I wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible: Avoiding undergarments and 6 other advanced thrifting methods

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A version of this post originally appeared on Offbeat Families.

One of my very favorite Ebay finds -- this amazing dress was only $9. And yes, that's my not-so-subtle camera remote you see there.
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.

Another great find: these sweaters and skirt were $7 combined, and now I have two different outfits -- not to mention the various items the sweaters can be worn with besides this skirt. WIN!

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.

Comments on I wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible: Avoiding undergarments and 6 other advanced thrifting methods

  1. Thrifting plus-sized clothes is very, very hit or miss, I have occasionally found amazing things (the exact sweater I had pined for in the jjill catalog at 120$ for 7$) but mostly the plus size section (if there even is one) is full of very worn and dated stuff with a dash of very style specific funkiness.

    My friend and I decided this happens because if you’re plus sized and actually find clothes you like that fit you wear them til they’re rags because it’s so hard to find nice things in your size/style (and it’s very likely that you’ll never find a similar item again).

    I still thrift but my focus has shifted more to household items , in fact I’ve made an effort to look at the thrift store first for a lot of things as it’s a fun (to me) way to help reduce environmental impact.

    • Agreed. I gave up on thrift store clothes years ago when I noticed everything in my closet fit me like a bag. I’m a petite XS on top, so you can probably imagine. Maybe it works for people who wear Mediums (?)

      But, like you, I love the household items. I have a really cute collection of mugs. Vases, artificial flowers, anything for the kitchen. My tea kettle is from the goodwill. Sheets, blankets, curtains, artwork, etc. It’s always shocking to me to go into a regular store and see the prices. “People are willing to spent $30 on a tea kettle?!” I think mine was under $5. Anything you need for your house – go to the Goodwill first.

  2. I’m not seeing my number one rule here. PUT CLOTHES IN DRYER as soon as you get home. You don’t want this to happen http://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Bed-Bugs
    If I were renting out a room, I would put this in the contract. All clothes from second-hand stores must go in the dryer on high heat for 15 minutes ASAP. No pillows or upolstered anything. For wood furniture I would hit every square inch with a blow dryer for 5 or 10 seconds.

  3. Almost my entire wardrobe is from one of our local thrift stores and the clothes are a thousand times nicer than anything I could afford otherwise. The thrift store is run by the local women’s safe house as their main source of income and they always have the best stuff. I’ve bought linen Armani pants ($2), a black silk J Crew dress ($1.50), an $89 pair of Banana Republic jeans ($4 with the tags on), and countless other items including a ton of shirts from Banana Republic, Express, New York and CO. and similar stores…

  4. While I *LOVE* thrift stores, I feel the need to give my own 2-cents about one of my former favorite stores.
    I used to go to a Salvation Army thrift store in an affluent area for the reasons listed above. I even got my amazingly perfect huge coffee table there for about $50. I don’t shop there anymore, though, or any Salvation Army because of what I found out about the organization. Salvation Army is one of the worst offenders when it comes to denying the rights of the LGBT community and paying lobbyists to actively work against LGBT rights. If an LGBT individual seeks help at a Salvation Army, they are often either forced to take certain reeducation classes, break up with their same-sex partner, and/or renounce their sexuality in order to receive the help of the SA. In some cases, they are just turned away. There are a lot more offenses to the LGBT community, but those are the main ones. Feel free to look up more.
    So go out and thrift away. But avoid Salvation Army, at least without knowing what your money supports. :/

    • Thanks for bringing this up about the Salvation Army. I don’t shop there for exactly that reason. Goodwill does good work, though–and they’re everywhere. Also, it goes without saying that there are small, independent thrift/consignment shops that have varying “missions,” including none at all–at worst, you’re supporting a local business.

  5. When looking through the pants section and I see something I’m keen to try on, I wrap the waistband around my neck – if the ends meet at the back, it will likely fit. This scored me a pair of pants on my last visit to the local Salvo’s. It won’t always work, but it’s a good quick check if you’re like me who floats between two sizes..

  6. I always look at everything twice (just to make sure). I never ever go in with a plan; cause you never know what amazing treasures they will have. I grab a cart and start my adventure; anything that I like goes into the cart. When I am done with the entire store I find a spot and go through the cart again. This is when the real decision making happens as you WILL notice that that awesome dress you picked up has a huge ass stain on the back. So…………always look twice!!

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