When I tell people that I love to shop at thrift stores, I often get the same reaction—a bewildered look followed by the question, “How do you find ANYthing in all that…stuff?” I know it might sound weird, but when I enter a large thrift store that’s overflowing at the seams (literally) with clothes and well…stuff, I get the same excitement that one might feel when lining up at the start of a race. To me, it’s like one giant, never-ending treasure hunt. The possibilities of what I might stumble across within the walls of a thrift store keep me coming back for more. As Forrest Gump’s momma always said, “…you never know what you’re gonna get.”
If you’ve always wanted to give thrifting a try but don’t know where to start, I’ve compiled a list of tips to guide you in your hunt.
1. Shop often
One of the most unique (and I think best) aspects of a thrift store is that the merchandise changes literally every day. People are constantly dropping off donated goods, and often the store’s supply room will be overflowing with merchandise that the store employees haven’t even had a chance to go through yet. You might also want to break up your “hunt” into multiple days if you don’t have much time, or if taking on the whole store feels too overwhelming. Another tip: some thrift stores (like Goodwill and The Salvation Army) will pick a particular color of tag to discount for the day. These discounts can be as much as 50%-75% off, so be sure to ask an employee before you start shopping!
2. Be patient
You’re not going to find a vintage bowling shirt or Gucci sweater for $7 every time you go. You have to be patient and be willing to spend some serious time actually looking for treasures. If I have the time, I will often flip through every single piece of clothing on every rack. If you’re not committed to the cause, you’re setting yourself up for failure before you even step foot inside.
3. Shop all sections
This might sound very daunting, but it’s important to at least do a quick “graze” through each section of the store. First of all, thrift stores aren’t like a normal retail store in which every item has a specific place. You might just find an apple TV stuck behind a collection of Disney movies on VHS (although I would consider both a thrfiting win in my book). I usually stay away from the trinkets and tchotchkes section, but I will always make sure to check out the wine glasses—they usually go for about $1.00 a piece and as far as I’m concerned, I can never have enough wine glasses!
4. Don’t bother with the jeans and be wary of black and white
I’m going to go ahead and contradict myself as I just told you to shop all of the sections, but I would steer clear of the jeans section. First of all—with a few exceptions—all jeans look pretty much the same. Jean companies also like to confuse everyone as much as possible by sometimes making a size 6 a size 0 and a size 8 a size 10. Unless you know exactly what brand, size, and style you are looking for, searching through rows of denim is just going to make you tired and cranky. As for black and white shirts and blouses, I generally stay away. White shirts will often have random stains and yellowing armpits (yes, it’s gross that’s why I’m telling you to stay away) and black shirts have a tendency to fade over time.
5. Know your labels (and vintage gems)
You don’t have to be a fashionista to know a handful of quality brands to look for as you’re thrifting. Keep an eye out for a particular brand that might not have grabbed the attention of the store employee who marked the item with a $3 tag. This happens a lot, trust me. Consider the area that the thrift store is located as well. For example, the selection of brands that you will find in a thrift store in the middle of Kansas will be very different than the brands you will find in a thrift store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (I’m not saying this to be rude, I’m just being honest). Also, if you know that a certain brand of clothes fits you well, keep an eye out for these items as well! This will help cut down on time spent in the dressing room. Finally, always be on the lookout for vintage treasures like sweaters, coats, and purses.
6. Try it all on and only buy what you love
This is pretty self explanatory, but I can’t stress it enough. I know, I know, some thrift store dressing rooms can be pretty scary. Get over it. Get in and get out. You might think to yourself, “It’s only $4, if it doesn’t fit I can just throw it out.” Don’t be that person. Not to mention, if you do that every time it will start to add up! Speaking of adding up, be sure to only buy items that you love. I have to admit, I struggle with this concept. If you can only imagine one specific instance that you’ll wear the item you’re about to buy (excluding ugly Christmas sweaters—always buy those) don’t buy it. Chances are, you will never actually go to a Hawaiian luau in which you will need that terrifyingly ugly tank top covered in surfboards and bright orange hibiscus flowers.
7. Check out the jewelry
Most thrift stores will have display cases filled with jewelry at the check out counter. Before you check out, or while you’re waiting in line, take a quick look to see if anything catches your eye. If you see something that looks like it could be expensive, don’t get your hopes up—it probably isn’t. But, you might find some great pieces of costume jewelry or my favorite, lockets!
8. Wash your hands
This might be a no-brainer, but I would suggest washing your hands after visiting a thrift store, or any store for that matter! During your visit you probably touched a lot of random stuff, so it’s always a good idea to play it safe. Be sure to wash your newly purchased clothing items before wearing them as well!
9. Pay it forward
Chances are that the more you thrift, the more stuff you will have that you no longer wear. Return the favor and donate your unwanted goods to your local thrift store and keep it out of landfills! Thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army also help to provide jobs for people with special needs, and the more money you spend at these stores means more funding for various non-profit programs.
10. Have fun!
When thrifting, try to relax and have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously and try not to make any quick judgments. Every thrift store is different and has its own personality. Treat it as an adventure and bring friends along to laugh at all the shoulder pads and neon wind suits.