ANN: Everyone says this, but you have to be prepared to look. You really have to be in the mood to dig—and you can usually tell pretty quickly if you are, or not. The very best things are found when you least expect it, and it’s a lot more fun to find a treasure under a ton of junk. At this point, just from being in the business, we know what to look for: high-quality fabric and finishing, of course, but also stuff that is iconic or unusual: a leather jacket from the ’70s that is classic enough not to look costume. An Hermes or Etro scarf or tie in a pile of other silks. A jeweled evening bag that someone has used sparingly, but feels special and novel. Labels are only a little bit of the story, and you can’t get too hung up on them.
I used to love to shop for my daughters when they were young. I loved the idea that some little French girl or an elderly aunt had worn it first. Now I just look for anything that feels special and weird. I try to keep a tight edit in my closet, and I have enough basics, so it has to be pretty spectacular to make it in: A tapestry skirt that weighs like five pounds, a white organdy dress hand-painted in gold—that kind of thing. I’m not so much a jewelry person, but I love looking at it in vintage shops in France and Italy. I was big into historical fiction as a kid, so it’s always fun to imagine an item’s journey from contessa to daughter to friend or whatever. Shoes are another good one, especially if you have small or narrow feet. There’s a great shop that opens up at the trade show in Milan (it’s an industry secret). The dealer is Luigi Artuso, he's based in Bologna, and his showroom is called Vintage Art (Via Signorini 41 / A; vintageart.it).
SID: I’ve gotten a lot of great cowboy boots all over Texas, especially in Houston. With shoes, you have to ask yourself if they’re repairable. Often they are, especially if they’re made of high-quality leather. A thorough clean and polish is usually all it takes. Suede’s a bit more ginger, so it’s harder to bring back to life—but scars can be gently integrated into the rest of it with a great waxing. Check the inside for the country of origin and sizing info. Hand-written sizes are always a good sign since they often indicate a hand-worked shoe made in a smaller shop, which shows more specialized production in smaller batches. While you’re there, look at the lining to see how much wear they have left in them, and of what quality the pair is: If the lining is canvas, they’re not as nice; pig (characterized by visible pores), they’re pretty good (the pores help with breathability); full-grain leather is usually good. Check the soles, too: closed-channel (meaning the stitching is covered with a thin veneer of leather) usually points to a higher quality. You can learn a lot from the nail pattern on the heel, too, like whether they’re handmade, and even who the maker was since some makers have distinctive nail patterns. I always like to look at watches; books and records are huge for us; glasses; cufflinks. Ties also make for great finds. First check the provenance. I like Savile Row (they usually use the finest silk mills), France (great for prints), and India (hand-printed, woven, and embroidered). Also, check the stitching and sewing to see if it’s made by hand.
ANN: One of my great finds was this cool hand-embroidered Puebla-inspired top from the ’70s. It caught my eye because it reminded me of old Butterick pattern stuff I sewed for myself. But what sealed the deal was that someone had embroidered—crookedly—“Love, Maggot” in cursive on the inside. I couldn’t resist.
SID: My first vintage purchases were usually for parties in high school. I bought my first tuxedo at the Salvation Army on North Mill in Jackson when I was 16. My mom took me. I wore it until I couldn’t anymore. I loved it so much that I wore a tuxedo when there was no need for a tuxedo—parties that were definitely not black tie. I had it until I moved to New York in 2984. That’s one of my best vintage finds, along with a gold 1960s Zenith watch in Milan. A couple of years ago, we had this black-tie wedding in Palm Beach and I forgot my shoes. The vintage shops on Dixie Highway are great, but there’s only one that even has men’s stuff. Lo and behold, this one had a single pair of men’s shoes for sale: Black opera pumps, which just happened to be my size. A little Lord Fauntleroy, a little too pointed in the toe, but we swung by the shoeshine shop and they did the trick. Now that I think of it, I’m kinda itching to wear them again.
ANN: We don’t really use Google or anything to find places to shop—we both have a nose for them and we’re always prepared to stop and dash in for a quick look. Places like Florida and Idaho are a gold mine, because people retire there, or go skiing there, and get rid of all their "stuff.” And, you know, if someone has the same taste in vacation spots as you do, they often have the same taste in other stuff, too. The vintage Lilly Pulitzer available in Palm Beach, Florida, is out of control, for example, and our girls found all these cute Hemingway Elementary Huskies sweatshirts in thrift stores in Ketchum, outside Sun Valley. We also used to go crazy at the Port Chester Salvation Army in upstate New York (34 N. Main St.; 800-728-7825). But places where vintage is big—like in Austin or L.A.—can be tough, because other people get to it first. If it feels too curated, it takes some of the fun out of the hunt.
Sid and Ann’s Favorite Vintage Shopping Stops Around The world
Palm Beach Vintage: 3623 S. Dixie Hwy., Palm Beach, Miami, FL; 561-838-4442.
The Church Mouse: 374 S County Rd., Palm Beach, Miami, FL; 561-659-2154; bbts.org.
Dechoes Resale: 2110 Edgewater Dr., Orlando, FL; 407- 648-7480; dechoesresale.com.
The Gold Mine Thrift Store: 331 Walnut Ave., Ketchum, Idaho; 208-726-3465.
Seeline Vintage: Based out of Charleston, South Carolina. Sold online and at trunk shows throughout the country; seelinevintage.com.
Rag-o-Rama: 1111 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA; 404-658-1988; ragorama.com.
Texas Junk Co.: 215 Welch St., Houston, TX; 713-524-6257.
Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outfitters: 37 W. Eighth St., New York, NY; 212-674-2222; armynavydeals.com.
Kaufman’s Army & Navy: 319 W. 42nd St. New York. NY; 212-757-5670; kaufmansarmynavy.com.
Cavalli e Nastri: Via Brera, 2, Milan, Italy; 39-02/7200-0449; cavallienastri.com.
Pifebo: Various locations, Rome, Italy; pifebo.com.
Vintage Art: Via Signorini 41 / A, Bologna, Italy; vintageart.it.