I have been an avid thrifter for years. I became hooked in 9th grade after scoring the most perfect 90s Betsey Johnson floral romper and have been frequenting thrift stores ever since. It definitely took some trial and error to perfect “Goodwill Hunting” (as my dad calls it). I went through a period in my thrifting misadventures where I would buy anything with a designer label, no matter how awful or dated it may be. There was also my “DIY Era” when I would buy seemingly ugly things in hopes of turning them into something fabulous, but after hours of seam-ripping, bleaching, dying, studding, sewing, etc., really only ended up with something slightly less ugly (I’m not quite sure I’m totally over this phase). To help you avoid some of these missteps, here are ten helpful tips to navigate the labrynth that is the thrift store.
1. Take your time
Make sure you have plenty of time to look around. It definitely takes more than ten minutes to shop a thrift store. Some of my best finds were stumbled upon while looking around for something else.
2. Try everything on
You can’t always trust the size marked on the tag. Older sizing is much different than today’s; for instance, if you are a size 4 today, you could be anywhere from an 8-12 in older styles, so make sure to try everything on to make sure it fits the way you want it to.
3. Pay attention to sales
Many thrift stores have daily or weekly sales. For instance, most Goodwills have a “Color of the Week” when that specific color tag is 50% off. Other thrift stores have half-off Saturday sales. Savers offers 50% off your purchase when you bring in a donation. Being aware of these sales can make an already great deal that much sweeter.
4. Assume all stains are permanent
For the most part, everything in a thrift store has been worn and washed. This means that any stains you find are most likely set in and permanent. No matter how good a deal it may be, it’s still not worth buying something you won’t be able to wear. However, with that being said…
5. Don’t overlook easy fixes
I mentioned earlier my pension for DIY projects. This doesn’t mean remaking an entire garment, but easy fixes such as taking out shoulder pads, hemming, dyeing, or adding new buttons to an item can completely transform it. I recently found a simple white cotton dress that I loved. It fit perfectly and for only $3 I was smitten. That is until I noticed a weird yellow stain on the back of it (I don’t even want to know what it was). I decided to buy the dress anyway and dyed it black, turning my stained $3 dress into a perfectly easy $6 dress, sans stain. One thing I advise staying away from is broken zippers. Unless you’re a sewing wiz, zippers are a pain in the ass to replace, and not worth the hassle!
6. Check out every department
Don’t rule out anything! I can say from experience that I’ve found great things in every section of the thrift store. Make sure to check out the men’s department for perfectly worn in tees and flannels and the housewares department for unique trinkets (one of my favorite things to thrift are little bowls to use as catch-alls for rings, keys, etc.). Other great things to keep an eye out for are vintage textiles, which can be used as curtains, pillows, rugs, throws, and re-upholstery to bring new life into old furniture. In college, I found a piece of this gorgeous vintage brocade scrap fabric that I made into a cushion to transform an old trunk into a bench.
7. Think outside the box
Drawn to a funky printed skirt, but it’s 3 sizes too big? Why not find a cool vintage frame and display the fabric on your gallery wall? Or make it into a throw pillow to spice up your bed or couch?
8. Bring along a thrifty friend
Or go alone. There’s nothing worse than having to drag someone around a thrift store. Bring someone who knows their way around and meet in the middle to share your awesome finds. Bonus points if said friend knows your taste and acts as an extra pair of eyes when scouring the racks!
9. Wear comfortable clothes
The majority of thrift stores I’ve been to have very few fitting rooms, if they have them at all. Most likely, you’re going to end up with a cart filled with stuff and nowhere to try it all on. It’s a good idea to wear fitted clothing, like leggings and a tank top, that will easily fit under whatever you’re trying on, so you can avoid stripping down in public. Flip flops or slip on shoes are also great so you’re not untying/zipping/buckling every time you change.
10. Be bold!
Love an item or trend but unsure if you can pull it off? Thrift stores are the best place to experiment with your look! For $5, buy the damn dress and try it out! If it turns out you love it, you got an awesome piece for an even more awesome price. If it turns out it’s just not for you, welp, you only spent $5.
I love a good deal, but more than that, I love the hunt of finding older things with great potential and making them into something amazing! Why buy new stuff when you can save heaps and get something even cooler?! Hopefully this post gave you some ideas and sparked your imagination to go thrifting and get creative! Let us know of any helpful thrift tips you have below!