14/09/2016 8:01 PM AEST

How To Navigate A Vintage Store Without Losing Your Mind

Go forth and thrift, people.

As part of HuffPost’s “Reclaim” project, HuffPost Style will focus the month of September on simple ways to educate yourself on becoming a better consumer.

Jamie Feldman
A rack of clothing at Shareen Vintage in Los Angeles. 

In the quest to waste less without sacrificing great style, shopping vintage reigns supreme. It can help decrease the unbelievable amount of clothing that ends up in landfills, as well as slow down the pollution fashion causes ― it’s the second dirtiest industry after oil

Buying vintage means that not only are you giving an already existing garment new life, but you’re also way less likely to show up to the party in the same look as someone else. The thrill of finding a perfect dress in a sea of previously loved clothing is, to some, the greatest thrill there is.

But vintage shopping, like many great things in life, does not come naturally to us all. It can be intimidating, time consuming and discouraging ― especially if you aren’t equipped with the right materials and mindset.

Fear not, amateur thrifters. Thanks to the likes of Susan Collings, owner of PollySue’s Vintage in Maryland, Shareen Mitchell, designer and owner of vintage boutiques in both New York and Los Angeles and our own shopping prowess, we’ve got all the tips you need to hit the racks with a solid strategy. 

Before you go:

1. Consider your wardrobe. Chances are you’re about to spend a lot of time in a cramped dressing room. Is your outfit conducive to throwing things on and off? Most importantly, is your bag a cross body? Nothing kills a sartorial buzz faster than not having two free hands to cart your haul around with you. 

2. Make time. Got plans for later in the day? Cancel ‘em. Vintage shopping is an art form that cannot be rushed, and if you’re busy thinking about how much time you have, you might overlook the one floral dress out of 1,000 that fits you perfectly.

3. Take inventory and do your research. This rings true for any shopping trip, vintage or new. Take a look through your current wardrobe. What do you need? What could you breathe new life into? Mitchell says it’s also wise to “go online and look at the runways. You will see the same elements in a vintage store that you are seeing be promoted by the best designers today.” That might give you a better idea of the type of things you’re looking for. 

When you get there:

1. Find your patience and zen. It’s important to walk into a vintage shopping trip with the understanding that you might very well spend your entire day in one store, depending on the size of the store and your level of patience. 

2. Don’t judge a book by its cover. “Remember that vintage clothes are used clothes, they have been worn before and have some signs of wear fading, loose seams, zippers that stick, staining,” Collings explained. Having said that, it’s important not to write something off that could be great, due to a size or aesthetic issue. “Once on your body, ask yourself what would improve the garment: Hemming, removal of sleeves, lowering of neckline, taking in of waist.”

In other words, the beauty of a vintage garment is that it’s so much more than it looks at face value. You can have fun with something you might never have imagined wearing. 

3. Forget everything you know about sizing. If you leave here with anything, let it be this: Vintage clothing was made at a different time when sizing was not as it is now, and therefore cannot be a deciding factor on whether or not to try something on. “Gather into your arms everything you even remotely like and then just put them on. You do not know a garment until it is on your body,” Mitchell said. 

4. Have an open mind. “You can’t go into a vintage store with a specific idea of the kind of outfit you want,” Collings told The Huffington Post. “For the owners and collectors of vintage it is a painstaking process, a labor of love to find these clothes out in the world at estate sales, thrift stores, auctions and we get what is out there to find, not what any specific person has in their mind from watching old movies.” Instead, a more fun approach is to just go big and see what you end up with. 

 Once you get home:

Handle. With. Care. 

 “The older the clothes get, the more fragile they are to wear,” Collings said, adding, “the older the fabric, the more likely it is to rip, disintegrate, come apart at the seams.” Having said that, it shouldn’t deter you from shopping vintage, but rather force you to take better care of your clothing.

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to a unique, less wasteful wardrobe in no time.