when it comes to luxury. If you have the time hit the thrift stores during the week – Monday to Wednesday are the best days because of end-of-week re-stocking Saturday or Sunday nights – and never ever buy a handbag thinking it real. The days of finding a Louis Vuitton at a thrift store are over. Counterfeits of popular bags have been popular for over ten years, and their presence at thrift stores is never-ending. Do not consider investing unless you have studied the numerous points of authenticating a Louis. Shop investment items at a consignment store where the staff is trained to authenticate, and you know you are receiving the real deal. Counterfeiting is a blight on the marketplace and should never be encouraged!

Purchasing luxury retail will take some time, focus and education on the shoppers part. You may run into an amazing find, like Helen’s Chanel dream jacket but for the most part you’ll need to do your research and visit multiple spots. Where do you shop for re-sale in Vancouver? If your favourite store wasn’t listed here, we’d love to learn about it! You can follow Helen on her thrifting adventures on Instagram at @Eco.Lux.Luv.

Check out “Tips For Thrift Shopping” if you liked today’s post and share this post with a friend who loves shopping for pre-loved designer!

PS. Don’t forget to pop by ARCHIVE – Vancouver’s first warehouse consignment sale happening this November 2nd and 3rd!

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Photos by Melissa Skoda.

Jacket via Value Village | Chinese Laundry boots | Sonya Lee jess belt bag

Helen Siwak is a Vancouver based marketer, freelance writer and former owner of a luxury re-sale business.

You can follow Helen on her thrifting adventures on Instagram at @Eco.Lux.Luv and her website ECO. LUX. LUV.

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