When my wife and I went on a little getaway right after we got married, we stayed at the Mass MOCA’s Porches Inn in North Adams, MA. The Porches is an adorable row of old houses transformed into a single bed and breakfast in the Berkshires. Everything about it is charming, including the little clusters of souvenir plates that line the walls:

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Ever since we stayed there, we’ve been wanting to recreate something similar in our own home. The overall aesthetic we’re going for in our house is inspired by boutique hotels: cozy and lived in but promising adventure. My goal is to create a place that not only feels like us, but that draws inspiration from moments and experiences upon which we’ve built our relationship.

The fun part about recreating a wall like this is that it completely gives in to my obsession with collecting tourist souvenirs. I never buy them when I’m actually traveling, but I eagerly pick them up in vintage and thrift shops. Longtime readers of my blog might remember this ashtray that I blogged about a couple years ago now, which still has a place on my desk:

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Why collect vintage souvenirs? Here are the reasons why I love them:

  • They’re plentiful, so they’re inexpensive. Because souvenirs are meant to be displayed, rather than used, they’re easily found in good condition. I love having a collection that I can easily add to for a couple dollars at a time.
  • They tell the history of how people encountered and understand a place. The landmarks that are big tourist draws might seem static and unchanging, but they do change over time. I love how this ashtray shows off the recently-built United Nations and Lincoln Center.
  • They’re easy to date: The first thing I noticed about this ashtray, and the main reason I bought it, was that it calls the Empire State Building the “World’s Tallest Building.” If its looks weren’t a dead giveaway, that detail would help date this ashtray to the 1960’s.
  • They’re often made somewhere else: Just like today’s souvenirs are often made in china, vintage souvenirs were often produced elsewhere. I’ve found china plates depicting Lancaster, PA made in Japan and Staffordshire transferware plates commemorating Boston.
  • They’ve traveled long distances: Because they’re meant to be taken home, souvenirs from all over can be found anywhere. I routinely find Philly souvenirs when I’m thrift shopping in Louisville, and it always makes me happy.
  • They represent places we love: Although I love finding souvenirs of places I’ve traveled, my favorite vintage souvenirs to pick up depict the places I’ve lived. I love thinking about the people who have traveled briefly to the places I know well, and wonder what they thought of it.

Do you collect any souvenirs? What are your favorites?

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A couple weeks ago, I posted tips for getting started thrift shopping, which has some great tips for thrift shoppers struggling to find the good stuff in thrift stores. This time around, I’m addressing the opposite problem: what to do when you find too much. There’s an art form to editing your finds so that you only walk away with treasures that you’ll truly wear, use, or display. Here’s my advice!

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Shop with only $20.

I started doing this in college, when I was on a limited budget and had to lug everything I found home on the bus. Nearly a decade later, I’m still a (grad) student on a budget, and I still take the bus. And this trick still works great for limiting my purchases just to the best stuff I find on any given thrifting trip.

You could set your limit to $10 or $15, but I find that $20 is the perfect amount that helps me let go of those “maybe I’ll wear this someday”s and still walk away with everything I love.

Cultivate a vision.

To keep me focused while shopping for clothing, I have a Pinterest board where I try to cultivate the contemporary/vintage mix I’m aiming for in my wardrobe. This is a great tool I can reference while I’m shopping in order to help me choose what to buy and what to leave behind.

Just because there’s a million amazing things at a thrift store, that doesn’t mean they’re all just right for you. Some will inevitably languish in your closet. Sometimes it’s better to appreciate their greatness and think about how thrilled the right person will be to find what you left behind.

Edit for an aesthetic.

Sometimes I go thrifting and realize that I’ve been drawn to a certain kind of item: all glass, all midcentury modern. Once, recently, I left the thrift store with gauzy silk shirts and nothing else. Another time, I realized I’d inadvertently styled a beautiful teal color palette. If you notice a trend in what you’re drawn to on a particular day, go with that instinct. Edit down the outliers — you’ll probably realize that you’re happy leaving them behind. Then snap that perfect thrift haul insta!

Question whether you really will _____ (fill in the blank.)

There’s little I love more than finding a vintage dress that needs a little TLC, and knowing that my trusty sewing machine is all that’s needed to fix a frock that others might have deemed too much work. But often I’ll pick up those items with good intentions, ending up with a backlog of projects that I take forever to get to. When I know there’s a big queue in my mending pile, I have to leave some beautiful finds behind.

Ask yourself if you’re really going to do that project you saw on Pinterest. Then go home and catch up on your DIY backlog before you go thrifting again.

Hold Out for the Holy Grail.

If you’ve been looking for a certain item for ages, it’s tempting to pick up the first one you find, even if it’s in terrible condition, not quite the color you wanted, or otherwise slightly sub-par. In those moments when I’m not totally thrilled with what I found, I resist the temptation to buy it anyway and walk away. I’ve noticed that when I find one of something, others tend to appear not long afterward. Keep hunting and wait for that holy grail, and you’ll be glad you did.

How do you make sure you always leave the thrift store with the best stuff? I’d love to hear your tips, too!

 

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It feels like there are a million blog posts out there telling you to put together a gallery wall for under $20 by simply thrifting a lot of frames and spray painting them. This isn’t one of those posts because:

  1. I have the worst luck finding good frames at the thrift store, and
  2. I don’t love the look of spray painting beautiful hardwood.

Instead, this post is aimed at those of you who, like me, strike out in the thrifted frames department. At least for me, this isn’t a quick project, but I’m okay taking my time with it so that it comes out just the way I want. So far, it’s been coming along slowly, mostly because it has so many little parts.

Instead of thrifting all of my frames, I bought a small lot of frames on eBay for about $30.  The best part was that I hunted until I found a lot where all the frames looked gorgeous as-is, no painting needed. The only downside is that some of the frames were missing glass, so I’ll need to hunt down some spare glass in the right size. I’m also not sure yet what’s going to go in all of these frames, so I need to do some thinking and careful combing through my stash of prints to figure this out.

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Once the frames I bought came in the mail, I started by laying them out on the floor to get an idea of how they’d look together. I kept in mind the main focal point of this wall: the Gerhard Richter poster I bought in Paris a few years ago. The secondary focus here is the small print by a Polish artist I love, Zofia Stryjenska, which I scored on eBay for a grand total of $14. (TIP: If you happen to love an obscure artist, save an eBay search for their name, and eventually you’ll get a great deal on their work.)

Once I got a preliminary idea of how I wanted everything to look, I traced all of the frames on butcher paper and started taping them up on the wall. Once I saw them on the wall, I shuffled everything around quite a bit. Thankfully it’s pretty easy to move around paper and washi tape!

gallery wall in progress

Taking these pictures was actually a huge help, because I was able to see the composition in a more constrained way than I could when just looking at the wall in person. I highly recommend doing this, even if you’re not planning to blog about your gallery wall!

Once I had the core of the gallery hung, I started fleshing it out. This is how it looks right now. It’ll probably be scaled back some because now it feels like it’s getting a bit busy:

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But the second benefit of having taken so many pictures is that it’s like having multiple versions of this project saved, and I can easily back up a few steps if I go overboard.

So now you can see how in-progress this project is: there are frames without prints, prints without frames, frames without glass. But I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out so far!

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Back when I first got engaged, I knew deep down that I really wanted to wear a vintage wedding dress. I was nervous, though, about finding a dress that would fit me, the cost of tailoring, and achieving a vintage look without it being too costume-y. I actually did a few rounds of trying on modern wedding dresses and even bought a couple dresses at a BHLDN sample sale before I finally found my dress and knew it was the one.

Here’s the story of my experience wearing a vintage wedding gown, and my advice if you’re thinking about wearing your own.

The Story of My Vintage Wedding Dress

After much deliberation, and finally realizing I had my heart set on wearing a vintage gown, I bought my wedding dress on a trip to Chicago, at the fantastic Silver Moon Vintage. The dress I eventually chose was a liquid silk dress dating to the 1930’s or 40’s. It had a stunning beaded detailing at the waist and buttons down the back. Here’s what it looked like on my wedding day:

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vintage wedding dress - being put on

Here’s what it looked like when I tried it on at the vintage shop:

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(I am exhausted in these photos from a long day of traveling from Philly to Chicago, and never thought I’d post them publicly! These are the shots I took to send to my mom and MOH, because I ended up being all by myself when I bought my dress.)

From the minute I tried it on, I had a pretty clear idea of the alterations I wanted to make. The dress was far too small at the bodice, but it had a long, long train I had no qualms about chopping up and using to re-make a bodice in my size. I was dreaming of a dress with short sleeves, and while I loved the Peter Pan collar, it wasn’t exactly the bridal look I was going for.

Over a few months, my dress underwent a complete transformation under the capable hands of the Wedding Dresser in Brooklyn. The bodice was completely remade, the waist widened, and the fullness of the skirt somewhat taken out. Just the right exquisite details were left, letting the beautiful beading and material shine and allowing the dress to be unmistakably vintage without looking costume-y or dated.

If you’re considering wearing a vintage dress on your wedding day, don’t be nervous about it like I was! Just follow this advice:

Picking & Wearing the Perfect Vintage Wedding Dress

Factor in the cost of alterations:

Once the cost of tailoring was factored in, the dress wasn’t exactly the thrifty choice I’d imagined, but it was still an incredibly reasonable price to pay for a beautiful gown that is uniquely mine. If you’re a bride considering a vintage dress, be sure to factor this into your budget.

Pick a tailor who’s experienced with vintage gowns:

Find someone who has practice working with old fabrics and styles to make sure that you’ll be in good hands. I ended up traveling to New York several times to make my dream dress a reality, but it was completely worth it for me. Make sure your tailor can also steam your dress carefully before your wedding, or schedule an appointment with a specialty dry cleaner who can. (I didn’t know I had to make an appointment weeks in advance, which was a huge panic moment for me! Don’t make the same mistake I did.)

Inspect carefully:

Especially if you find a dress at a thrift store, inspect the condition of the dress carefully and make sure it will stand up to alterations and wear. Susan, my tailor, told me to always look at the thread — often it can be rotten, which means the whole dress would have to be resewn from scratch. Alternatively, shopping at a specialty store like I did will cost you more money, but will let you rest assured you’re buying a vintage gown in great condition.

Accessorize simply:

Vintage dresses can easily look like a costume if not accessorized carefully. Unless you’re throwing a period bash, the easiest thing to do is to choose simple, classic accessories for a unified, timeless look. My veil was a very simple ivory tulle with a rolled edge, and I wore a simple gold necklace and– since I’m not a heels girl– burgundy flats. This is a great reason to pick a gown with exquisite small details, since nothing will be stealing the show.

Think about how to seamlessly integrate your dress with your decor:

Once I’d settled on a vintage dress, I used it as inspiration for much of our wedding decor. Our wedding wasn’t themed, but it did have a distinct vintage vibe. We used some of the extra fabric from my dress to wrap our bouquets, and I was able to turn the dress’s original Peter Pan collar into a necklace that I wore on our mini-moon after the wedding.

I’d love to hear from other brides who wore vintage dresses! What made you pick one? What was your experience like?

 

(This post is an edited and expanded version of a post that originally appeared on my old blog. Loyal readers may remember it!)
wedding dress photos: Olya Vysotskaya

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Although it’s simple in theory, thrift shopping is an art that can take some practice. I’ve been thrift shopping since I was in middle school, and I’m still learning– and getting better at finding the good stuff– all the time.

If you got to the thrift shop and walk away empty handed, wondering how other people score amazing vintage pieces and designer clothes, then read on, because I wrote this guide for you in mind. Here are a few of the things I wish I knew when I first started thrifting.

Thrifting for Beginners

Go at off-peak hours.

The number one best thing you can do when thrift shopping is to go often. But I know not everyone wants to be a semi-professional thrifter, and just wants to have fun occasionally hunting for treasures. If you’re only dropping by the thrift occasionally, your best bet is to have good timing.

A lot of thrifting guides tell you to find out which day of the week stores put out merchandise, but I’ve found that nine times out of ten, thrift stores now put out new stuff every single day. Instead, go on days that are quieter when there’s less competition for the best new items.

If you google the name of your thrift store, you should see a graph like this:

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Take a look at the day you want to go to get an idea if merchandise will be picked over, or if the gems will be awaiting your arrival.

Stay focused.

I find that when I go to the thrift store looking for one particular thing, I always walk away with better stuff… even if I didn’t come across that one thing I was hoping to find. Being on the hunt for that one prized item helps me focus, and I look more critically and creatively at everything else in the store, rather than just randomly browsing.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider starting a collection of items that are easy thrift finds and will give you something to hunt down on a regular basis. Milk glass, silver plated trays, midcentury wood bowls, and mason jars are popular decor items that I see almost every thrifting trip and that look great displayed in groups. (Check out my silver tray gallery wall for inspiration!)

Ignore sizes and imperfections.

A big reason why people feel like they never find anything is that they’re looking for that perfect vintage/designer/on trend piece that fits them like a glove and looks like new. Most of the time, you’ll find a great like-new item that’s not your size (sad trombone) or an item that fits you perfectly that needs a little TLC. It’s a really rare occasion that you’ll hit the entire trifecta.

But that’s okay, because two out of three is a thrift score in my book. Most imperfections can be mended, stains can be removed, and too-large items can be tailored. Great items that just don’t work for you can be passed on to a friend or saved for a clothing exchange party.

Occasionally, I’ll list items that didn’t work for me in my Poshmark store, then use my profits to support other Poshmark sellers or fund my thrifting habit. (If you want to sign up for Poshmark you can use my referral code BXXPS for a $5 credit!)

Understand regional differences.

Items that are commonly donated in one part of the country can be rare in another. Sometimes the great scores that thrifters share on Instagram and YouTube are those items, so try as you might to find something similar, it might be difficult in your neck of the woods.

This is a great reason to take advantage of travel as an opportunity to thrift! I love finding vintage Derby glasses when I visit my in-laws in Louisville, for example, and I always find great Irish sweaters when I go home to visit my parents in Boston. To really prepare for a trip, you can always look up thrifty bloggers who live in your destination to get an idea of what they tend to find.

This is also a good reason to have a thrifting buddy in another part of the country. Swap shopping lists and see if you can help each other track down those wanted items, especially if they’re easy and inexpensive to ship.

Spend time doing research.

Nowadays with smartphones, it’s easy to take a quick look online to see if something you found in a thrift store is worth buying. It’s always a thrill to see that $2 gem you picked up selling for $75 on Etsy!

But to find the best stuff, put some time into doing research before you step foot in the thrift store. If there’s a category of item that you’ve decided to pursue, like vintage dresses from the 60’s, take some time to learn all you can about them. There are lots of Facebook groups for vintage enthusiasts that can be a great place for this.

Remember, too, that sometimes the best information is still found in books. When I decided our kitchen needed some great vintage Pyrex pieces, I invested in a copy of Pyrex: The Unauthorized Collector’s Guide, and spent some time learning the different styles and patterns. Now when I see a piece in the thrift store, I know immediately its age, relative value, and whether or not it’s worth adding to my collection.

Be diligent & patient.

I almost titled this post “thrift shopping secrets,” but there aren’t really any secrets to scoring big at thrift stores. It just takes some work, patience, and diligence. As with almost anything else in life, time is money. If you want to save money, you’ll have to invest some time — whether that means putting elbow grease into a DIY project, or sometimes leaving the thrift store empty handed before you finally find that score of a lifetime.

Most of all, thrift shopping takes some imagination and vision. Remember that dusted off, cleaned up, fixed, and mended, old items can take on a new life and personality. Keep looking, and you’ll soon be thrift shopping like a pro.

If this guide is helpful to you, please let me know in the comments! If you’ve got your own thrifting tips that I haven’t shared here, I’d love to hear those, too.

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