Tip #1: Wear the “thrifting uniform”
My “thrifting uniform” consists of a solid neutral tee shirt, my most flattering jeans, a neutral belt, go-with everything shoes and a hands-free bag. My style is a mix of funky & sophisticated, casual & fancy I can practically pair anything with a tee or jeans. For me, seeing the entire look (cue the go-with everything shoes) completely removes the question, “Will this work in my wardrobe?”.
It’s also very helpful to BYOD; bring your own denim; because finding a great pair of jeans can be hit or miss. Most of the time, I’ll head to the dressing room with only tops and dresses and I don’t want to end up pant-less!
The belt is also a very critical part of the uniform because it can also completely transform an oversized dress or large jeans. Yes, you may be able to find a belt at the thrift store but I prefer not to run the risk.
Also important is to carry either a cross-body bag, back-pack or belt bag. Anything that gives you the most arm and hand mobility!
Tip #2: Don’t Discriminate
When thrifting, leave your size and gender at the door! The below items are just a small snippet of the amazing clothes I wouldn’t have found if I had stuck to the size small rack of the women’s section. First, let’s talk about size. Today’s standard clothing sizes are very different from past sizes. Before the 70’s a size 0 didn’t exist and by the 80’s clothing companies started to create their own size guide. So when looking for vintage pieces, the size printed on the label is going to be very different from what you may wear today. Thrift stores don’t really have the time to determine what a size 12 from the 60’s equates to in today’s sizing so it would be placed with all the other larges; even though a size 12 equates to today’s size 6. I also don’t discriminate against size because I like the look of over-sized garments that can be tucked in or belted (this is when the uniform comes in handy!). If the garment has a beautiful drape to it (meaning its not too stiff or boxy), then it can look cool and effortless.
Second, I don’t discriminate against the men’s, boy’s or girl’s section of the store. I find the coolest button-down shirts, tees and blazers from the men’s section. If you’re around a size 8 or tall enough, you can even find amazing vintage trousers and jeans there too! On the other spectrum, the boy’s section carries cute fitted tees and the perfect fitting pants for petite gals.
Ok, by this point you may be feeling overwhelmed as I just told you to shop THE ENTIRE STORE. But don’t worry, my next few tips will help you navigate the store and avoid feeling completely overwhelmed.
Tip #3: Start with your most desired find first
Thrift stores are generally organized by gender/age (men’s, women’s, boy’s, girl’s, baby) and then by silhouette (dresses, tees, tops, sweaters, coats, etc). Stepping into a “big box” thrift store like Goodwill or Salvation Army will definitely spike you’re anxiety and drain your energy before you even start. So my strategy is start with the silhouette I’m most excited about buying and then maintain my focus there until I have searched the entire section. For example, for spring, I switch out my jeans for floaty midi skirts, therefore, my first stop will be the skirt section in women’s and girl’s. The section I want may not be in the front of the store so I have to stay laser focused on getting to that area as I make my way through the vast amounts of top and dress racks. This way I won’t be overwhelming my brain with all the shirts, blazers and dresses I could be looking for. Also, I reserve my energy for the items I really want to find that day. So if 2 hours in, I want to go home because I’m either tired or hungry (or both) but I haven’t looked through the blazers, I’m not upset because I’m excited about all the skirts I found! Blazers will have to wait for another day.
Tip #4: Scan for preferred colors, patterns or textures
So you got to your desired section, now what? If the store is small then I will literally go through every item on the rack starting with the smallest size so I don’t miss anything. However, when I’m at a large store I scan the rack for colors, patterns or fabrics that grab my eye. I usually gravitate towards anything bright, floral, striped, polka dots or silky. But everyone is different! So if you prefer neutrals, then focus your eye on those colors and don’t bother with anything colored. This method can be hit or miss; sometimes you find a gem and sometimes you find a dud. But if you have a mile’s worth of skirts to look through or only 10 minutes to shop, this method will be your saving grace.
Tip #5: Know the latest trends
This tip also helps you focus if you’re new to thrifting and overwhelmed with all the clothes. Or if you only have a limited amount of time to shop.
Tip #6: Add to cart now, think later
I don’t always fall in love with an item until I get it into the dressing room. So even if I find something and I think “maybe?”, I will always put it in my cart and determine if I actually want it after I try it on. It’s better to put it back than wonder “what if?”
Tip #7: Look for quality clothing
There is an exception to every rule. The only reason I won’t add it to my cart is if it came from fast fashion retailers like Forever 21, H&M or Walmart. Clothing from these stores are not made to last and were probably sold for the same price you find at the Goodwill. If you’re looking for the best value for your dollar (literally), it’s best to avoid them.
Tip #8: Shop in affluent neighborhoods
A sure fire way to find said quality clothing is to shop thrift stores in affluent areas. This is most likely where wealthy people will be dropping off their unwanted Chanel suits (here’s to hoping!) or beautiful fur coats. I scored this vintage beauty for $10!
Tip #9: Always check for wear and tear along the seams, hem, cuffs and crotch
Tip #10: Research sale days & sign up for apps
While you’re getting a really good deal any day of the week, the less money spent, the better! Goodwill consistently runs a sale one day of the week. However, each state’s Goodwill is run independently of each other so find out what that day is in your own state and save. Also, some thrift stores have apps that offer exclusive discounts for users. For example, My Unique Thrift Stores offers 25% off on Thursday’s for app users.
Tip #11: Find small charity shops in your local neighborhood
Most neighborhoods have thrift stores that donate proceeds to charity. These shops are generally a lot smaller than chain thrift stores which means they are a lot more manageable, yet are still full of incredible gems!
Tip #12: Shop Often!
Thrift stores are constantly getting an influx of new stuff and they put clothing out on the floor daily. So if you didn’t find what you were looking for, don’t get discouraged! Come back next week and a treasure may be waiting for you.