Rummaging through a thrift store is not only a great way to score a deal, it can also be a way to find things you may not be able to get elsewhere – maybe a vintage tie made from hand block-printed silk, or a leather jacket that’s been perfectly beaten-up over the years. Unfortunately, thrifting takes time and effort, which means you have to love the process as much as the goods. These days, I’ll occasionally make it out to a flea market, but I rarely have time to actually dig through the dusty bins at Goodwill.
I do my vintage shopping online, and often on Etsy. More than just a hub for DIY crafters, Etsy has become a marketplace for inveterate thrifters to showcase their finds to a wider audience (one of my favorite vintage shops, Wooden Sleepers, started on Etsy before opening up the brick-and-mortar you see above). I usually search for things such as French chore coats or the now-defunct Ralph Lauren Country label, but when you narrow in on a search term, you miss out on what could have otherwise been a serendipitous discovery – which is the real joy of vintage shopping.
So, it helps to know some good stores. Here are twenty-one of what I think are the best for vintage Americana, workwear, and militaria, as well as a bit of Native American jewelry and home furnishings. Most stores these days only have a few good things buried underneath a heap of thrift store dregs, but these places have a higher hit ratio than most. I think they’re worth bookmarking.
One of the themes you’ll see reoccur in this post is how certain shops have unique goods by virtue of them being located in a certain place. Alexander Saunders, for example, is based in Nova Scotia. His shop is filled with the sort of basic military surplus gear you’ll find everywhere, but he also has rarer items – British RAF cold weather parkas, Canadian jeep coats, and French army smocks. Prices aren’t cheap (Alex knows the value of his stock), but the goods are very cool and wouldn’t look out of place in a modern context. This is the kind of exploration, military, and adventurer gear that inspires designers such as Nigel Cabourn. My friend Pete interviewed Alex earlier this year.
Sometimes you just want the basics, but don’t want to dig around for them. Mid North Merc and Raws on Chicago have vintage, often deadstock militaria in like-new condition. Come here for flier caps, Korean War smocks, and Vietnam-era jungle jackets. I mostly like the Army fatigues, which are available in both khaki chino and OG 107 sateen (I prefer the second). The cuts are very wide and high, but they play well with vintage-inspired labels such as Chimala and Orslow. Just roll the hems up a bit.
Typhoid Jones is one of the last Etsy shops specializing in American trad (the other popular shop, Newton Street Vintage, hasn’t posted in a while). Mariano de los Santos, the store’s proprietor, is based in Boston, which gives him better access to this stuff than most. New England charity shops are filled with offloaded Brooks Brothers sack suits, Andover Shop button-downs, and tastefully designed J. Press ties – but you have to be in the area to dig around for them. Mariano does all the hard work and puts up the goods on Etsy. Years ago, when I wrote a series on oxford-cloth button-downs, Mariano loaned me one of his Brooks Brothers shirts from the 1930s – back when they made oxford button-downs as a pullover style, rather than coat front. This guy’s archive runs deep.
Cavemanteeks is the men’s section of The Girl Can’t Help It, a vintage clothier based in San Diego. The selection is small, but nicely chosen, and mostly specializes in workwear and Golden Age of Hollywood collectibles. Here, you can find Elephant brand bandanas, which are highly coveted by vintage collectors for being the original Americana label. Kapital designer Kiro Hirata even has a small “museum” dedicated to them. I don’t wear bandanas, but I like how they look wrapped around the handle of a vintage workwear bag. Cavemanteeks also has some great apparel, such as this 1950s denim jacket.
Rusty Browns has the kind of Americana and workwear clothing that has inspired heritage-styled labels for ages. Here you’ll find camp t-shirts, satin souvenir jackets, and prints referencing the military or great outdoors. There are piles of pennants and traditional textiles, such as cozy Pendleton blankets and Navajo weavings. And of course the requisite vintage American flag. The style here is a little campy, but also appeals in the way that Ralph Lauren has for decades.
If you’re hunting for a certain item, try searching for stores based in locales best associated with that kind of good. For French chore coats, that means French boutiques with dedicated pickers. While not always a given, sometimes they have really nice things at relatively affordable prices just by virtue of them being located closer to the source. I really like The Dustbowl Vintage and Penduline for French workwear, although a general search for French chore coats will also bring up hundreds of items.
Another good shop in this regard is Saski-Yohinten. They have a mix of African indigo textiles, French workwear, and traditional Asian garments, but the store generally specializes in that wabi-sabi, patched up aesthetic people associate with Japan. Some of the repair work here feels a bit overdone to me, but others are subtler (and, thus, more believably authentic). And the prices are a lot more affordable than machine-made, mass-produced designer items that try to imitate the same look.
Velour Vintage feels like an actual vintage store. They have a hodgepodge of second-hand items, ranging from buffalo check shirts to scratchy wool sweaters to questionable, fringed buckskin leather jackets. And, of course, the 1970s and ‘80s era tees that almost define this aesthetic. But the clothes are better curated than what you’ll find at Goodwill, prices still reasonable, and the styles often make you take a second look. These are the kind of clothes your one really stylish friend wears – the one who knows nothing about fashion, but somehow looks so much better than you and you hate it.
Etsy has a huge community of home-based, DIY crafters, which means it’s overflowing with pillows – one of the easier things for at-home sewers to make. Some of my favorites are made from traditional fabrics, such as Turkish Kilims, African indigos, and mudcloths. The best ones, I think, are made from what are known as “strip woven cloths" where strips of cotton are sewn together – selvedge to selvedge – in order to form something bigger. The effect is almost invisible when finished, but I like how the pillows feature a slightly textured bump running lengthwise down the fabric.
You can find a trillion sellers on Etsy hawking vintage American and nautical flags. My Vintage Flags is a nice store for this sort of stuff, although I’m mostly drawn to their vintage political memorabilia, which includes GOP wall hangings and Democrat bandanas (not technically flags, but you’d hang them up the same way). Asafo Flags also has traditional Ghanaian flags sewn by the Fante people, who live along the country’s coast. These are brightly colored, made with a patchwork appliqué pattern, and have fringed edges. They’re usually flown during festivals, ceremonies and funerals, but I think they could make for nice home decor.
It’s a yuppie cliche, but I love furnishing shops with one-of-a-kind items. Ottos Antiques has oddities such as a giant locksmith sign and set of leather wrestling dummies, as well as items that you may actually want in your home – a Kilim runner, pair of Bakelite desk lamps, and leather sofas.
Again, more odds and ends. I like that most of the figurines here are about $30-40. And there’s a tiny brass turtle with a hinged top that you can use to hide your trinkets.
Fancy darts, including vintage sets, that make me want to play darts. This shop can also make custom darts if you … for some reason need bespoke darts? Vintage dartboards can be found throughout Etsy for about $50 to $100.
There are a bunch of hip Japanese brands nowadays selling Native American-styled jewelry to streetwear consumers, but I think it’s better to get the real thing. For one, you get better provenance (buying the Japanese version feels like you’re getting a cover band). Two, you support the community of people who make this stuff cool in the first place. Real Native American jewelry can be found in shops all over California and the Southwest, but if you’re not in these areas, some also have Etsy storefronts. I like Macs Indian and Timeless Style. This sterling silver necklace, for example, looks very similar to this one from Larry Smith, but it costs half the price.
Put This On isn’t technically on Etsy, but I’m proud of our work (for those unaware, I help manage the site’s editorials). Jesse personally selects and buys everything at thrift stores and flea markets, and then the items are sold at PTO’s shop online. I think the prices are exceptionally reasonable. I like the Bausch & Lomb sunglasses for ~$150 (cooler than Ray Ban, the company’s successor); vintage military duffle bag for $120; and assortment of jewelry. These pendants would look great on a chain, and the gold signet rings are available for less than what most places charge for sterling silver.