There is nothing more fun than getting a friend addicted to thrifting–which is something I managed to do recently (yay for new thrift buddies!). I have been thrifting since I was a child, and remember with delight accompanying my mom on Saturday mornings to the local thrift shops and digging through the racks of $0.25 tees and exotic-looking vintage. (Little did I know that I’d grow up and wear some of those pretty frocks!) Although I’ve covered some of these tips in several of my thrifting videos, I thought I’d compile them into a post as I get asked these fairly frequently.
The internet is your friend. Sourcing thrift stores can be a case of just searching on Google with your zipcode/town name and the word “thrift store” (or charity shop–depending on the country you live in). I’ve found many of my favorites this way–along with spotting unlisted ones when I’m driving around town. I also love using the Thrift Shopper website as a jumping off point. It lists hundreds of thrift shops throughout the US, and many are rated for quality, selection and price.
Shop with a plan, but don’t stick to it. Thrifting isn’t like going into a department store: you never know what will be on the racks! Looking for a black pencil dress to wear this weekend? Be prepared to find something else, because stock changes daily at most thrifts. Even if you find a dress that fits your style criteria, it may not be the right size. A “general lookout list” is always a good idea (I keep my eyes peeled for things like vintage-style skirts, cardigans, and knit tops that would work with my aesthetic, just to name a few), but be prepared to shop based on what is in stock.
Ask about discount days or colors. Many thrift shops will run special discounts on certain days, or discounts for a certain demographic (senior, student or military seem to be most common), or even on a certain garment type/tag color. It’s worth asking when those discount days are, and save yourself a few dollars! Some of my favorite thrifts offer occasional discounts to military, and I definitely make an effort to shop on those days to get more bang for my buck.
Come prepared! I have a “thrifting kit” that I always take with me. My phone (for quick calls to family or friends if I spot something I think t hey’d like), hand sanitizer (a must), a tape measure (especially helpful if you’d rather not try on clothes), water and a list of local thrift store addresses. I never leave home to thrift without some combination of these items–they make thrifting a lot easier!
Shop the opposite season. Summertime where you are? Look for winter coats and wool skirts–they tend to be super cheap and not picked over when it’s warm outside. This winter has been incredibly mild, so warm clothing has been plentiful, and I’ve been stocking up. But I’m also keeping an eye out for summer clothes, since no one is thinking quite that far ahead yet. Most thrifts won’t put a ton of out-of-season garments on the sales floor, but it’s always worth checking for next season. Having a good handle on your personal style preferences and seasonal wardrobes is a great help for sifting through all the options too.
Be pennywise. One trend at thrift stores I’ve seen, and am more than a bit dismayed with, is the excessive pricing on “high street” garments. I’ve seen many pieces from popular mall brands like Forever 21, H&M and Zara marked close to half what you’d pay retail in the store for. It just makes no sense, since the quality tends to be less than desirable, and the condition of the garment is used. I tend to avoid these labels, and gravitate towards better quality brands I know. I recently found a beautiful, like-new boatneck French Connection tee for $1.99 (they retail for $45 and up) right next to a Forever 21 tee for $5! The French Connection tee is head and shoulders nicer than the other, and the $2 I spent was well worth it.
Train your eye to spot quality (or vintage). Many people ask me how I spot vintage when eying a rack, and honestly it’s just been years of experience. I know what are common colors, fabrics, style details and labels for various decades. The same goes for finding high-end RTW in a thrift store as well. Training your eyes to spot and fingers to know the feeling of quality materials makes a big difference in the thrifting experience.
Shop thoughtfully. Along the lines of the pennywise paragraph, shopping thoughtfully involves a sense of buying what you need. Not filling up your cart simply because it’s cheap. Consider quality, how the garment fits into your wardrobe and budget, and whether it needs special cleaning (I always try to consider this–especially for dry clean only pieces). Having a pile of beautiful clothes only makes sense if you’re going to wear them!
Look past the obvious for the potential. Sometimes a lot of what you find in thrift stores is a “diamond in the rough”. I find that shopping with an eye for what things could be altered to better suit me yields far more exciting finds than if I looked for things that perfectly fit my clothing wishlist. While I know this might not be possible for some, even simple alterations and adjustments can make that $0.99 find a real gem! Ask yourself this when you’re on the fence with a garment: can the hem be shortened? Can it be let out or taken in slightly? Can you redo the neckline? Can the sleeves be shortened or taken off completely? Even something as simple as adding a belt can transform a seemingly “dull” piece!
Always scout accessories! I have found the majority of my favorite costume jewelry at thrift shops–usually for no more than $5 and as little as $0.25. Not only is there the potential to find some lovely vintage pieces, but pieces that are a bit different for you (but you’d love to try wearing) are so cheap that it’s worth taking the plunge. I also always check out purses (be sure to look over thoroughly for signs of wear, sturdiness and stains), scarves and belts.
Be realistic about what you’re comfortable with. Thrift stores sell all sorts of things. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have preferences about what you will or won’t buy, and would rather purchase brand new. Be honest with yourself, and if you’d rather not own a certain piece that has been pre-owned, then don’t buy it just because it’s a bargain! (That will save you a trip back to the thrift store to re-donate it.)
Got any favorite thrifting tips and tricks you’d care to share?