I’m going to share all of my thrift store shopping tips with you so you too can confidently shop at thrift stores like a seasoned professional.
A few years ago if you would have heard someone bragging how they’d just purchased their outfit for a few dollars via a thrift store you would have felt sorry for them thinking they were too poor to go out and buy something new.
Now people are proud to eschew the fast fashion trend in favour of thrifted, consignment or vintage items. It is an environmentally friendly, economically sage, and fiercely original way of dressing yourself that can provide you with high quality timeless pieces.
I truly believe that people of any age can dress very well by shopping secondhand first.
There are four distinct places where you can buy second hand clothing; thrift stores, consignment stores, estate sales and vintage stores. Each of these is environmentally friendly and easy on your pocketbook.
You can also buy secondhand clothing online via Ebay, at garage sales, rummage sales or through online resellers, however I will not be addressing these in this series.
What is a Vintage Store?
Vintage stores often focus on clothing from the 1920’s – Y2K but each store varies in what eras they chose to carry.
Antique stores carry items from prior to the 1920s. Anything that is over 100 years old is considered antique.
What is a Consignment Store?
Consignment stores are resellers of (often) higher end quality pieces that people bring into their store to sell for them.
What is an Estate Sale?
Estate sales are the entire contents of a house put up for sale. Often this is when the owners move, have passed or move into a long term care facility.
What is a Thrift Store?
Thrift stores often support charities or the community and their inventory is supplied via donation. Please note there are some for profit thrift stores that do not support charities and are like any other business, such as Talize or Value Village in Canada or Savers in the US.
For secondhand shopping my personal favourites are vintage or consignment stores. The selection has been curated by someone with a discerning eye for style and quality. You are less likely to have items that are damaged or smell (sometimes that can be and issue when you buy from thrift stores or at estate sales).
Consignment and vintage stores are generally higher priced than estate or thrift stores, but are also less time consuming as the inventory has been preselected with quality in mind.
Through this series I will explain the pros and cons of each of these options and how to incorporate secondhand pieces into your existing wardrobe with style and panache.
To begin we will explore the least expensive of the four, thrift stores.
What you need to know about thrift stores
All thrift stores are not created equal. Some upper class neighbourhoods will have higher end products as items are donated by the general public. Ask around and go online to read customer reviews of the stores. Better yet, visit them yourself to form your own opinion.
Expect to pay 80-90% less than what you would retail. Sometimes even less.
You will need to visit the store often. Inventory changes daily and each item is unique.
You should be prepared to spend a few hours looking through most of the racks at each item. Sizing is often off and things can be disorganized.
Sometimes articles can be damaged or smell. Look over your items carefully. Be prepared to negotiate the price if you see an obvious problem with the item and be prepared to wash, dry clean or stitch/alter you treasures when you bring them home.
An at home remedy for bad thrift store smells for items that can’t be washed is to throw them in the dryer with a wool ball that has a couple of drops of lavender on it. This will ensure any bugs are killed and hopefully get rid of the smell. You can also try lightly spritzing vodka on the piece and allowing it to dry outside. Another option is to put it in a plastic bag and leave it in the freezer for a month. This will also get rid of bugs and help with the smell. Another option is to pop it in a paper bag with your choice of baking soda, lavender, activated charcoal or cat litter in breathable mesh bags. This requires the most amount of time.
Some stores hold weekly sales so ask a sales associate. You can often score items at an additional 50% off but the store will be very busy and hectic that day.
When you go, dress appropriately. Some stores don’t have change rooms, in which case you need to be prepared to try the item on top of what you are wearing.
To properly thrift it requires time and imagination.
You must be prepared to think outside of your usual fashion box. It is a challenge to thrift shop for one specific item. Instead search for unique pieces that will work with your aesthetic, body type and what you currently own. You never know what you are going to find but that is part of the fun.
Points to keep in mind when shopping thrift:
Sometimes the brand will help you estimate the quality of a piece but I no longer trust that as an indication of how well something is made. Instead, look at the seams (are they straight, finished, unravelling), the quality of the fabric (natural fabrics such as silk, cotton, wool or linen are always easier to wear), if it is properly lined, look closely at the details and workmanship that have gone into creating the garment. If it looks cheap it’ll wear cheap. You should never look like you just bought your clothes at a thrift store.
Signs of Wear.
I won’t buy anything that has armpit stains, too much pilling or obvious signs of wear (big holes) that I cannot remove or fix.
I want the piece to fit my body properly. Shoulder seams on my shoulder, cuffs at my wrist. However, simply having an item taken up, or in at the waist is something I can do myself or take to my tailor.
If you find something you really love that only costs you $4 but needs $25 worth of tailoring you need to take that into consideration. Getting to know the prices of your tailor will help you decide what to buy.
Be prepared to walk out with nothing.
This is important. I know it sounds silly but do not be persuaded by your own conscience into believing you must buy something each time you go thrifting. Thrifting and secondhand shopping in general is a quest. You, like Captain Jack Sparrow have set out on an adventure to discover treasures and sometimes there simply aren’t any. Just heaps of unsuitable trashy stuff or “fools gold”. Don’t make the mistake of buying something that is simply “okay”. It needs to fill a gap in your wardrobe or a spot in your heart before you bring it home.
Do not buy something because it is “too cheap to walk away from” either. You will end up having it take up valuable real estate in your closet forever and eventually wind up donating it back to the same thrift store you bought it from. If you wouldn’t buy the piece at a retail store, do not buy the piece at a thrift store.
Tips to help you buy correctly when thrifting
Take inventory of your closet. This will show you any gaps you need to fill.
Look at what colours you currently own and what looks good on you. This helps you choose complimentary colours that will work together with pieces you already own.
Understand your lifestyle and needs. If you work in a corporate environment you may only need one pair of jeans.
Dress for your body type. Play up your strengths by accenting them and accept your areas of weakness and disguise them.
When shopping in thrift stores look for high quality fabric, tailoring and workmanship in colours that compliment your skin tone and shapes and flatter your figure.
Here are a few outfits I have created with some thrift store pieces.
Tweed jacket- Kasper and sequin top Calvin Klein both thrifted. Shoes purchased consignment.
I had been looking for a tweed “Chanel style” blazer for a while and this was perfect.
The colour is one that I wear often so I knew it would work with other pieces in my wardrobe.
When I bought the jacket I used a little shaver or de-piller machine on it and then hung it outside for 2 days to air it out. There were no signs of dirt so I didn’t dry clean it. Dry cleaning too often damages the fabric.
Guess leather skirt – thrifted, Fossil cross body bag – consignment.
A person can’t go wrong with an A-line black skirt in leather or a plain cross body bag in brown leather. Certain items are classics in a wardrobe and these are two of them.
This tweed Ralph Lauren skirt was an item I hesitated over at first. The quality, workmanship, fabric and fit were all perfect but the length was a bit odd, stopping at my ankles. In the end I bought it thinking it would still work with items in my closet because it was such a classic colour and cut and I was right.
Another option would have been to take this to a tailor and have it shortened to midi length. I left it this length because it has very unique detailing in the back.
Shoes – Ruche, Top – Theory thrifted, Skirt & tights – H&M Clutch – consignment store Glasses – Firmoo
Another classic piece is a silk blouse in a neutral colour.
And lest you think that my personal style is too “out there” eccentric or artsy for you I present Lynne, thrifting guru from The Goodwill Fangirl showing a couple of her thrifted classic office appropriate looks.
Lynne is a seasoned pro at thrift store shopping and always manages to put together the nicest outfits that make you say, “I cannot believe she bought that whole outfit at a thrift store for $10.”
The most important thing I can tell you about thrifting is no one should be able to tell you bought your clothes at a thrift store.
You need to use your imagination to see the possibilities of the pieces outside the context of the thrift store environment. It takes some practice. If the first time you don’t do so well, don’t give up. Try again or take a friend to help.
I’m sure you feel confident enough now with my thrift store shopping tips to go out and discovered some treasures of your own.
In the end you might ask yourself why you ever paid retail.
Have you thrifted before? Do you have any additional tips to add to my list?
Next in this series…I’ll tackle Estate Sales.