Thrift shopping 101

I'm a thrifting expert. Self-declared. But I have the track record to back it up. I really thought about what has made me successful and why it hasn't worked for some people I've taught. 

I remember this day. My brother and dad were at scout camp and Value Village had 50% off everything and red, white, and blue tags were $0.99 for the fourth of July (why was scout camp over July 4th?). My mom, sister, and I went to three different stores. We bought over $100 worth of $0.99 items. Let freedom ring! 

Growing up there were some years that we were poor. We thrifted. We had to. We were the kind of poor where we had to be picky at the thrift store, I vividly remember putting back a skirt I really wanted because it was $7. In 5th grade I got some black flares and a sweater vest from Target. Clothes from a real store. They were my prized possessions. We had an assignment to make ourselves out of construction paper and I made myself in that outfit (a popular girl told me I had to make my person in brown pants cause her and her friend we making theirs with black pants. Completely not relevant to this thrifting narrative. Just, yknow, girls are mean). I didn't feel as cool in my thrifted clothes as I do now, but during that time I gained some serious skills. 

These are my second hand clothes:

These are my "real store" clothes:

As time passed we didn’t HAVE to thrift shop, but we still did, cause we could get such good stuff. And now, well, now, it’s a hobby and passion + I feel good about how it helps the environment. Who knew those hard, lean years would be so beneficial? I just did the math, I’ve been thrifting for over 25 years! And I don’t just mean occasionally thrifting, I mean that 85% of my clothes, kids clothes, furniture, and home décor are second hand. (I need to update that rough estimate of a percentage – my kids clothes are not largely thrifted anymore, my kids are rough on their clothes, so are other kids their ages - second hand ones are slim pickings. Their baby and toddler clothes were mostly second hand).

Have you ever tried thrifting and been disappointed in the outcome? You just can’t find good stuff, or everything you get doesn’t work out? Doesn’t matter how good of a deal it is, if you don’t like it, it’s a waste of money. Let me impart my over two decades of wisdom (ha, ha, my mind is blown on this realization. How am I not still 23?).

Before you begin, decide if you want thrifted items. You’re here, so I’m assuming you do, but think about it. I had a roommate in college that was so impressed with my thrifted wardrobe and wanted me to teach her, but every time she’d get something she just didn’t love it. And they were good, promise. The reason? She didn’t feel awesome in a thrifted shirt. She felt like I did in 5th grade, less than. That is totally fine. But if you’re not cool with second hand, you’re not going to come out a winner. And maybe you’re all for thrifted décor, but not clothes. Also fine. I’ve found that I prefer buying t-shirts, work out bottoms, and jeans new. I’m such a thrifter that it felt like cheating on my own identity! But figure out your lines.

These are bullet points of wisdom from an expert to a beginner; no particular order.

  • Look fast, but with purpose. You make snap judgements before you’re even conscious of them –You don’t have to stop and look at every item on the rack, you know immediately if it’s a potential yes or a definite no. Potential yes’s take more thought. I move clothes on the rack so quickly, I have to backtrack when an item catches my eye and cause I’ve already moved passed.
  • Look through everything. If you walk down an aisle and randomly pull an item off the rack, you’re not going to find great stuff. It’s a numbers game. Go down the line and look at everything. Most stores have items arranged in categories (pants, jeans, skirts, long sleeve shirts, tank tops) and by size.
  •  If you don’t have a lot of time, decide what you’re most interested ing. Shoes? Jeans? Skirts?
  • Don’t go in expecting to find something exactly. You might, but treat it more like an open search. I like to let the store tell me what I need, ha, ha.
  • Would you buy it full price in the store? I ask myself this to determine if I really like it and would really wear it. Obviously I wouldn’t buy it full price, I never buy anything full price, but the sentiment is to figure out if I truly want it.
  • Try stuff on. Just cause it’s a brand you wear and it’s the size you wear, doesn’t mean it’ll fit. It could be from a different season. It could be a decade old and cuts were different. Try it on.
  • Wear a tight shirt and leggings and/or a skirt so don’t need a dressing room. This started when we would shop on sale days (many thrift stores have 50% off on holidays) and it was so crowded, we couldn’t get to a dressing room. And most dressing rooms have an item limit, and I always have way more than that limit. It continues to be helpful with children, because I don’t need to squeeze us all into a dressing room. Most thrift stores also have mirrors around.
  •  If it’s a maybe, put it in the cart. Try it on. A lot of my maybe’s don’t get tried on because I found others items I like more, but put the option in!
  • Don’t get stuck on the label: part 1. Sometimes I find something that’s designer and I want it to work so badly, but it’s just weird on me or doesn’t fit or isn’t awesome at all, but IT’S DESIGNER! Forget the label and decide if you like it.
  • Don’t get stuck on the label: part 2. Sometimes I find something very cute, but it’s a lame brand or a “teenager” brand or simply not a store I’d ever shop at. Forget the label and decide if you like it. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one sees the label when you’re wearing it.
  •  Beware of “I can fix that.” I have found many awesome things that would be perfect if I hemmed them, let out the hem, took it in, let it out, fixed a hole, painted it, recovered it, ect. And I am really bad at doing those things. So they usually end up in a “fix” pile until the day comes that I don’t even like it anymore and I donate it. My sister, is really good at altering things and she does it. Where are you on the spectrum?
  • Look for:

o    holes (particularly on seam lines and belt lines. Crotches, armpits).

o   stains (especially around the sleeves and armpits).

o   peelies (on sweaters or jersey knit items especially).

o   fabric that hangs funny or is stretched.

o   smells. Okay, that you don’t look for. Some items smell like smoke and you can’t always get that out. Or have what I call “perma-stink” in the armpits.

o   cleaning requirements. Is it dry clean only? Hand wash? Are you willing to make that commitment? 

  • Thrift stores do not wash items. Why is there a belief that they do? And if they did, could you imagine all the ruined dry clean, hand wash, and wool items? Wash them when you get home.

This was mostly geared towards thrifted clothing and shopping in a thrift store. The tricks for finding good home décor or furniture is similar. Finding stuff from online sites is a little different, but the quality test stuff is the same.

Are you a thrifter? Any tips to add?

Are you a newbie? Do you have more questions? Wanna go shopping with me?!

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