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Jessica Wakeman Headshot

Head of Estate

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It's hard to find good vintage. If you head to your local hip second-hand store, you'll be frustrated by how they mark up "special" items to Banana Republic prices. If you troll eBay, you'll probably keep getting outbid by VintageGrrl84. Or maybe you're lucky enough to have a mom or grandma who used to be just your size--too bad all the pieces she saved from the '60s are a far cry from Oleg Cassini.

Guess what? You can find better vintage for cheaper, all while enjoying the thrill of the hunt. Here's my secret: estate sales, which you can find listed in the classifieds of your local newspaper. Most ads will even tell you if they're selling clothes, shoes and bags.

At a yard sale, a family will clean out their attic and sell a chipped teapot and old books for $1 each. But an estate sale contains the entire contents of the house because the owner has passed away. Everything is on sale, from silverware to handbags, winter coats to jewelry. At an estate sale, either the family members or a company hired by them mans the cash register as shoppers browse room to room.

Let's clarify what I mean by vintage: at estate sales, you're going to find clothing from over the course of a deceased person's lifetime -- some of it may date back to the '40s and some of it may be what the elderly person wore to the senior center last month. What you want are the clothes they wore as a young adult. Like in dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. Or rifle through a lot of muu muus.

Here's some more wisdom I can impart:

1. Estate sales in rich towns have the best loot. My parents live in Connecticut, so when I've got an itch to go estate scouring, I ask my mother to look at the classified ads and see if any sales are coming up in the wealthier towns. My most precious vintage find is a white minidress from the '60s that I bought after an actor passed away. It must have belonged to his daughter or wife.

2. Arrive before the sale starts. This is crucial. Like a sample sale in the city, all the good stuff will be picked over if you arrive late. Get your butt in the driveway ten or fifteen minutes before the sale starts, because you want to have first dibs.

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This piece first appeared on DameMagazine.com -- For Women Who Know Better.

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