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Tips for More Successful Thrift Store Shopping

This is part of a series on successfully navigating the world of secondhand style. Stop over here to get started and see the rest of the series. In this section, we discuss all the tips and tricks to make the most of your time in a secondhand shop to find that perfect hidden gem. 

It’s no secret that stepping foot into a thrift shop can be incredibly overwhelming. Where do you start? How are things organized? Where the heck do you look and how long will this take? The following list of tips and tricks should help you get started. Be sure to read this list BEFORE you head to the store, because some of the success of thrifting definitely happens in the planning stages!

1. Try Everything On ~ Every brand seems to fit differently. Unlike walking into a name brand store where you generally know your size, the myriad brands and eras from which all these pieces hail leaves no continuity in how a particular size might fit the shopper. Brands with the same number size might be different measurements or cut differently. The piece may have even been altered. If possible, try on everything before you buy. You just never know. (And to be honest, I’ve put more pieces back on the rack that I thought would be perfect but didn’t fit well at all than I ever would have expected as a novice thrifter.) Many thrift and secondhand shops know that sizes can be all over the map, so clothes aren’t even organized by size. Whatever you do, don’t worry about the tags. Focus on whether or not it looks your size.

2. Dress Appropriately ~ Thrifting is not for the faint of heart or the weak of physical endurance. You don’t need to be able to run a marathon, but you’ll be on your feet for a while. High heeled or uncomfortable shoes may not be ideal. Also consider what makes trying clothes on as easy as possible. Consider wearing fitted clothes like a camisole or yoga pants which can often be worn while trying on other pieces likes tops, dresses, and skirts. Not all thrift stores have fitting rooms, so wear a thin layer to protect your modesty as well. Also avoid clothes with lots of buttons or tedious details or shoes that take a long time to put on or take off. This consideration probably applies to all shopping in general, but it will be most important at thrift stores.

3. Bring Goods to Donate ~ Some of the stores offer discount coupons to donors or sellers. Be sure to bring some things to donate or sell each time you go shopping. At the very least, it’s just a nice thing to do and it helps keep the cycle going.

4. Know When Sales Happen ~ Many stores have discount days for everyone or discount days for specific populations like seniors or military. Check these out if you’re interested. Know the store might be busier or more picked over, but it could result in a great find at an even better price! You can find out their sales days but asking associates or following their social media accounts. (I took my mom with me on a random Tuesday once, and she whipped out her ID to get us the senior discount!)

5. Consider the Donors ~ Shop at the stores located in communities where donors in the area are likely to buy the brands you want to find in the store. In other words, if you’re looking for high end designer brands, head to the fancier neighborhoods. Donors are most likely to drop off their goods at the stores closest to their homes. It’s the most convenient and only makes sense. Consider heading to the thrift stores in more expensive neighborhoods where members of the community more frequently buy high end brands. If the community doesn’t shop high end stores on their own, it only follows that those high end brands won’t show up in their local thrift shops. In fact, I think this is the best kept secret of thrift store shopping and wrote an entire post about it.

6. Scan the Fabrics ~ Thrift stores jam pack their racks with all sorts of things, many of which never interest me or aren’t of great quality. Finding the hidden gem keep us all coming back, but it’s not so simple. To quickly sift through the mounds and endless racks of items, I like to start by scanning the fabrics both with my eyes and my hands. I quickly make my way down a rack and stop only when I feel and see a fabric that looks to be high end. Designer and high-quality pieces typically are made of higher quality fabrics, so this has been a quick indicator for me of things I should stop to spend an extra second or two admiring in my quest to dig through all the product available.

7. Have an Agenda ~ Head to the store with a plan. Know what types of items you want to search for. Showing up to the store with a very specific list probably won’t end well. It’s tough to find a very specific item in a thrift store filled with one-off pieces. But having a general guideline about what areas of the store in which you want to shop, for example, can really create some peace of mind. The focus almost certainly will lead to more frequent successes overall.

8. Keep a Running Wishlist ~ In addition to knowing what specifically you’re most interested in finding the day you shop, keep a running wishlist in the back of your mind, maybe in a list on your phone, or somewhere where you’ll be able to periodically add to it when inspiration strikes. Then while you’re shopping, you can keep a passive eye open for those items.

9. Shop Midweek ~ This isn’t always possible, and certainly won’t likely be the case if you’re shopping their sale days. But if you have the option to shop midday during the week, for example, you’ll have more open fitting rooms, fewer shoppers scanning the same racks as you, and it’s just an overall more pleasant experience. Also, donors typically drop off their goods on the weekends. It takes a couple of days to sort through donations and put them out on racks and shelves. By midweek, you’ll have the first look at all the new product that came in over the weekend.

10. Don’t Rush & Have Patience ~ Successful thrifting requires patience both in the short-term and the long-term. A single trip to a thrift store will likely take an hour or two. Plan accordingly (and don’t bring your kids!). Have patience sifting through the racks. A rushed trip almost guarantees an empty-handed departure. Further, know that you will not leave with a hidden treasure after every visit. In fact, most visits probably won’t result in a perfect piece. Be diligent and disciplined in your shopping. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s the right purchase. Wait for those pieces you absolutely love and would probably buy even if they were more expensive. Over time (years!), you’ll curate a lovely secondhand wardrobe and have a boatload of pieces you wholeheartedly love. Success at shopping secondhand will not happen overnight!

Hopefully you find a few of these tips helpful. If so, consider sharing them with a friend! It’s super simple with those share buttons so share away.

Further, head back to the series recap to take a look at the other installments.

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