Fashion Guide

Expert Advice on Going Vintage

A guide to secondhand selections from the people who would know.

By Alice Alsup March 20, 2014


Antique necklace from "The Place Upstairs"

I need to revamp my closet. I am also monetarily challenged at the moment. With both these realities in mind, I’ve decided to spend the next six months selling off my old wardrobe and buying secondhand attire.

I’ve done enough resale shopping over the years to know that vintage doesn’t always mean thrifty. In order to complete my challenge, I sought out advice from those who do it best: Cameron Crews of The Upstairs Lair; Laura Levine and “Crazy” Mike Hildebrand of The Place Upstairs; and Omar Lisandro of The Golden Child Vintage

You may have seen their shops without realizing it. They’re all conveniently located on the second floor of 3700 Main Street, which is also home to The Continental Club, Big Top, and Tacos A-Go-Go. Here’s what they had to say: 

  • Display from "The Upstairs Lair"

    “Condition is key,” says Crews. “There’s no point to buy even a classic piece if it’s not in good shape.” This is even more important with menswear, Hildebrand warns, because men’s clothing wears out faster, so there’s only so much available.
  • Bite the bullet and buy some things new (i.e. Underwear, socks, and men’s shoes): Every one of these vendors mentions underwear. Levine adds that socks need to be bought new, and Lisandro and Crews both say that men’s shoes are best when newly purchased. Whereas women are more likely to own and cycle through 12 to 15 pairs of shoes, men tend to have fewer pairs that they wear constantly until they're worn out. Underwear? Kind of a no-brainer.
  • Be at least a little wary of traditional thrift stores: “People think you can just walk into thrift stores, but it's not that easy,” says Levine. According to Crews, many resale stores and outlets have begun catching on to what’s popular: cowboy boots, authentic Hawaiian shirts, and old Lacoste and Izod polos. Hildebrand and Levine use professional “pickers” to buy their merchandise, but for people without a store to stock the duo recommends estate sales and even Craigslist. “People with the good stuff are dying,” Hildebrand says. Lisandro, however, is skeptical of those sources. “I don’t pull stock from thrift stores, those things are of poor quality,” he explains, adding that you may find high prices even at estate sales, except perhaps on the last day.
  • Treat tailoring as a long-term investment: Levine and Hildebrand believe a $15 to $20 tailoring investment is a worthwhile way to suit your body and look your best and they recommend particular tailors to patrons. Crews points out that learning to tailor for yourself is also a good investment. “With men the fit is everything,” says Lisandro. “Sometimes with women the improper fit is part of the style.”
  • Hat rack at "The Upstairs Lair"

    Know the quality: Pay attention to where clothing is made, including the brand and manufacturer. For instance, Lisandro points out, from ’76 to ’93, Korea produced the majority of high-end leather goods. You can expect items form that era to be high quality. 
  • Establish the style you’re after: Levine coaches customers to decide on an era and an aesthetic. Lisandro calls this your “decade of dress.” Different decades have different silhouettes. Go-go and baby doll dresses and Chanel suits were to the '60s what A-line dresses and bell-bottoms were in the '70s. Clothes from the '50s fit bodies with a smaller ribcage and wider shoulders and hips, while the '70s body type is curvier. The looks from the '60s suit petit people with medium length legs.
  • There are lots of places to look for the goods: Each store has different avenues to pick up goods. At The Upstairs Lair, it’s Value Village, Christian thrift shops & guild shops. They also work with a non-profit that collects clothes bound for Africa. Lisandro uses eBay and looks at wares sold by out of town vendors. Levine and Hildebrand mention The Insurance Claims Building and Sand Dollar Vintage in the Heights —which is also where you’ll find their primary storefront, Replay Vintage— but they rely heavily on those professional pickers who can sell larger quantities of stock ready to go on the shelves.

"The Upstairs Lair"


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