As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In terms of thrift or vintage stores or ukay, one old man’s dusty baul is a young man’s hoarding haven.
Once you get past the musty smell wafting from the racks of old clothing, you’re sure to find sartorial gems, especially those that are hard to find in retail stores nowadays. With the crowds to brave and piles of clothing to rummage through, ukay hunting can be daunting, but it’s not impossible to find mind-blowing stuff at a total steal.
Have You Heard of Online Grail Central, RetrogradePH
There’s definitely a character to vintage clothing—heritage and occasionally the history of the wearer—that you won’t get from crisp, new releases. Vintage shopping becomes a thrill, more so if you’re looking for authentic signature or designer finds that they just don’t make these days anymore.
That’s what Lian Martin, vintage lover and proprietor of the online shop RetrogradePh (@retrogradeph__), believes in. While thrift hunters in the metro can run to Anonas and Cubao, Lian’s hometown of Baguio City is where it’s at for some grade-A ukay game.
Lian’s developed quite an eye for old pieces. Starting with a capital of only P800, RetrogradePh has grown to almost 12,000 followers, with online shoppers flocking to its Instagram account for some hard-to-find items, from classics to retro urban favorites. “Whenever I find grails, I sell them in my shop for reasonable prices,” she says.
The Epicenter of Vintage Shopping is Baguio
“My mom introduced me to vintage shopping when I was three years old. Growing up in Baguio, the thrift shop capital, means having thrift stores anywhere around you, whether it’s a shack in a small neighborhood or a huge compound,” Lian shares.
The seasoned vintage collector hops from store to store, scouring the racks for especially unique items. Some of her best finds? “An Alexander McQueen leather jacket, a clean white Champion hoodie, a Burberry trench coat, and three trousers for P100.”
A common rookie mistake? According to Lian, it’s taking shortcuts—after all, it’s the hunt, not just the treasure, that’s part of the thrill.
“I noticed that rookies ask the thrift store owner for help to find a certain brand. Ukay, especially here in Baguio, has been gentrified because rookie thrifters mention the item’s brand-new price within the hearing range of owners,” she says.
“Pieces from Burberry used to be P50 back then, but now their prices have shot up the ceiling! It gets frustrating at times but the feeling of going out with a good bargain is simply incomparable.”
Here, more tips from the vintage-savvy shopper on scoring ridiculously rare bargains.
1| Have A Plan
You wouldn’t go into war without a strategy. As there are alleys of stores filled with clothes to comb through, it helps to know exactly what you want and how much you’re willing to pay for them.
According to Lian, the lowest vintage find could range anywhere between P20 to P200. “Before thrifting, always put into mind the things you lack in your closet. You might not find the exact things but it’s always good to have pegs.”
Another pro-tip? If you’re shopping with friends, you can merge your items to score a bigger discount.
2| Try Things On
Hygiene is important (launder your stuff after buying them), but don’t be afraid to try the piece on. “No matter how cheap an item is, if it doesn’t fit you, then it doesn’t belong to you,” Lian advises.
While hem lengths are easily remedied, other size discrepancies like the tight armholes are harder to fix. Too small clothing that doesn’t have excess fabric is also impossible to work with.
Lian suggests wearing clothes you can easily take on and off, as fitting rooms at thrift stores could be dim and cramped, or even practically non-existent.
3| Wear A Poker Face
Although many of the prices are already set pretty low, haggling is pretty much the name of the game, especially when it comes to high-profile brands.
Even when you do come across a solid pair of Red Wing boots that fit you like a glove, put on a poker face. Sellers can usually detect excitement and will tend to price the item higher.
“Act like you don’t know the brand,” Lian recommends. “There are still a few thrift shop owners or staff who don’t know what specific brands are. But it also pays to be nice to the owners.”
4| Inspect All Details
Excitement could get the better of you when you chance upon a quality find, only to realize that something’s amiss after you’ve handed over the money.
Before making a purchase, inspect the garment well to make sure that you know what you’re paying for. Look for good lighting and check for any stains, holes, split seams, or missing buttons.
“Not everything in a thrift store comes in pristine condition. If you think it’s something you can fix at home, purchase it, but if you don’t want to go through the hassle of repairs then put it down,” according to Lian.
5| Be Very Patient
“This is one trait rookie thrifters lack. Everyone has to understand that there is no shortcut when it comes to finding prized items,” Lian emphasizes.
The world of ukay may not exactly be for those who lack the perseverance to hop from rack to rack to find gems, yet it will pay off when you put in the work.
“From vintage cameras to shoes, it sure is worth it to be patient. Ukay is such a wide array of vintage treasures,” Lian says.