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What is the Difference Between Vintage Stores and Thrift Stores?

With the rise in popularity of going thrifting, purchasing second-hand goods, and generally being more conscious of the items we are consuming, there can be confusion. What is the difference between thrift stores and vintage stores? Depending on what you're looking for, you might be better off choosing one over the other. 

The short answer:

Curation and price are the major factors when comparing thrift shops and vintage stores. Vintage stores will have higher prices than thrift stores because of the curated selection, washing/mending, and the time that was put into finding items from a specific era. Whereas thrift stores take in donations of any and all  items as long as they are gently used, allowing them to price items very cheaply. 

Thrift Stores

Thrifting means to go shopping for second-hand, gently used items while looking for bargains.

Most often when people think of going thrifting, they are referring to visiting a "thrift store" like Goodwill, Salvation Army, Savers (corporate chains) or smaller locally owned stores such as Bargain Thrift, Family Thrift, etc.

These thrift stores receive their inventory for free by taking donations, which is why they can afford to price items cheaply. Items they accept are new with tags or gently used but still in good condition, and aged anywhere from 100 years ago to items produced this year. 

It is much harder to find older items at a thrift store. Some items with small holes or stains never make it to the sales floor and are sent to an outlet location, or thrown away. After Covid, a spike in vintage hunters has increased the competition at thrift stores and the bins (Goodwill Outlet). 

Vintage Stores

Vintage stores are curators of items that range in age from 20-99 years old. As of today (5/15/2024) any item from 1925-2004 is considered vintage. The items found in a vintage store are sought after and purchased specifically to fit the store's niche and style. 

Vintage clothing stores often are selling to other collectors who know the value of the items the store finds, cleans up, and possibly mends (all of which take skill and knowledge of how to do). While you may find some cool things for reasonable prices, don't be surprised if you find a $20 souvenir t-shirt from the 1990s in the same store as a $235 Rolling Stones The Knit 1981 Tour t-shirt. Some items, based on age, rarity, and condition, are more expensive than others. 

Niches are common to fall into and set each vintage store apart. One store may specialize in a specific era, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, Y2K (2000s). Another might focus on style - formal and couture, Americana, western, workwear, denim, collegiate, etc. Price range is another thing that can set a store apart. Having items that are only high-end and highly collectable versus a store that's more mid-range in price with items that are less collectable but more practical for everyday wear. 

Knowledge is another factor that you are paying for in a vintage shop. It takes knowledge and time to hunt for specific items, to know the going rate of similar condition items, to know how to wash different types of fabrics, how to mend holes, rips, zippers, buttons. All of this has to be taken into account when pricing an item. Some shops even take the time to photograph, measure, describe items and ship so that people can purchase via their online website from across the country or even the world. 

Conclusion:

So while the verb thrift means to purchase used goods at a store specializing in secondhand merchandise, the type of store you go thrifting at can greatly affect whether you think you're getting a great price on that item.

If you're wanting a one of a kind garment with a cool history that was made with better manufacturing standards, hit up a vintage store. If you're on a tight budget and looking for a way to get new clothes for cheap, consider hitting the thrift stores near you. No matter your budget, OKC has plenty of options for both kinds of second-hand stores. 

Definitions:

Thrift Shop:

noun a shop that sells secondhand articles and especially clothes and is often run for charitable purposes; inventory is usually donated

Thrift

verbto shop for or buy used goods especially at a store that specializes in secondhand merchandise

Second Hand:

adjective : acquired after being used by another not new

Deadstock:

 noun: usually refers to discontinued lines of vintage shoes, clothing, fabric that are no longer available on the market, but still have their original tags (there is some debate about whether the item should come directly from a stores warehouse without having been sold to a consumer to be considered deadstock)

New With Tags (NWT):

adjective: used when describing an item that has never been used and has the original tag still attached

Vintage:

adjective : of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality CLASS

Antique

noun : a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago

Articles worth reading:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vintage_clothing#:~:text=9%20References-,Definitions,of%20the%20era%20they%20represent.
  2. https://www.reddit.com/r/Depop/comments/h9qpvk/the_true_definition_of_deadstock/?utm_medium=android_app&utm_source=share
  3. https://lipscombmedia.com/discovering-the-differences-between-thrifts-store-and-vintage-shops/
  4. https://www.vintagearoundtownguide.com/vintagevsthrift
  5. https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/thrifting-antiquing-vintage-shopping-37044031