“The Gateway Drug to Antiques”: Local experts weigh in on vintage fashion

Thrift stores and consignment shops have plenty to offer regarding clothing, furniture, and house decor. There is no better feeling than digging through bins, racks and shelves and finding a perfect hidden treasure. With all of the options, antiquing and thrifting can get overwhelming, especially for a beginner — to help navigate the exciting world of vintage items, Savannah Barkley, a vintage clothing dealer at The Vault Collective, and Scott Davis, owner of Rhode Island Antique Mall, share their tips on how to start your thrifting journey and what you should be looking for. 

Davis has been in the antiquing business for almost four decades. He owns Rhode Island Antique Mall in Pawtucket, one of the biggest antique shops in RI. Davis says  “You have to figure out what floats your boat…but whatever it is, keep your focus relatively narrow so you’re not all over the place.” 

 His passion for antiques started when his date — now wife of 39 years — suggested their first date be at a flea market. “We ended up buying a wooden pulley that we still have in the basement, but that just sparked our passion. Every day since, for the last forty years now, has been antiquing together.” 

Davis’ antique mall is designed to draw in novice antiquers: The display cases set up in the front, full of treasurest like jewelry, accessories and fashion items, are meant to capture the attention of new collectors. “It always happens that young women are interested in antiques and collectibles before young men are,” Davis says. “The reason why young women take an interest is that they want to look good, and one cool way to look good is vintage clothing. So I call vintage clothing the gateway drug to antiques. Everything sorta branches off from there.” 

If you want to start off your thifting skills with clothes, check out the Vault Collective, a thrift/consignment shop specializing in vintage clothing in downtown PVD. Barkley, one of the shop’s dealers, says she likes to look for vintage clothing specifically: “When I go to a thrift store, I tend to learn what certain fabrics look like from afar….that and color palettes are what I curate in my cart. I feel like it makes it more fun and exciting. To look for quality fabrics, learn what they look and feel like, and if you know that you can probably spot some valuable items right away.” 

Barkley has been a vintage clothing dealer for nine years. Even though she is one of the newer dealers at the shop, she says, “Essentially it’s one big community here, everyone knows each other.” The Vault is set up in the same way as Rhode Island Antique Mall, where different dealers collect their wares and set up booths in the shop. At The Vault, you can find clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories from any decade of your choosing. Barkley shares that a benefit of purchasing vintage clothing is that it helps keep material out of landfills and you’re able to buy better material – clothing that lasts longer. Barkley says, “Buying old anything, you’re looking at amazing quality, a lot of the time that is not being made anymore. Not only in the clothing realm, but in homeware as well.” 

Davis says antiquing and thrifting are important because the value of the items stays the same. “Antiquing is a great investment….if you buy things as antiques, that object is usually going to retain most of its value. Big brand stores are dictating your choices, and there’s no resale value in those items.” 

Buying vintage and antique items not only helps the environment, but it contributes to a passion and love of the antiquing community. Fashion items are the most popular among younger people, and whether you want to look cool or spice up your outfit with a unique fashion accessory, thrifting is the way to go.