I hope you all enjoyed my photos of the small towns I visited. I scored some amazing bargains this weekend but only after a lot of hunting. This post is very long and photo heavy but there were too many pretty things to share!
Many small towns have very limited opportunities for commerce and when it comes to vintage, these people have been living a life of make do and mend for generations. That's good for us because it means that they rarely throw anything away but also makes some vintage items scarce because they have been repurposed.
What to Look ForClothing and Linens
When the nearest fabric store is many miles away, small town and farm women didn't hang on to their dresses in the 30's-50's. What was once a dress became children's clothes, aprons and quilts. Curtains and other household linens were cut up and repurposed into new items. So, if you manage to find a vintage dress in a small town, it must have been very special to someone! At Forever Antiques, they have a beautiful selection of Victorian clothing and accessories.
In the towns that I visit, there are always beautiful handmade quilts, feed sacks, embroidered tea towels, tablecloths, aprons and other kitchen and dining room linens. On rare occasion, I have found a vintage dress but they are usually pretty expensive because sellers know how rare and precious they are when you're in farm country. This weekend, I did find a 60's dress and coat set in the back of a barn. I also found a few 60's blouses, girdles and a nightgown.
So, although you'll have to root through a lot of modern clothes, the vintage is out there. Just keep digging. The little places that I traveled to had loads of vintage chenille bed spreads at affordable prices, so keep an eye out for those as well!
Accessories such as handbags, hats and jewelry are much easier to find. However, shop owners tend to charge a lot for anything that sparkles. Rhinestone jewelry would have been quite a luxury for a woman working on the farm or for a small town housewife. Vintage hats, umbrellas, early plastics and purses are usually much more affordable. I found this carved black bakelite bangle and green bakelite screw back earrings at Jackson Corner Vintiques in Farmington, MO. The shop owner was kind enough to offer me a deal so I got both for $15!
Magazines, patterns, needle books, craft booklets and newspapers are plentiful in these little places. While chatting with an antique dealer (who had been in the business for over 60 years) he told me that due to Missouri's climate, we have some of the most well preserved paper in the country.
I've seen Victorian era magazines and newspapers that look like they were just published. So, if that's your thing, you'll love visiting the Midwest. Since small town women had to be frugal, they took very good care of sewing patterns and craft books, often lending them out to other ladies to reuse. Newspapers are less common but just think about all of the practical uses for newspaper. When I was a teenager, I helped my dad remodel houses on the weekends. While tearing down a wall in a very old house, I found it full of newspapers from the 1910's. The previous owners needed some extra insulation, I guess.
Home Decor and Kitchen wares
I find some of the cutest and cheapest home decor and kitchen wares in small towns. Those old wooden handled utensils and extra dishes were often stored in barns and attics, forgotten about for decades. As furniture and kitchen things are uncovered in old buildings, they are being sold at garage sales and flea markets.Here's my 50's clock radio, star burst leaf wall clock and 1940's crochet handbag at Forever Antiques- all for a bargain total of $13.
Where to Shop
Finding the goods is easy but finding the places to shop is much more difficult! You probably won't find a vintage clothing store in a small town but flea markets, garage sales, auctions, antique shops and junk stores are good places to look.
Before you go- check out a map of your planned route and see if there are any places to stop in the towns along the way. Use google keywords like "vintage" "antiques" "antique mall" "junk shop" "flea market" along with the name of the town. If you find a phone number, it's always a good idea to call ahead to see if they are still in business and check store hours. I live in the Bible Belt and many businesses are closed on Sundays.
Find a Map- Some antique malls along major highways have maps of other antique shops in the area. Look at the checkout counter for these maps and brochures. If they don't have one, the cashier may know of other places in the area.
Talk to the local people- Small town people (especially here in the Midwest) love to chat with visitors and are always happy to share information about their home town with people passing through. They know all of the back roads, best places to eat and neatest shops to visit. If you stop at a flea market, gas station or diner, chat with the patrons or workers to get more information.
Tourist Information Centers- Even rural areas have tourist information centers. We love to stop in and pick up some brochures for my scrapbooks and ask about places of interest in the area. Learning more about the town's history might help you to figure out the story behind your vintage finds or lead you to a unique destination.
Critters- Part of country life is dealing with critters. When things are stored in barns and flea markets are set up in an old parking lot, you never know what you're going to find. For example, look who I found in a 60's housecoat. Isn't he cute?!
This little flea market was set up in a very old storage unit with clothes on racks in the gravel. So, things like this are bound to happen. Pack clothes in tied up plastic bags and when you get home, give them a good shake and toss them in the wash, just in case!
Hagglers, Wheelers and Dealers- Some prices are firm but in my experience, price tags are usually negotiable at junk shops and flea markets. My 60's dress and coat didn't have a tag so when I asked about it, the guy gave me a great deal of $8 for it. This 50's clock was $4 but the lady decided to give it t me for $1 because the glass face had to be reattached.
If the price is quoted too high or if an item is expensive and damaged, it's usually acceptable to ask if they are firm. Always offer a fair price for something, though because it's polite and it's good to support small town economy. I've found some people that love to haggle and they expect others to do it too.
Chatty Odd Folks- We've met all sorts of interesting and strange people on our journeys. That's part of the fun! In the country here in Missouri, it's always nice to sit a talk with a perfect stranger for a few minutes. Some people will share their life story with you but it sure makes for a memorable trip.
Dig Like you've Never Dug Before-At flea markets and junk shops, be sure to bring your flashlight and work gloves because things aren't exactly organized. Items are tossed in boxes, crammed into little shelves and even wadded up in trash bags. While shopping in the country, I rarely wear anything too fancy because this kind of shopping is all about utility. Here I am in flip flops, jeans and one of Pj's t-shirts at Fred's Bargain Barn in Cherokee Pass, Missouri.