Vintage shopping: a how-to guide

Vintage trader Darcy Shepherd shares her top tips for rummaging at the fairs and coming home with a new treasure

Collections of vintage wares at an antiques fair

Few pleasures are greater than finding that elusive vintage piece at just the right price but, whether you are looking for stylish furnishings on a budget or are a bit of a treasure hunter, there are some fundamentals of shopping for vintage that everyone needs to know.


Here are six tips to get you started:

  1. Take plenty of cash with you. Most traders will not have access to credit/debit card facilities and you cannot rely on there being a cash machine nearby. Some traders are happy to take cheques but nothing speaks louder than cash, especially when it comes to haggling.
  2. Do speak to stallholders. Invariably they are well-informed enthusiasts who can’t wait to relate the background of a particular item or tell you how they got involved in vintage. Not only will you gain some valuable insights but you’ll make a friend too – one who might be less inclined to reject an offer on something you have your eye on. Starting off the conversation with a question like, ‘What can you tell me about this item?’ could prove a useful ice-breaker.
  3. Unless it is specifically stated to the contrary, assume that prices are negotiable. Always ask, ‘What is the best price you can give me on this?’ and then say, ‘That’s a bit more than I was hoping for’ but don’t say how much you are prepared to pay. If you want the item and think agreement on a price is close, examine the item in detail and point to any flaws or blemishes and then say, ‘Would you take £X for it?’
  4. Buy what you like. This is the easy answer to the question of what to buy. If you are looking for longevity however, it is sometimes hard to know what represents best value and what will hold its price. I was always look to three general guidelines. Number one, look for things that are in first-class condition (no chips, scratches, cracks etc) and are well made. Second, anything that is genuinely beautiful and decorative will always be in demand. Finally, look for character in a piece, whether it be shabby-chic, rustic gardenalia or kitchenware.
  5. Get to the fair or market early. This is a fundamental point and essential if you are serious about getting to buy the best stuff on offer. Some fairs and markets operate an earlybirds or VIP policy. Though aimed at the trade, it allows anyone willing to pay a higher entrance fee (£10 is not uncommon) to see what’s on offer before the general public does.
  6. Check your purchases thoroughly before you take them away. There is no harm in asking for a receipt in case you have to return something, and most traders have a card or brochure with their contact details so don’t leave without making sure you pick one up. Also, be aware that all electricals must be fitted with an approved plug.

Good luck and enjoy!

Darcy Shepherd is a director of Cloud Howe Events Ltd and the curator the Cuckfield Vintage Emporium in Sussex. Cuckfield Vintage Emporium is held monthly at The Queen’s Hall, High Street, Cuckfield, West Sussex, RH17 5EL. The next events take place on 22nd February and 15th March.