A version of this post originally appeared on Offbeat Families.
I’ll go ahead and admit it: I love a good bargain.
I think most people do, but I take it a step further. I scour the internet for Ebay stores and vintage shops that have great clothing at decent (we’re talking $12.99 or less, minus shipping) prices. I love Internet window shopping, but there’s no way I’m going to pay anything over $15 for a piece of clothing unless it’s really fucking awesome and unique, or I have somewhere fancy to be.
Enter: thrift stores, otherwise known as my home away from home.
If you’re not sure where your local shops are, ThriftShopper might be your new best friend. Since I’m something of a seasoned pro (I’d say at this point, around 85% of my clothing was thrifted), here are a few tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up:
1. Be mindful of your body
It’s never a good idea to go into thrifty shopping without knowing your size and measurements — this is especially important if you’re shopping vintage or online. I would be mortified if I admitted to you how many items of clothing I spent money on assuming they’d fit because they all were sized “S”, only to discover that not all smalls are created equal. I found that it’s quite helpful to take a friend/partner/spouse along — someone who has known you for a while, and can help you figure out what might and might not work.
2. Have a developed sense of personal style
This doesn’t mean you have to be a thrifty fashionista, but going into a thrift store without any idea what kind of clothing you like or what is flattering on your figure is a major mistake. If you’re not into bold prints and crazy patterns, don’t buy them on a whim — stick with what you like. However, if you are trying to change up your style a little and have extra cash to spend, thrift stores could be a great and inexpensive way to test new looks before committing to higher dollar items.
3. Be thorough in your searching
Pay attention to what you’re buying! It sucks to snag a dress that’s super cute and perfect for summer, only to discover that there’s a huge stain on the back that you didn’t notice the first time. For every one awesome person who donates his or her clothing while it’s still in good shape, there are ten that toss every item that has a hole or some kind of damage in the “to donate” pile. Most of these can be fixed, if you’re inclined to do so. If not, make sure you review each item before buying, as many thrift stores have a zero return policy.
4. Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap
It is SO incredibly tempting to waltz into a thrift store and drop $30 because it gets you 20 items — and yes, you can totally get 20 items for $30 at just about any thrift store. Whether or not these are GOOD items is an entirely different question. Sure, that faded green shirt with vague armpit stains was cute back in the day, but now? There’s no way you’re ever going to put that on your body, so don’t buy it in the first place. Just remember: it’s ok if you spend forty minutes in a store and leave with nothing — there’s always new stuff coming next week.
5. Either have a plan, or don’t have one at all
Within the group of people I know who love thrifting, there are two camps: those who plan what kind of items they’re looking for ahead of time and will leave if they don’t find them, and those who go in without any clue what they’re going to leave with. I almost always fall into the latter camp — I’ve found I feel a lot better about my thrifting adventures if I don’t have pressure to find the perfect black shirt, or pick up a pair of teal shoes from the ’80s. Since you can’t predict what will and won’t be there ahead of time, if you’re not the type of person who typically plans shopping excursions out, definitely don’t turn into one while at a thrift store.
6. What not to get: professional and personal attire
There are two types of clothing that I wouldn’t recommend getting from a thrift store unless it’s a really nice one: any type of undergarment, and anything you’d need to wear to a professional meeting — if your job is more traditional. When not editing Offbeat Mama, I photograph weddings for a living, so luckily I can wear pretty much whatever I damn well please.
I’ve never seen quality professional attire at any thrift shop — occasionally there’s a nice jacket or pair of pants, but those are few and far between. If you can get by with regular nice clothing for the most part, I’d save up and spend a few dollars on the occasional fancy item elsewhere. And while I’ve never done it, just the idea of buying someone’s used underwear or bras from a thrift shop totally gives me the hibbie jibbies — I think some items are worth the extra $5 or $10 you’d have to spend at Target or something like that.
7. If you don’t try it on, be prepared for it to look weird
I have a thing about thrift store clothing — I very rarely try it on before I take it home and wash it (I also struggle with buying denim at thrift shops for this reason — how can you NOT try on jeans before you buy them?). At this point, I can usually look at an item and gauge whether or not it will work for me. I know what colors I like, what fits work best on my frame, and the general style and image I’m going for. However, I have totally had a few instances in which I thought something might look ok, bought it, tried it on after washing, and hated it. In these instances, I usually give the item to someone who it works for or re-donate it. If you have a small budget and can’t afford to give away your recently thrifted items, I suggest sucking it up and trying on the clothing before you leave the store.
Alright, advanced thrifters: SHARE YOUR TIPS.