I like to consider myself a little bit of a thrifting connoisseur. There are few things that make me happier than getting a compliment on something I’m wearing or a piece of decor and being able to respond with, “Thank you, I got it at Goodwill!” However, the skill of being able to find great pieces in places like Salvation Army and Goodwill has taken years of practice.
My love of thrifting—and really, of the hunt and thrill of finding something beautiful in a collection of junk—began at a young age. I learned from the best: my parents have always loved antiques and had them in our homes growing up. My dad and I consistently bonded over watching shows like American Pickers and Storage Wars, as well as browsing countless antique stores, thrift shops, and flea markets for a few great items. I collected vintage cameras for a long time, so hunting those down and finding one that I didn’t have yet was a favorite pastime of ours. Now that I’m older, we’ve moved on to tracking down the best secondhand furniture for my apartment.
My passion for buying clothes from thrift stores came to fruition a little bit later. In middle school and high school, my cousin and I would drive 30 minutes to this hole-in-the-wall thrift store that had half off everything sales every Monday. We’d come out with huge bags of vintage clothes, always having spent less than $20. Nowadays, I like to go to my local Goodwill about once a month and see what they have to offer.
These are the things I keep in mind every time I go thrifting to make sure I maximize my experience as much as I possibly can.
Step out of your comfort zone and keep an open mind
The golden rule: You don’t go thrifting looking for things, you let them find you. It’s really rare to think of something you want when thrifting and then be able to go into a store and find exactly that. If that does happen, it’s an amazing treat, but I recommend keeping an open mind and letting the store speak to you (I know, sorry, but it’s true). And if you do have something in mind, keep it general, like “a cute midi skirt” not “a black midi skirt with a floral pattern.”
Step out of your comfort zone by checking out sections that you wouldn’t normally think to look in. I’ve found some of my best stuff in the men’s section, for example. Also, don’t be afraid to try on things that aren’t your “normal size.” You never know what might fit, and hey, that oversized look is super in right now. It’s much easier to not be disappointed in your thrift store experience when you’re super excited about a gem that you happened to find, instead of being bummed about not finding what you were looking for.
Tackle the store section by section
Sifting through racks on racks on racks can get overwhelming fast, especially when you’re finding the same type of shirt a million times. You don’t have to hit every section at the thrift store, but stepping through the doors with ideas in mind will make your trip easier than coming unprepared. Whether you want to score on some dresses or skirts, paying more attention to these sections compared to wandering around overwhelmed will make shopping way easier.
Opt for reliable brands
When it comes to thrifting, you’re bound to see a plethora of brands you may have forgotten about or usually don’t give a second glance. An older piece of clothing from brands like Nine West, Liz Claiborne, J.Crew, Banana Republic, etc. will oftentimes still be in great shape, and will hold up in your closet just as long as it did in someone else’s. Skip over fast fashion brands (unless you find a reliable basic you love) because chances are, the quality won’t be too great.
Understand an item’s worth
Some vintage stores really markup the price on certain items or certain brands. When I find something I really like I tell myself, “I love this, but I wouldn’t pay more than $X for it.” If you keep that mindset while shopping, you’ll be able to weed out what you’re really spending your money on. Remember: These items are used, you shouldn’t be paying full-price for an item you can find brand new yourself.
Be cautious of overconsumption
On the other hand, just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Will I wear this?
- Can I see myself using this item?
- Do I have other items in my closet already that go with this item?
While thrifting is an excellent way to purchase new clothes and items, it can easily lead to an overconsumption mindset if you don’t give yourself enough space to shop intentionally and consciously.
Focus on the tag
When it comes to thrifting, the answer often lies in the tag. An older, vintage-looking tag will show the age of the item, but will also show how long it’s stood up against the test of time. Some thrift shops have started to remove tags to prevent resellers from clearing the store, but most Goodwills or Saver’s still keep them on.
Pay attention to care instructions
I’m a firm believer in following the care instructions on a piece of clothing to a T, but when it comes to thrifted clothing, the thought of someone else wearing it throws those inhibitions away. I always wash and dry my thrifted purchases immediately, and typically with warm or hot water to really dispose of any older germs or bacteria. This means I won’t grab something that has very specific care instructions, like being dry-clean only.
Don’t forget accessories and jewelry
Thrift stores are bag and shoe heaven, so don’t focus too much on the clothing and completely skip out on the accessory sections of the stores. Who knows, maybe you’ll find the vintage bag of your dreams. Trust us, it’s bound to happen some day.
Give yourself grace
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose—this is the other golden rule of thrifting. You have to go into it knowing that you might not find what you hoped you would, or you might not find anything at all. You also have to be very patient, because looking through racks and racks of hideous clothing can be draining and time-consuming. But at the end of the day, the thrill of finding that perfect piece for $2 will have made the process worth it.
Some days, the item selection won’t be as good as other days. Walking into a thrift store knowing you may not find something is always a possibility, but being aware of this could prevent overstimulation and keep you at ease. Don’t worry, there’s always another day just on the horizon.