I’ve introduced quite a few people to thrifting. Not everyone has fallen in love with thrifting like I have, but that’s ok. I’ll be the first to admit thrift stores aren’t for everyone. However, some people are so overwhelmed by thrift stores that they can’t take it, and just assume that thrifting isn’t for them. To prevent that from happening, I’ve put together ten thrifting tips for the thrift store newb.*
Tip 1: Go with some ideas in mind.
It might sound strange, but going to a thrift store without any idea of what you’re looking for can lead to being completely overwhelmed. Even the smaller thrift stores are often chock full of racks upon racks of clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. And it can be made worse if they store you’re at is compeletly chaotic (which isn’t uncommon). So if you know you’re looking for some specific items or looks, it can give you purpose when you start digging in. You might not find what you’re looking for, but you may find other gems while you’re looking. I have a Pinterest board specifically for ideas of things I’d like to find when thrifting.
Tip 2: Don’t go expecting a clean, retail-like environment with a sales-person to help you dig.
Clean thrift stores do exist (hello, Savers!), as do helpful thrift store employees, but prepare yourself for a grimy store with employees that hover around the checkout area. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, but it might be harder to find someone. Don’t expect that person to be willing or able to help you scour racks for the perfect jean jacket for your DIY, or a graphic tee that exactly matches the one you pinned… that’s not going to happen anywhere, and it’s very likely that the employees don’t know the vast inventory all that well. But if you’re looking for a leather skirt, feel free to ask where one might be hanging out.
It’s very likely you’ll leave the store feeling like you need a shower. That’s ok! Bring anti-bacterial hand gel with you, wash your hands before you eat anything, and don’t plan on going anywhere fancy right after a trip out thrifting. While most things that stores put out are clean, sometimes you’ll find something that’s dusty, dirty, or obviously wasn’t washed well before it was donated. If you pick something up and it’s especially grimy (hey, it happens), and that’s a a deal-breaker for you in terms of trying it on or buying it, put it back and anti-bacterial up right there. It’s no biggie.
Tip 3: Forget sizes, departments, and everything you’ve “learned” about shopping.
It sounds weird, but the second you let go of the fact that at a certain retail store, you’re a set size, the easier it gets to shop. And when you add the fact that you can browse the men’s section and the kids’ sections just as easily as the women’s sections, you’ll open up a whole new world. If you see something you like grab it to try on, even if you think it might not fit. It might be totally wrong for you, but let’s face it, finding clothing anywhere that you can just buy without trying on, that then fits perfectly, is nearly impossible to find. What’s more? Often times things get misplaced in incorrect sections. So you might find a great pair of women’s jeans stuck in the men’s jeans section. Or, if you’re smaller, you may be able to fit into a boy’s jacket or top. Ignoring all of the areas of a thrift store, and shopping only in what you perceive to be “your size” may cause you to miss out on some great finds.
Tip 4: Dress comfortably and in layers you can easily try stuff on over.
Not all thrift stores have fitting rooms, but every thrift store I’ve ever been in has a mirror. Sometimes, that means removing a couple layers and trying on stuff over what you’ve got on. This is also handy if the store your shopping in has just a couple fitting rooms, or requires a key to get in. You can grab a mirror and quickly try on things like coats, sweaters, dresses, tops, and skirts over leggings and a tank top while you wait for a fitting room. If you’re on a mission to find jeans or pants, a maxi skirt and opaque tights can allow you to try those items on without flashing everyone your day-of-the-week undies.
Tip 5: Inspect everything you intend to buy.
Nothing’s worse than getting home with a new purchase only to find it’s stained, torn, or missing buttons. I tried on a great jacket during my last trip to Savers, only to discover that every single button on it was missing… even the ones on the sleeves! Replacing buttons isn’t that big of a deal, but it wasn’t worth it to me to buy the jacket and then pay to have it done (it was too heavy of a jacket for me to do it myself). I’ve also discovered stains and holes in purchases after bringing them home, and in some cases have sent those items right back into the thrift store world, having wasted the money to get them and not being willing or able to repair them. So make sure you take a few minutes–either while you’re browsing, while you’re trying on, or before your check out–to really look at every piece you’re planning to buy. Inspect it for damage, like holes or broken zippers, stains, missing buttons, or even alterations. All of that can affect whether or not you’ll wear an item once you bring it home, and you want to spot it before you spend the money.
Tip 6: Find a good dry cleaners and use them.
I used to be the kind of person who wouldn’t buy anything if it was dry clean only. Even at regular stores, and even if I loved it, if that tag said “Dry Clean Only” that item went back on the rack. Dry cleaning was too expensive and too inconvenient for me. That changed when I took stuff to CD One Price Cleaners the first time, and I now don’t worry about dry clean only items at all. I know that I can thrift something on a Sunday, swing by the cleaners Monday on lunch, and be able to pick my order up Tuesday after work (or sometimes, even Tuesday on lunch). It’s easy, and because it’s all the same price, I know what I’m paying before I walk in the door. So seriously, find yourself a dry cleaners you love and don’t be afraid of buying items that need a little extra TLC. You’ll find it opens a lot of doors up for you in terms of what you can buy (hint: pretty much everything).
Tip 7: Have your phone at the ready to research.
It sounds kind of silly, but sometimes, it’s hard to determine whether-or-not an item is a good deal or not. Having a smartphone that you can use to do a little research before buying something can really help. Whether it be figuring out whether a brand is worth buying, or something you can find at Wal-Mart for not much more, or quickly trying to see if the bag you’ve added to your cart is real or not, having the ability to know if it’s worth spending the money is great. I’ve definitely discovered some fantastic finds with the help of Google, right there in the store, and have also saved myself the heartbreak (for lack of a better term) of discovering an item I paid more for was a fake. Use your phone while you shop, and don’t be ashamed of it!
Tip 8: If you think you might want it, grab it.
Even if you decide to put it back, if you don’t grab it while it’s in front of you, chances are someone else will. Then whatever it was will likely be gone forever. So if it strikes your fancy, toss it in your cart. You can always put it back if you decide you don’t want it when it comes time to check out. But don’t have thrifter’s remorse about the “one that got away” because you didn’t put it in your cart when you first saw it. Trust me, it’ll always end up being that “perfect” thing that you were looking for, because you’ll have idealized it in your mind when you realized it wasn’t there anymore.
Tip 9: Be polite to other thrifters.
This should go without saying, but I always seem to run into one oblivious thrifter while I’m out. You know, the person who blocks an entire aisle with their cart and doesn’t move it with them as they make their way down said aisle. Or someone who’s on their phone and half-browsing, but more just standing in the way talking about Jen’s latest fling with some guy she met in Aruba. Or the person who thinks someone else’s cart is fair game to dig through if they step away from it for a second. You get the idea (and likely know that these kinds of shoppers exist everywhere, not just in thrift stores). If you’re out thrifting, don’t block aisles, don’t be oblivious to other shoppers, don’t dig through carts that aren’t yours, and say things like “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”. It makes the experience more pleasant for everyone.
Tip 10: Go when you have time to go.
Thrifting is time-consuming. While it might be easy to run into Kohl’s or Forever21, grab something off the rack, try it on later, and return it if it doesn’t fit, there are very few thrift stores that allow you to return items. It’s not that easy to run into a thrift store, grab something, and go. You need time to find what you’re looking for (or even what you’re not looking for, because there are always items that jump out at you), time to try on, time to inspect an item to make sure it’s not damaged, and time to hit all areas of the store. So go when you have at least two hours to spare, and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the store while you shop. Bring a bottle of water, or a latte, maybe a snack if you think you’ll need it, and, uh, dig in.
Bonus Tip: Don’t just make one trip around the store… take at least two laps.
Often times, thrift store inventory is turning around as you shop. It might be new items going out, or items that were on fitting room racks getting put away, or even items other customers had in their carts and decided to put back, but one lap around a store is never enough. If you’re there, you’re there, and you might as well take the time to do a second (or third… or fourth) round. You never know what you might find has been put out or put back, and some of my best finds have been things I discovered on second or third laps.
*I’ll note that yes, I realize that some people just won’t take to thrifting… and that’s perfectly ok! It’s not for everyone. But I do think everyone should give it a try before immediately wrinkling their nose at it. You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised.