You know those urban legends of people stumbling into a second-hand shop and finding a priceless piece of fashion history? Moments like that have actually happened to Lexi Laphor.

“I have so many vintage Emporio Armani finds – that’s one of my favourite things to look for,” says the Sydney-based stylist. “I love the decadence of the fabrics and the silks and the textures. Pieces I op-shopped 10 years ago, I’m still using.”

While it’s always a thrill to discover a designer gem in a charity shop, she says it’s “important not to limit yourself to labels”. “Sometimes, you’ll find random brands you haven’t heard of – they’re American or French or Italian – they’re not a designer label but they’re made with such quality,” she says.

Laphor, who has been working as a freelance stylist and photographer since she moved to Sydney three years ago, describes her own style as eclectic. “I love colour, I love bold pieces,” she says. “A little bit of fantasy and imagination and colour never goes astray for me.” She grew up in Canberra, where her first taste of op-shopping came via her local Vinnies. “What I loved about it then is what I love about it now –treasure hunting and not knowing what you’re going to find … but knowing something special and unique could pop up and be yours.”

From April 9, Vinnies will be hosting a campaign called The Drop, in which fresh designer and luxe preloved pieces will appear in-stores each week for six weeks. Some of the brands involved include Bassike, Scanlan Theodore, PE Nation, One Teaspoon, Lee Mathews, Matteau and many more local labels.

“You know when you’re shopping there, it goes back to the community and people in need,” Laphor says. “It’s a sustainable, inclusive environment to shop.”

Discovering your taste (devoid of trend)

“Op-shopping is an amazing way to develop and learn your own sense of style,” says Laphor. High street retail chains tend to jump on specific trends: “they’re all doing the same colours or cuts”. The timeless nature of vintage shopping offers variety – and the chance to experiment – that you would never find at your local shopping centre.

“You could find something that no one else is wearing, something that’s from a completely different time or country – something so special and unique that it becomes something you treasure in your wardrobe,” she says.

Laphor has collected many rare pieces over the years. Good quality vintage pieces often feature something special – texture, colour, fabric or cut – that make them stand out. “They’re not always designer but they have amazing details; beautiful collars or silky fitted fabric or corsetry work that these days cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars,” she says.

Don’t look for something specific

You may have heard that the key to a successful shopping trip is knowing exactly what you want. According to Laphor, this is not the case for thrift store shopping. She cautions against walking into an op shop hoping to find the perfect designer dress for an event or a killer jacket. “When you go in with a specific piece in your mind, you close off your mind to all other things you might come across,” she says.

Instead, approach op shopping with an open mind. “Think of textures you like the feel of and colours you like,” Laphor advises. “Experimenting is part of the fun and the play and the magic of op-shopping.”

Be prepared to dig

You do have to put a little work into it. Explore all corners of the store. A retail assistant might split a designer pantsuit, so the jacket ends up in one section and the trousers in another, or “a tight top might end up in the kids’ section,” says Laphor. “Be thorough – look in every section.”

Another tip: don’t leave without checking the fancy dress section. “There might be an amazing Gautier avant-garde designer piece,” says Laphor. “The volunteer might have thought that no one would wear this every day and put it in the costume section.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Vinnies.