Perfumista tip: how to find perfume at thrift stores

Goodwill sign

When last week's review of Norell elicited almost more comments about the bottle of Amouage Gold I found at Goodwill than it did about Norell, I decided to share what I know about finding perfume in thrift shops. Some of you probably live or work within blocks of vintage Guerlains and Chanels going for less than a ten spot and don't even know it. It's time to get those bottles off the shelves and onto the bodies of people who love them.

You might protest that your thrift shops don't have anything but Avon figurines with peeling labels. But think about it: every town, no matter how small, has at least one glamour puss. She will almost certainly offload a bottle or two of something nice at some point. Plus, people who don't love perfume often receive bottles as gifts. After a few years they figure that bottle of Chamade Eau de Cologne they received for Mother's Day a few years ago has surely gone bad so they give it to the Salvation Army. And then there's the occasional love affair turned sour that lands a nearly full bottle of Yves Saint Laurent Paris down at the Teen Challenge thrift shop.

My forays into secondhand stores have yielded vintage Carven Ma Griffe, Guerlain Mitsouko Parfum de Toilette, Mitsouko Eau de Cologne, Bill Blass Nude (by the gallon), Lenthéric Tweed Eau de Cologne and bath powder, a mint condition early 1960s Avon perfume demonstration kit, vintage Coty Aimant and Emeraude, Guerlain Shalimar (again, gallons) and L'Heure Bleue parfum, and a lot more.

Before you head off to find some bargain perfume, it pays to consider your attitude. Some people are repulsed by thrift stores. They don't want to be sullied by other people's dirty cast offs. With that kind of approach you'll never have the fortitude to make the big scores. Me, I love rummaging through people's old things. Before I found the bottle of Amouage, I visited the same store three times and didn't buy a thing. On the fourth trip, I came home not only with Amouage Gold, but Norell and a gorgeous sea green Murano bowl from the 1960s that is now on my vanity full of bracelets. Right afterward I found a lemon yellow, Danish cast iron gratin dish.  (I filled it that weekend with a roasted mixture of Savoy cabbage, potatoes, leeks, sage, brown butter, and Taleggio cheese and devoured a bowl of it with a glass of Montepulciano while it rained. Heaven.) If you don't love the chase, you won't make the kill.

Now for the practical bit. First, not every thrift store carries perfume. In fact, probably only every third thrift store does. Even within the same chain of thrift stores, for instance Goodwill, some stores have perfume and some don't. If the store does carry perfume, it's probably routinely sold in the same area of the store. Sometimes that area is a shelf jumbled with candles and bath things, often it's near the jewelry, and sometimes it hangs in its own hard-to-predict area. It's worth asking right away if the store has perfume and where it is.

Often a thrift store will put what it considers its most valuable items in a locked case. Fortunately for us, the thrift stores are most likely to lock up Ralph Lauren Romance and leave that bottle of Creed to languish with a dusty Cachet and some old Victoria's Secret specials. You don't believe me? I bought a full bottle of Creed Fleurissimo for $9.99 at a thrift store that had locked away its Vera Wang Princess. So make sure you ask if all the perfume is in one area.

Now that you've found some stores that carry perfume, keep going back. Don't go just to find a deal on perfume, but marvel at the old desk sets, clowns painted on velvet, and Frankoma coffee mugs. Wonder about the woman who bought a burgundy patent leather purse with matching shoes in the early 1960s but apparently never wore them. Be mystified at the massive number of figurative salt and pepper shakers. Start to explore the crazy but normal lives behind junk. (And while you're there, keep an eye out for hand-embroidered pillow cases and etched crystal champagne glasses.) Your eye for beauty and quality will deepen, and soon you'll snatch up the Andrew Gn suede pumps with a grosgrain bow at the toe (only $4.99!) and dazzlingly chic 1980s Louis Féraud pinstriped suit ($16.99, can you believe it?), and the bottle of Mitsouko Eau de Parfum will be gravy.

Finally, I firmly believe in and practice perfume karma. If you stumble on a bottle of Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette, you already have plenty, and besides it never really was your favorite, leave it for someone else. If you luck out and find a large bottle of vintage Hermès Calèche, be free with the decants you give away. It will come back to you sevenfold. One more thing: if you find a bottle of Lanvin Scandal, send it to me.

For more information about buying old perfume, have a look at Perfumista Tip: How to Buy Vintage Perfume.

Note: image is Bargains by Valerie Everett at flickr; some rights reserved.

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Parfums Raffy


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  1. jirish says:

    I think my problem with thrift stores is that I tend to get overwhelmed by the vast quantities they usually present. I have that problem with other stores as well. I know of a wonderful florist/gift store in town, that is simply packed with beautiful things. Beautiful unusual flowers and plants, jewelry, candles, knickknacks, antiques. I love to go in there, but I end up loving everything and then buying nothing, because I’m so overwhelmed I can’t make a decision. I have the same problem in thrift/antique stores, especially the good ones. But I suppose if I just focus on perfume it should be easier — there never seems to be as much of that as there is of clothes, for example.

    • Angela says:

      It’s true–it can be overwhelming and sometimes it takes a while to sort through everything. But as you say, if you’re focused you could be in and out of there in a jiff! Not that I ever am.

  2. Quarry says:

    There is always Goodwill online, too —

    • Angela says:

      I forgot about that! But that takes away from the fun of browsing and seeing the unexpected. Still, if you knew what you were looking for, online thrift stores could be perfect.

  3. mals86 says:

    Thanks very much for the tips, Angela. I’m never afraid of used stuff, and frequently go on handmade-linens benders at antiques stores. Aunt Lucy has died and nobody wants her linen napkins with hand-crocheted edging, so they wind up at Goodwill or Grandma’s Attic Antiques – to be snapped up by me. (And used, for heaven’s sake!) And there are often excellent children’s clothes, coats, snow boots, etc., available at the thrift store. The CEO buys all his farm work clothes at Goodwill, because farm work is hard on clothes – he’ll buy five pairs of khaki pants for $16 in June and they’ll be rags by November.

    I will comment that since I live in a small town just this side of the poverty line, I never find perfume. There are frequently empty figural Avon bottles at the three local thrift shops, but no perfume. Ever.

    However, there is a source in the next big town, where my parents live – it’s a business which helps sort through and move belongings of older people who are moving into assisted living. As a sideline, they sell the furniture and other items that that their clients have decided to purge. I *really* need to go by there to see if they have perfume in their shop, or maybe simply call them and tell them, “Hey, if you run across bottles of old perfume, I might like to buy them. Here’s my phone number.”

    • Angela says:

      That source in the next big town sounds perfect! People tend to save and not use the things that are special to them: fancy clothes, fancy linens, crystal stemware, and sometimes perfume. But at some point they have to go. I hope you find a few good bottles!

      • mals86 says:

        I just checked – they have a website! No perfume listed or pictured, so I shot them an email asking if they ever run across vintage perfume. Hope they do.

        • Angela says:

          Good luck! I’m crossing my fingers for you!

  4. meadowbliss says:

    Like Mals I live in a tiny – ‘just this side of the poverty line’- town and I’ve visited the Goodwill many times, usually for dropping off. It’s not a large store and there’s a lot of junk. There is a larger Goodwill 80 miles away and I found a pair of Prada winter boots for $8 last winter, never worn. That particular Goodwill is clean, organized and fun to shop in. I’m going to make an effort to stop in the local one because you’re right, you never know what treasures people might toss, especially perfumes. I used to have a vintage sweater collection and got them all dirt cheap from Goodwill so I know there is stuff out there, it’s a matter of consistent visits.
    Btw, you’re making me hungry for savoy cabbage/potatoes. My favorite is Molly Katzen’s Solyanka; it’s rich, fattening and heavenly!

    • Angela says:

      Vintage sweaters are terrific! I like the ones from the ’50s and early ’60s that nip in at the waist.

      My gratin recipe was from Deborah Madison and was pretty fattening, too. But so good!

  5. scentme says:

    In Ontario for sure, you will not find any perfume of any sort in the thrift shops. They don’t accept it because they consider it hazardous material. Enjoy your great finds in the US and elsewhere!

    • Angela says:

      Too bad! Darn it. Do you have yard sales up there? Church sales?

      • alotofscents says:

        Sorry, late to the party. Love your writing Angela-you always paint such a vivid visceral picture.
        I looked at the online thrift store and found a vintage Givenchy Fleur D’interdit. But they don’t ship perfume because they consider it flammable!
        Thought it might be important to let everyone know.

        • Angela says:

          Oh yes–I’d forgotten that the USPS won’t ship perfume. UPS will, though. But if the thrift store doesn’t us UPS, I guess we’re out of luck.

  6. Julia says:

    I have been hunting for a sweater just like the one Willow wore during S4 of Buffy – the pink one with ruched red velvet ribbon trim and embroidered flowers – for years now. I regularly check out thrift stores but have only been looking for perfume for the last few months. No big finds so far, but I’m still looking. The stores down here are a goldmine of winter clothes (people move here from other places then get rid of all their cold weather clothes), so in addition to the elusive pink sweater, I look for 100% wool sweaters. You can unravel them for yarn to knit with, solid colour sweater is best for this and you can get a sweaters worth of cashmere for a dollar or two, or you can buy patterned sweaters for felting and make some great bags and other accessories from them.

    • miss kitty v. says:

      I’ll keep my eyes open for the Willow sweater. :) I know exactly which one you’re talking about, and not just because I watched the Buffy marathon on Logo over the weekend.

    • Angela says:

      Great idea with recycling wool from old sweaters! I bet you can find some good cashmere, too.

    • 734elizabeths says:

      I loved that sweater! Could you get a pink one and trim it up yourself, maybe?

      I also liked her crazy birthday cake t-shirt in S4.

    • kiwifrench says:

      Wow. Google image search is so useful.

    • bergere says:

      Babe! Are you on Ravelry? It’s a site for knitting and crocheting fanatics. They have a terrific, huge database of knitting patterns and projects, with photos posted by folks who have made the garments. They may steer you in the direction of the Willow Sweater. And hey, if you’ve been looking for years, it will take you less time to learn to knit (if you don’t already) than to run across your perfect sweater!

      • Angela says:

        As I knitter myself, I think your suggestion is great!

  7. miss kitty v. says:

    I’m convinced you’re always one store ahead of me, finding all the good stuff. ;) The best thing I’ve found so far was vintage Shalimar, which is nothing to sniff at, of course. I’m still kicking myself for the time I found Diorling at a second hand store in Centralia, Washington, and didn’t buy it because at the time I didn’t realize what a find vintage perfume was.

    • Angela says:

      Oh no! Passing up Diorling! That would haunt me for years.

      The good thing about a lot of these thrift stores is that new stuff comes in constantly. And I’m happy to make a decant for you of anything I find!

      • miss kitty v. says:

        That’s so nice of you. I’d offer the same with my finds, but I’m not so sure you’d want a decant of Shiseido FdB or Aromatics Elixir. :) (And certainly not the weird poop perfume from Iraq. I still don’t know what to do with that.)

        • Angela says:

          FdB is a huge score! (I have a bottle already, though.) I have plenty of perfume to share.

    • dee says:

      Miss Kitty, I’ve had some great luck at the Goodwill off of Woodstock (in SE), and since I don’t live in Portland anymore, you might have good luck there too!

      • Angela says:

        Great tip!

      • miss kitty v. says:

        Hey, I’ll be around there tonight! Thanks! Something to look forward to.

        • miss kitty v. says:

          No exciting finds on the perfume front, BTW. Lady Stetson (which I actually like, but don’t need to buy at Goodwill) and Liz Claiborne Curve. It’s all ok, though. I consoled myself with a pair of Tony Lama boots. $14. Nice.

          • Angela says:

            Great deal on the Tony Lamas!

            The downtown Goodwill has an old bottle of Diva, some Carolina Herrera, two bottles of White Diamonds, an old bottle of Bijan for women (the 1980s bottle), some Etienne Aigler, and a jumbo bottle of Charlie. If you need any of those, let me know.

          • dee says:

            Bummer about the perfume, but I’m jealous of the Tony Lama’s! I have about three pairs that I’m watching on ebay, but haven’t made the leap.

          • miss kitty v. says:

            Thanks, Angie. None of those jump out at me. I think after the Amouage all things pale by comparison. :) I do need to check out the Goodwill near my house this week. I got my vintage Shalimar there, so you never know.

  8. fountaingirl says:

    Excellent point about the thrift store karma. I feel the same way about gorgeous clothes that don’t quite fit. Unless it’s a matter of moving a button over, leave it for the person who will look great in it and be able to enjoy it.

    I once took a fellow perfumista to one of my favorite perfume thrifts, that she didn’t know about as a source. I made a good score and so did she. Then she spotted a vintage Mitsouko PDT. She bought it, it was clearly hers to buy because she saw it first hands down. But I have to admit I felt kind of bad, because we’d been talking earlier and we discussed how amazing Mitsouko was and I disclosed I didn’t have any yet but had been looking. And as she purchased that one for $7 she announced that it was her *eleventh* bottle, she had many different formulations (incl parfum) and also other vintage bottles as well. Again, totally her right, not really the ‘wrong’ thing to do, but it just made me feel kind of sad. It made a difference to me though in how I am now that I collect — I’ve sent surprise gifts to folks, have handed off some very nice bottles to people I think will enjoy them more, point out great deals to others on scents I like myself if I already have some, and I don’t ‘hoard’ any one scent obsessively.

    • Angela says:

      It sounds to me like karma is due to land you a big find. Your “friend” with all the Mitsouko will be cursed only to find Mitsouko and nothing else–bottles and bottle of Mitsouko, and you will wander out of a thrift store with Joy parfum in one hand and Weil Zibeline in the other.

      • fountaingirl says:

        LOL! I’ve been really fortunate, so I have to say my karma is doing pretty well thrift-wise. I lucked into a basically full bottle of Tam Dao for less than $4! (I gifted it to someone who would love it). It’s hit & miss of course though. It’s the same store where I walked in only to see a gentleman purchasing Vol De Nuit in the propeller bottle, I was happy for him but what can you do other than think “if I was only ten minutes earlier!!”

        The other perfumista, I don’t know her all that well but from what I know she’s pretty generous overall. Just a little … grabby and crazed when it comes to Mitsouko. Which if I am being fair I can almost kinda understand. :)

        • Angela says:

          Too bad about the Vol de Nuit, but fabulous find with the Tam Dao!

          You’re very generous about your friend. The least she can do is decant some of her extensive Mitsouko collection for you.

    • annemarie says:

      Good on YOU for being so nice.

    • zeezee says:

      Heh. My karma must be running out then – I’m just off to pick up a freshly altered vintage dress I bought last week despite it being a bit wide for me. I have no excuse, except that it’s LUSH: it’s a late 50’s/early 60’s shift dress with tulip skirt in a gold and pinky brown geometrically patterned brocade. Totally Mad Men. I have a wedding coming up and it’ll be perfect for that occasion.
      Bring it on, karma. :)

      • Angela says:

        Sounds fantastic–the color, the shape, everything!

  9. Great article, Angela, and I’m enjoying everyone’s stories about their thrift store “kills”. It never occurred to me to look for perfume in my junk store trolling. Duh! You have opened my eyes.

    • Angela says:

      Oh, do look! When you’re on a stranglehold of a budget like me, it is so nice to be able to wear new perfume for the cost of a pastrami sandwich.

  10. halimeade says:

    Wow, this has really motivated me to hit the thrift stores today, haha. Now that school is out I have nothing better to do than spend my money until I go to Crater Lake at the end of the month. It sounds like some of you ladies are in my area, though, so maybe all the stores have already been picked over : D

    • Angela says:

      New good are coming in all the time–and I try not to buy anything I don’t truly intend to wear or don’t have an immediate home for. Heck, I passed by two bottles of obscure Dior a couple of months ago because I knew someone else would love them more.

      • miss kitty v. says:

        Yes, but see, you could buy that Dior for ME! ;) Kidding.

        • Angela says:

          Are you a Dior fan? These were a couple that looked like duty free numbers. (I wish I could remember what they were called.)

          • miss kitty v. says:

            Well, it depends on what it is. Let me know where you saw them and I can go see for myself. :)

          • miss kitty v. says:

            Oh, never mind– just noticed you said a couple of months ago. Oh, well. Maybe that Goodwill in Woodstock will pan out for me tonight.

          • Angela says:

            I hope it does! Report back, please.

      • halimeade says:

        Well, no luck for me! 2/3 shops I hit in Springfield didn’t carry fragrances, and the third (a Goodwill) was all Stetson and Hallie, haha. I am reminded why I never thrift, so exhausting!

        • Angela says:

          Well, where there’s Stetson, there’s eventually something decent. I’m bummed you didn’t find anything this trip out, though! Did you find anything else good? A tapestry of dogs playing poker, maybe?

          • halimeade says:

            And Vanilla Musk, there was a lot of that, too : )

            I AM actually on the hunt for some awful art to decorate the grad student lounge on campus, but everything at Goodwill was so expensive! No I will not pay $20 for someone’s practice still life from art class. Dogs play poker? Just maybe.

            I will have to try in Eugene next time, there are many many many more stores there, I just have to figure out where they all are.

          • Angela says:

            There are lots of students in Eugene, though. On the other hand, maybe not a lot of them wear perfume, leaving it for you to find!

  11. snootyfox says:

    I don’t know if I got a deal or not, I paid $23.00 for a unopened box of Dior Dune with the black stripe across the bottom. I’m happy with my find though.

    • Angela says:

      That sounds like a great deal to me!

  12. snootyfox says:

    Forgot to say it was at a local Goodwill in a elite area.

    • Angela says:

      I would have definitely bought it at that price. Great find!

  13. Rictor07 says:

    What kind of selection do they usually have of guys fragrances?

    • Angela says:

      Not as good as women’s fragrances, but I did find some Karl Lagerfeld not too long ago.

  14. RusticDove says:

    Several months back, a Goodwill Superstore opened nearby and I have been checking in there regularly. So far – diddly squat. I will keep at it though. There is a charming little town also nearby, where they have many antiques and vintage stores, but dag nabbit, they know what a ‘find’ certain perfumes are and they charge accordingly. All I can do is to continue the pursuit and hope that I stumble across a score at some point! I actually enjoy scrounging around those cool shops though and I have been lucky in other ways – such as good deals on vintage oyster plates, fish shaped platters, purple sun glass, flower frogs, old lace thingys, etc. :-)

    • Angela says:

      I wonder if the superstore is one that doesn’t carry perfume?

      Oyster plates! That’s terrific. I hope you fill them often (love oysters.)

      • RusticDove says:

        This Goodwill does carry perfume – they have glass cases for that kind of thing, but so far I’ve only seen a couple of B&BW and some other boring stuff there.
        I love to eat oysters out, but never prepare them at home so you’ll be disappointed to hear my oyster plates are used strictly for decorative purposes. LOL

        • Angela says:

          Even though I’ve tried sporadically for years, I’m lousy at prying open oyster shells, so I completely understand.

          Keep checking that Goodwill, I just know something good will turn up soon!

          • RusticDove says:

            I do plan to keep checking and I hope you’re right!

        • miss kitty v. says:

          Not shucking oysters is a good way to keep your fingers intact. And you need those to spray perfume. Seriously– I know someone who had to get stitches from an oyster shucking accident. Not pretty. So much better to let someone else do it. (And then *they* can go to the hospital.)

          • RusticDove says:

            I thought it was just me being a scaredy-cat about the oyster shucking thing, but maybe I’m being prudent! ;-)

  15. aestheticcoo says:

    I just got back from my lunch break and want a do over so I go to the local Goodwill. I haven’t been since your last post before the Amouge find.
    Your post has inspired me again to start thinking of other thrift, antique, warehouse and commission stores in my local area. My last visit several weeks ago didn’t include perfume but I did find a fairly new exhibition catalog of a favorite artist. The exhibition was in Germany so how it landed here is a question. Lots of colored prints of his art work and so worth more than what I paid. Thanks for the info. Here’s too good perfume karma for everyone!

    • Angela says:

      How terrific to find an exhibition catalog! That sounds like a great way to pass an afternoon–cup of coffee at your side, catalog in your lap.

    • mjr says:

      Oh I love finding book-gems at thrift and antique stores. But now you’ve got me very curious: Who’s the artist? And what’s the exhibition catalogue? :)

      • Angela says:

        I have to admit I’m curious, too, although I may not be literate enough to have heard of her/him.

        • aestheticcoo says:

          Sorry for the late reply… It’s Gerhard Richter’s “Overpainted Photographs.” The exhibition was at the Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (Oct. 17- ’08-Jan 18, ’09) and the Centre de la photographie Geneve, Geneva (Jan. 29-March 29, ’09). I also have his book, “Atlas” that is a collection of his everyday photographs that he incorporates into his pieces as well as another exhibition catalog of his retrospective in New York in 2003 or 2004…can’t remember off the top of my head. There is a website – I learned about him in grad school, ages ago and have enjoyed his work ever since. It seemed like kismit to me to find it among a bunch of cookbooks. It needed a home where it would be appreciated:)

          • Angela says:

            Fabulous! And an artist I actually am familiar with (and really admire.) Nice find.

          • mjr says:

            GREAT find. I’m a fan of Richter’s too!

  16. Jill says:

    Thanks, Angela! I love thrift and antique stores, and in fact I live just off of a street that is known for them. My favorite one, The Emporium, has every bit of its perfume locked up behind glass, and I think that’s what’s deterred me from really investigating there. I’m definitely going to go back now and check out what’s on those shelves! (I did score a *giant* old Goebel cat from the Emporium that is sitting proudly in my living room now.)

    • Angela says:

      In antique shops, sometimes I’ve found that it’s the bottle that’s valued more than the perfume, and that can sometimes be to your advantage. A small, plain bottle half full of parfum might not cost a lot, while some rare, empty bottle might cost a lot. Good luck! I hope you find something you love.

      • Jill says:

        Great tip, I’ll keep that in mind!

  17. AnnS says:

    Fun article! I used to look for perfume vanity bottles and antique compacts when my parents used to drag me off to go antiquing and to thrift stores, but I’ve not ever in recent times gone in search of amazing fragrances. I have been planning a trip to our local Salvation Army for a while now. We are hit or miss with poverty, BUT there are gagillions of older women where I live in PA, so I am to assume that there are lots of older fragrances languishing around in drawers and closets that will be donated. I actually dreamed one time that I found a cupboard in an antique shop that had all these very old crystal bottles of Guerlain fragrances, most particluarly a glorious bottle of Jicky.

    For my own part, I can say that since my mid twenties I have given away many fragrances to goodwill/sal army that I regret: Rive Gauche, No 5 edt, Laura Biagotti Venezia, Dune parfum, one of the Shiseido “engergizing” fragrances, and then Armani “Gio” which I see now goes for big bucks on ebay…. So I hope someone out in the world benefits from all my past blunders.

    The only good thing I ever found at a Salvation Army was a near perfect condition, but faded, 7′ long antique Regency period couch with the original silk velvet fabric and the signature of the man who made it….. for $55.

    • RusticDove says:

      What a cool dream – hope it comes true for you! Perhaps your past blunders will create some good perfume kharma for you. In lieu of any awesome perfume finds, that sofa sounds like a pretty great score. :-)

    • Angela says:

      That couch sounds terrific! I love it that it was signed by the man who made it, too.

      I just took two bottles of perfume to Goodwill yesterday. I figured it was good karma to put it back into the system.

      • AnnS says:

        Good Karma is right – I am trying to build up as much fragrance karma as I can!!!! And the couch is very lovely. Amazingly, it looks good with some garage sale 50s era Swedish Modern style chairs I have. All those classic lines and you can’t go wrong.

        • Angela says:

          That sounds like my kind of room, seriously. I love a mix like that.

        • miss kitty v. says:

          I love those chairs. We’ve had a revolving door of them. We had one for sale at a garage sale years ago (it needed some repairs) that we caught our neighbor trying to steal. So hang onto them, because apparently they’re worth pilfering and ruining your relationship with your neighbors over!

          • Angela says:

            Ugh. Who needs neighbors like that? A chair over the head is more like it.

  18. Thanna says:

    I love thrift stores so much that my son once came home from school with the news that he’d seen my favorite store opening up in our town. The store was Goodwill! I drove past a nice looking Salvation Army this weekend and my SO laughed at my lament that they wouldn’t be open on Sunday so I couldn’t stop in to look for perfume.

    Luckily, there’s an excellent Salvation Army right down the street from work (the kind with the back room full of higher end items). Might have to stop in one evening soon.

    • Angela says:

      That sounds perfect! If it’s nearby, you can stop by often for a quick look-see.

      I love thrift stores, too. I think it’s genetic, because my father has the same thrifting urges. He’s a genius in pawn shops.

  19. Perfume Sniffer says:

    I so enjoy your writing.
    This post made me laugh and smile.
    I have never ventured into a thrift store for perfume but I’m certainly not opposed to it. I love finding antique or just old little gems.
    thanks so much for this!

    • Angela says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Next time you’re in a thrift store, remember to keep your eyes open for perfume. Hopefully it will be a bottle you’ve been wanting, too.

  20. Minnie says:

    Thanks for the great editorial, Angela! I have a Salvation Army store walking distance from me, but it never occurred to me to look for fragrance there. I like your advice to go in and have fun looking at the neat old things and not to “score” something. Thanks also for the recipe!

    • Angela says:

      It’s absolutely worth a look! I hope you find something terrific.

  21. violetnoir says:

    Woman, as always…you rock!

    When can I get together with you for some perfume thrift-store shopping?


    • Angela says:

      Any time! You know I’d love to see you. We can hit a couple of thrift stores, have a nice lunch, then visit a few more.

  22. 734elizabeths says:

    My big score was a full, fresh bottle of Santa Maria Novella Sandalo at the Salvation Army for $2.99. It was behind the counter with the fancy stuff, and as soon as it was in my hands I clutched it to my bosom, handed over my money, and ran home. (All this after I stopped hyperventilating, that is.)

    • Angela says:

      I would have clutched it to my bosom, too! That’s marvelous!

    • RusticDove says:

      I think all of here would have clutched that to our bosom and ran home while saying ‘feets don’t fail me now’! :-D

  23. 734elizabeths says:

    Forgot to say – I sometimes have good luck with consignment stores, too. They usually seem to have a lot of Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely, but sometimes there are more interesting things. I recently found a collection of 5 Dior miniatures for $8, for example.

    • Angela says:

      Nice tip on the consignment stores. It would be great to find Dior minis!

  24. Lynda says:

    This was such an inspiring and fun article! Thank you for the great ideas. I can’t wait to dive in to my local Goodwill!

    • Angela says:

      Have fun! I hope you find something terrific, whether it’s perfume or something else.

  25. annemarie says:

    For ages what I have thought of as ‘Angela’s luck’ is not just luck, but persistence. Angela knows what she is doing, for sure!

    In Australia, or at least where I am, thrift shops are usually called ‘op shops’, op for opportunity. I’ve been haunting them for 25 years in different cities, since I was a teenager, and I NEVER see perfume. And believe me, if it was there, I would see it. Makes me wonder if there is some obscure health regulation happening. I’m so envious of the US experience. Also, I rarely see antique treasure. Mostly the homewares are a clutter of 60s and 70s fondue sets and wooden bowls.

    In recent years a newer phenomenon are the retail outlets that sell stuff taken to the ‘tip’ or, as it’s now known, the ‘disposal centre’. At one of these in Hobart I scored my Chanel No 5 cologne for $5.

    I do see perfume miniatures sometimes in antique or 2/hand shops and have had a few great finds – a vintage Miss Dior 10 ml mini for 50c. But they are rare. Maybe where I live people just throw out their perfume? Sigh.

    • Angela says:

      It’s so interesting to hear how things differ in other countries. Maybe Australia has laws similar to what one commenter cited in Canada, where perfume is considered “hazardous.” It does sound like you’ve had some great luck, though, in other kinds of shops.

    • lilybug says:

      In op shops in New Zealand you rarely see any perfume. I think it’s because it gets picked over by the people working out the back, sorting. Or at least that’s the case with children’s clothes – sometimes you see really nice stuff in the bags people have left but it never makes it into the store. Yet you can find perfume at garage sales sometimes. As for vintage stuff, it’s very rare indeed. My mum THREW OUT her No 5 and Opium from the early 80s. And didn’t even think to ask me if I wanted it! Cry.

      • Angela says:

        I’m crying with you!

      • annemarie says:

        Sounds similar to Australi then. If I found vintage Coty in an op. shop I’d have to be picked up off the floor!

      • 50_Roses says:

        Is your mum related to my mother? She will throw things out, THEN ask me afterward if I would have wanted it. Once it is irretrievable, I would rather not know what I could have had.

        • Angela says:

          That’s so funny! She sounds like she could be a character in a novel.

    • debbie says:

      Saves me the bother of racing to the local Salvation Army shop or Op shop to look for perfume- but must try the Hobart tip shop soon! As soon as I find out where it is in Hobart.

      • annemarie says:

        Well, it was a few years ago but it was in Elizabeth Street, a few doors up from the GPO on the same side, in a similarly old building. Now it’s not there but there is a shop several blocks up, in the same side, that I understand (from my brother) is the tip shop. It is certainly fascinating. I think it’s in between Bathurst and Melville, but I’m not sure. It’s in the CBD, that I know. Good luck!

        • annemarie says:

          Clarifying: I do’;t live in Hbt any more, so I’m a bit hazy about details. You’ll know you are in the place I’m thinking of if you see an arm chair covered in a cover of knitted golliwogs. It’s quite a famous fixture in that place, and worth seeing even if there is no perfume!

          • debbie says:

            Thanks- I will wander up Elizabeth Street next week when I am in the city!

  26. Luminous Phenomena says:

    Fantastic post, Angela. You’ve inspired me to go hunting. :)

    • Angela says:

      Let me know if you find anything good! A good perfume score is worth bragging about.

  27. SuddenlyInexplicably says:

    Great article! You always have such interesting concepts for your posts.

    I’ve been checking garage sales and thrift stores for a while now, but so far no interesting finds. However, I have let all my friends know of my hobby/obsession, and some of them have just been handing over neglected bottles that have been languishing in their cupboards (e.g., vintage Dune, new formulation Femme, Guerlain Pamplelune, etc.). If I don’t love the fragrance, I put it out for swapping, so eventually it will all end up in loving homes.

    Meanwhile, your post has inspired me to keep on hunting for some of the vintage fragrances on my short list (Ma Griffe, Bellodgia, and Le de Givenchy).

    • Angela says:

      Hey, that’s a great approach, too! Especially if you can drum up something to trade, like, say, chocolate chip cookies.

  28. SmokeyToes says:

    “If you don’t love the chase, you won’t make the kill.”

    That is so true, there are days I can’t believe my good fortune (like the day I found an Escada cashmere jacket in fire engine red, vintage Balmain dress and Rosenthal bone china, all in the same week). Never have found perfume in Goodwill, but it can happen.

    And yes, be generous with samples, hugs and kindness, it all comes around! Great article Angela, as always.. :)

    • Angela says:

      Wow, what a haul! I found some Rosenthal crystal glasses in the hula hoop pattern not long ago that I gave to a friend as a housewarming gift. A vintage Balmain dress! Excellent.

      • SmokeyToes says:

        I never get my hopes up with clothes, one consignment shop had luscious designer duds (Galliano/Dior/Chanel) but they were in size 4, not in this life, or my next will I be a size 4!

        • Angela says:

          I hear you. I think I was a size 4 when I was 10.

        • 50_Roses says:

          I have the same experience with looking for clothes in resale shops. Gorgeous stuff in size 4 or 6, nothing in 14. They tell me it’s because it is such a popular size, that it sells as soon as it hits the racks. Also, I think most of the merchandise is put on the sales floor during the week, and by the weekend, when I am able to get to the stores, all the good stuff is gone.

          • Angela says:

            That’s too bad! At least purses and scarves fit everyone.

          • bergere says:

            (Very late to the party) There may be another reason why larger sizes are not as easy to find as smaller ones–one of the reasons people give away perfectly good clothes is that the clothes no longer fit them, and usually folks have sized up, not down. So logically the distribution of larger-than-average sizes should be less than the average or smaller-than-average sizes. I have a friend who’s a size 2/4, and she makes the most amazing thrift-shop scores; I (many sizes larger) can find accessories and the occasional skirt, but seldom anything shockingly awsome.

          • Angela says:

            I think you’re right about that. Since people grew out of the tiny, glamorous cocktail dresses, etc., but still couldn’t bear to give them away, they sat, unmolested, until they ended up at a vintage shop.

        • zeezee says:

          I need to find your type of consignment shop! The ones in my area either know *very* well the quality of what they have and price accordingly, or they just don’t have much of interest/in my size. And as a small size I can tell you it doesn’t always make thrifting easier (somehow, I always encounter Amazon-sized clothing in these stores: cut for very tall, lanky-but-not-rail-thin women), though of course bergere is quite right that people usually size up and discard their older smaller clothes.

  29. becca b says:

    Stopped by Unique thrift store here in Louisville. What a disappointment!

    Avon’s Far Away (for $14.99, are they insane? Tha’s how much it costs brand new), White Diamonds and CKIN2U.

    Well, may try a different city Location – I wasn’t exactly in the part of town where I’d expect to see a bottle of Amouage. :)

    • Angela says:

      I’m always surprised at what they think are the valuable bottles of perfume. The day I bought Guerlain Eau Imperiale (no cap, but still a good 80 ml in the bottle) off an open shelf, they had locked up some Estee.

    • Rappleyea says:

      Hi Becca! *waves from Lex.* – I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard or seen anyone else here mention Ky. :-)

  30. odonata9 says:

    You have inspired me to hit some thrift stores in search of perfume! Although I’ve lived in San Diego for awhile, I haven’t figured out which are the “good” thrift shops yet. I have stopped into the closest goodwill to my house several times, after hearing of your luck and others here in the comments and haven’t seen any perfume at all. I think San Diego is kind of a young city, so not sure how lucky I’ll be with vintage stuff. But it is always frun to troll around and see what they’ve got.

    • Angela says:

      As long as you enjoy looking, you’ll almost certainly find something, I just know it!

  31. dee says:

    I moved to the Columbia River Gorge a little less than a year ago, and have been scouring all the (many) thrift and antique stores within the region. One store in particular seemed promising, since they had empty vintage Shalimar bottles by the dozen. Finally, on about my third visit, I commented about the Shalimar bottles, saying that I hoped some would come in with a little juice left… when I discovered the that proprietor had been EMPTYING the *expired* juice!
    I remained calm (as one could be under the circumstances) and explained to her that the vintage stuff had some real value. She was surprised, but I’m hoping that next time I stop in there will be a non-desecrated bottle around.

    • 50_Roses says:

      HELP!! Someone get the smelling salts, I think I’m going to faint! Obviously, the people who run these thrift stores are NOT perfumistas! I’ve never actually heard anyone refer to perfume as “expired”–as if it would be toxic or something. The worst that can happen is that it may have gone off, and not smell as good. At least they should let the buyer make that call.

      • Angela says:

        I’m with you 100%.

      • dee says:

        I know!
        However, I can see how someone who isn’t in “the know” would smell vintage Shalimar, and think that the tarry animalic blast is a problem ;)

        • Angela says:

          Horrifying, but true!

    • Angela says:

      Ouch! That’s terrible! Well, you’ve done a real service to us all by getting her to stop that murderous practice.

      I hear the thrift stores in The Dalles are terrific.

      • dee says:

        They are pretty good, but I really miss my Woodstock Goodwill.
        I hope Miss Kitty finds something terrific there tonight!

        • Angela says:

          It sounds like she bought some Tony Lama boots–not bad at all.

  32. HDS1963 says:

    I once picked up Anick Goutal L’Eau de Hadrian at a charity shop for £2.50… unused and in its box.

    • annemarie says:

      Oh lord, some unwanted gift. Glad it went it a good home!

    • Bela says:

      You did?! In a UK charity shop? I have never seen any perfume in any of the numerous charity shops around where I live. Boo. :-(

    • Angela says:

      That’s fantastic!

  33. platinum14 says:

    I ve never met a thrift store I didn t like!

    • Angela says:

      That makes two of us, then.

  34. Rappleyea says:

    Angela – *another* great post, and a million thank you’s for sharing your thoughts and tips. Other than a gigantic bookstore here (it literally took over an entire two story mall!), I never shop brick and mortar. But I don’t know… that siren call of cheap, vintage perfume is awfully enticing…. ;-)

    • Rappleyea says:

      Oh, and I forgot to say, I LOVE the idea of perfume karma.

    • mjr says:

      A book store the size of two story mall? SIGN ME UP!

      • Rappleyea says:

        Seriously! They took over a two story mall that has a big open atrium in the center. All of the stores top and bottom became either book, music or gift sections. They retained the restauant and it is now called Bronte’s Cafe. You know you are always welcome to come and visit. I’d take you to see a REAL basketball game too, but of course there is no such thing as available tickets! ;-)

    • Angela says:

      What a dream to have such a huge bookstore so close!

      If you don’t think you’ll enjoy the whole thrift store experience, it might not be worth it, but good perfume is to be had there…

      • Rappleyea says:

        And they have wonderful food as well! (see above)

        A thrift store is the kind of thing I *would* enjoy – much more than a mall for instance.

        • Angela says:

          There are so many hidden stories in thrift stores–I’m with you, they’re a lot more fun than a store of new things (except a bookstore, of course!).

  35. ceelouise says:

    I am inspired. We’ll see how long it lasts. I’ve an “antique shop” down the road here in central Hamburg in mind. Europeans buy perfume more than Americans, so my hopes are high! Another attempt (every several years) at becoming a brilliant treasure finder among the cast-offs. It seems I must get over my expectation of success on my first and only visit, though. Returning is key, as you say. Thank you for this!

    • Angela says:

      I hope you find something good! It sounds like you might have better luck than we do over here.

  36. Celestia says:

    I’ll never forget walking into an antique store in Victoria, B.C. and seeing a Parure. It was the original extrait bottle for $25 Can.! I always shop there now when in town visting relatives. Last time I took pictures and e-mailed them to my major bottle-buying friend and discussed them over the phone. Tons of fun! Here’s what I got for her:
    1. a giant Miss Dior $48
    2. Tuya from Venezuela (a clear bottle but danged if she didn’t have an identical one in solid black) $16
    3. Insolent by F. Milot (a rather large simple bottle with half of its contents) $20
    4. Isadora (a true beauty, full but opened, this is a gorgeous nude frosted figural with clear squat bottle that she is perched on) $65
    Here’s what I got for myself:
    1. 120 ml (?) Shalimar (Baccarat with old purple box) $38
    2. 30 ml Lalique one dove L’Air du Temps (I’ve always wanted one) $16
    3. Replique by Raphael $24
    4. 5 Givenchy minis for $20
    5. 4 Spanish coffee glasses for $4 to replace (exactly) the ones I loved and systematically broke over about 20 years. Yay!
    Angela: I’m wondering if it’s such a grea idea to brag about all our great finds in this space because obviously the fact that the bottles are so desirable to some could drive the prices up.

    • Angela says:

      What great finds! It is, of course, a risk to share hunting grounds, but I think it adds to the perfume karma. You bring up an interesting point, though: I wonder if people who are bottle collectors (rather than perfume lovers) read NST?

  37. Celestia says:

    Yes, that is a rather fine distinction. While I collect bottles for their aesthetic and historical import, I am also interested in the juices should there be any remaining in them. I worry that shop owners might read this and inflate prices.

  38. Great post Angela!

    Perfume is something I never see at Goodwill, but on their site, perfume goes very expensive in my book, especially combined with their uber expensive shipping and handling costs. I suspect that 90% of perfumes on the Goodwill site are fakes. A lot of times they have “factory sealed” Chanel perfumes and other higher end perfumes.

    Down here in southern New Jersey, we have a thrift store about an hour from my home that sometimes has some perfumes, vintage ones too. Some are priced cheaply enough, but some of the newer perfumes and bath/body products are unusually expensive. The owner tells me she looks to ebay to see what other people are “asking” for their perfumes (instead of looking at past “sold” auctions) before she sets the out on the sales floor. Sometimes she even prices the items higher than actual retail prices for brand new items. Oh well, the fun is definitely in the hunt!

    I do buy a lot of perfumes at auctions and yard sales. If I dont see perfume or body products at a yard sale, I always inquire. In a wealthy development near my home, I scored a ton of higher end perfumes a few years ago along with a fabulous black velvet and faux fur Versace ladies top for only $2.00!

    Now is the time to hit the flea markets and yard sales, and dont forget to check out local estate sales, tag sales and auctions. I have found many vintage and discontinued perfumes this way over the years, If you dont see it–be sure to ask!

    Good luck and have fun hunting!

    • Angela says:

      What an encouraging post, thank you! It makes me want to run out to an estate sale right now.

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