How to Score at the Thrift Score
First off, thrifting is a word...
… and I am addicted.
The backstory of my love affair (you have my permission to skip this part if you want):
Half of our kitchen gadgets are thrifted (Why am I paying $15 for a plastic slotted spoon at Bed Bath and Beyond when I can one for a buck?) My office mates all assume my clothes were thrifted (or swapped, as I organize closet swaps twice a year). If I had to guess, I’d say at least 75% of my clothes (aside from undergarments, I’m not that committed) are thrifted or swapped.
True story: in high school a few friends and I would often get up at 5:30am on fridays to go to a Goodwill warehouse where almost everything was under $1. I think shirts were 25 cents. I still have a giant Boy Scout duffel that I got for 50 cents.
Back then I loved t-shirts. I was a runner and bit of a tomboy, so fashion wasn’t really my jam, but I loved a good t-shirt. This carried into college. Another true story: The first time my now husband talked to me it was about my thrifted t-shirt. Him: “Oh! Did you do Science Olympiad?!” Me: “...no, it’s from the thrift store…” Him “...Oh. Nevermind.” Our awkwardness and common love of somewhat nerdy things somehow carried our relationship beyond that. I still have the shirt.
Around college is when I also began to buy things other than t-shirts. I got pots and pans and silverware and obviously a ton of great mugs from Goodwill, while all the other kids had collections of cute matching things. I may have had a roommate at some point not want my things in the cupboard because they didn’t match and weren’t pretty enough. My favorite roommate, however, had an entire matching set of vintage plates and bowls from the thrift store. After I got married we returned a lot of kitchen things and instead bought them from the thrift store. After our recent move I switched from using my grandma’s silver to collecting unique stainless steel silverware from the thrift store.
I tell you all of this to emphasize
I thrifted before Macklemore made it cool.
Honestly, when I was younger I did it because I was cheap and hated the mall and loved the personality of thrifted things. Now, while those reasons are all still true, I am also aware of who makes the things I buy. Aside from all of the “green” reasons to thrift, my money supports a non-profit instead of a big corporation underpaying and overworking impoverished people with no other options. I don’t have a big clothing budget to always be buying from the awesome companies and organizations we feature on this blog, but I try and buy new things mindfully, and then thrift as a way of not supporting unjust labor. If you’re in the same financial boat, I encourage to try and thrift before you go to the cheap stores.
Some people say to me “you must be magical because you find the best stuff.” Then, I take them, give them the following tips, and THEY find great stuff. While I’d hate to miss out on the best stuff because other people are snagging it from me, I can’t help but want to share my little tips that I have collected. I want everyone to find the joy in thrifting that I do! And you know what? (Put on your infomercial voice) Even you, yes you! can score big at the thrift store!
Go often. You won’t win every time. The more often you go, the more often your find awesome stuff, AND you’ll begin to get a feeling for which stores tend to have things you like. While I normally advise you take a lot of time to thrift (see tip #3), even a skim when you have a few minutes to spare can be worth it to get to know your stores.
Know your local thrift stores and their discounts. Locally I go to 2 thrift chains: The Arc and Goodwill, and I go to each for different reasons. Arc is almost entirely half off on Saturdays, but the prices aren’t quite as cheap to start. However, it is warehouse sized, so there are always lots of options. Goodwill I have a harder time getting good stuff half off (they rotate it regularly, so only the items that have been there a while go on sale), but their prices are a little better to start. Goodwill also has better prices on most non-clothing items. Location also needs to be considered. There is 1 store I have given up on, but otherwise I have 1 primary Arc and 1 primary Goodwill, with a few secondary options if I’m in the neighborhood. My primary Arc is closest to the local private college, and my primary Goodwill is closer to a pretty rich families and retirees area. I find more Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People type stuff near the college, and more J.Crew and Loft type stuff at the Goodwill. My wardrobe is quite diverse.
I don’t normally go early in the week, in my experience the stuff is picked through and the good stuff builds up throughout the week. Other people have theories that they get so many donations on weekends that the beginning of the week it comes out, but I don’t usually have much luck until at least Wednesday, but get a feel for your own store. Also, learn your seasonal sales! The Arc has a big sale in the spring and fall with all going out of season things for 1 freaking dollar. I put it on my calendar, arrange my schedule, and invite my friends. It’s mass chaos, and I love it. Last time I got $50 (in thrift store prices, not even regular clothes prices) for $10. All of this to say, get to know your stores, and you’ll learn which ones to go to when, and then have better luck.
Obviously your town will be different. As you go more often, you’ll figure out which ones work best for you when.
3. Commit to the adventure. If you want to find the best stuff, plan to spend at least couple hours (you’ll understand why as you read on). On those long committed days, I even plan my outfit to be versatile: well fitting solid jeans, a simple tank, and a top that is generally easy to take on and off on top. Do your hair and wear makeup. If you don’t look good in your best clothes, you won’t like how you look in second hand. Bring snacks, bring tea (keeps me happy and relaxed in crowds). Bring hand sanitizer (if you’re a nail biter like me, please keep your fingers out of your mouth!) Pump yourself up, bring treats, and get ready for some great people watching. If you are committed to the adventure and get in the mindset of a treasure hunt. Even if you don’t find anything that works, you’ll enjoy yourself!
Bring someone with you. (Optional) If you’re a super extrovert, and/or you don’t trust your fashion judgement, this is a good idea. If it’s another experienced thrifter that will help you enjoy your expedition, even better. However, if they are the same size as you or if they have the same style, you might have fights over who saw that cute shirt first. Also avoid people who aren’t “committed to the adventure.” You don’t want someone bringing you down or making the experience more challenging. Choose your companions wisely.
Know what you need and want. This is where your Pinterest boards come in handy. I like to look through my style board and get an idea of trends I see in what I’m pinning, and that I’d like to add to my wardrobe. I keep an eye for new styles and colors I’d like to try. (Sometimes I do this backwards and pin ways to wear the new unusual thing I bought!) I actually keep a list on my phone of certain items I want, especially when it comes to non-clothing items. Having an idea of what you like and what you want helps you feel less overwhelmed during the process. It’s also good to have a good idea of what you already own, this will help with making a plan and discerning what to buy later.
Make a plan. Wandering aimlessly doesn’t yield great results. I prefer to start where I have the most need. Need some new heels? Colored jeans? Summer Dress? Start in that section. This helps give you direction instead of aimlessness, and I usually swing through that section once more before I leave in case anything new comes out. On the flip side, do you have a ton of dresses that you don’t wear? Sweaters for days? You can peek at those sections, but save it ‘till the end when you’re more tired and have found the things you needed more.
1. Touch/look at everything. Seriously, move every hanger one by one, look high and look low. This is why we committed to at least a couple hours, if you just scan you will definitely miss something. It will get faster as you get better at it, but do it. Check at least 1 size above and below you. Thrift stores aren’t the best at staying organized or categorizing correctly. I regularly find my size in the wrong place. Also, you should all know by now, EVERY brand fits differently. Heck, every article of clothing within a brand can fit differently! I currently own pants spanning from size 6 to size 12. I have shirts from xs-l. The “baggy” trend means you can wear things oversize, or if something was made oversized you might be able to wear it a little more fitted.
If you’re intrigued, put it in the cart. Yes, this leads to a VERY full cart, but I’ve found some great things in the “wrong size” or that looked a little strange on the rack. That thing that you’re not 100% on the rack could look phenomenal on your body, and I’ve fallen in love more than once with an item that I bought “just to try”. Keep an open mind about vintage, many vintage inspired styles are in, and you’d be surprised what people think you bought at the mall.
You will notice trends in the things you like. Lately I’ve been an earth tones and texture girl, so I’m seeing a lot of lace end up in my cart, and more and more creams creeping in. While you have some specifics you’re looking for, be OK with a surprise. I’ve found a couple of really rad bohemian things, and even though that isn’t my default style, it’s one I could pull off, so I like to try it out.
Try it on. Yes, it is cheap, and trying on that whole cart takes a LOT of time, but I’m always surprised with what fits and what doesn’t. A $6 Anthropology shirt is still a waste of money if it looks terrible on you and you never wear it. Also, many thrift stores have stringent return policies, so if it doesn’t work out, your outta luck.
Discern what to keep. Obviously, if it doesn’t fit, don’t keep it (unless you are practiced at altering clothes with your sewing machine. Yes, I’ve done it with shirts that were too large that were too cute/cheap to pass up.) If it fits, ask yourself a series of questions:
Is it flattering to my shape? It can be a cute top, just not cute on you.
What will I wear it with? Do I have to buy something else to make it work? Can I picture an outfit with it right now? Is it versatile or a twice a year piece? (Pinterest on your phone is helpful for these questions!)
Do I have something that serves the same purpose? If so, is this one better? For a while I had about 5 striped shirts. I had a rule that if I found another striped shirt I liked, it had to replace one of the others.
Does it look my age? If I’m unsure I look at the label. If the label has glitter, pink, and/or bubble letters, it’s probably not meant for adults. Personally, nothing Hollister or American Eagle ever makes it in my cart, I just can’t get myself to feel mature in it.
Will I get my money’s worth? Consider brand and quality here with cost. Are the shoes real leather? How often will I wear it? Will it hold up?
Do I have space? Is there room in your closet/drawer/rack for this item? Am I willing to get rid of something to make it fit if I have to?
Is it in good shape? Don’t bother with anything pilly. Tears, stains, lost buttons, and fading could have creative fixes, but will I actually fix this issue? Do I already have a pile of things I meant to fix and haven’t?
The most important question: Do I actually love it, or do I just love the price and the fact that it fits? Don’t be tempted by price if you aren’t going to wear it. I am a bit of a minimalist. If I take in new things, I usually get rid of a few things. I have a pretty small closet compared to most girls, so I need what’s in it to be worth it.
After all of that, I consider my budget. $3 shirts can add up surprisingly quickly. Give yourself a spending limit and get your cart total under it. And if nothing worked, that’s OK. It wasn’t your day. Go buy yourself some froyo for the effort and try another store next time.
Do a final sweep. Peek at the tried-on racks. If anything there catches your eye, grab it before it disappears on the expansive floor. Check the ends of the aisles, that’s where most things that are being put back end up. Also peek at other sections you didn’t want to spend much time.
If you buy it, and rock it. My general rule: If you wear it with confidence, you will get compliments. And if you get compliments, you get to brag about how little you spent on it. Thrifting is my favorite way to try some new styles!
I hope these tips help you become a lover of thrifting, and that you find some AWESOME things for your wardrobe (or your home!) on your next adventure. Do you have any other tips? What are some of your best thrift store finds?