I’ve been thrifting my entire adult life. I don’t remember just how far back my love of “treasure hunting”, as I like to call it, goes but I distinctly remember going in high school to find cool vintage tees. There’s just something about digging through a pile of old, thrown away and forgotten clothing only to find a Dior suit or a pair of Frye boots that just makes me happy.
Throughout the years I have been asked countless times “how do you find the good stuff?”, or “I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying that but it’s really cute” and “can I come thrifting with you?” so I thought it would be a good time to share some of my tried and true tips so that you can have the same ‘luck’ that I do…
- Choose where you want to go.
There are tons of secondhand stores that you’ve probably never heard of…just Google search ‘thrift stores’ and tons will come up. I suggest trying out the smaller, lesser known stores instead of heading to Goodwill; prices and selection tend to be much better.
- Many stores don’t have fitting rooms so plan accordingly.
I try to wear a pair of leggings and a close-fitting top so that I can throw things over to roughly see how they fit. If it’s cold out, I’ll wear layers to stay warm because some stores don’t have the best heat!
This mirror and rack in the back of the store is considered the “fitting area”. You most likely won’t want to be getting naked back here.
- Carry a little backpack or a cross-body purse so that you can have both hands free.
To find the goodies you’ll be digging in the racks (most stores are sorted by color…not by size) so make sure those hands aren’t taken up by lugging a bag around.
- Clean out your car.
You never know when you’re going to find the perfect coffee table (that you weren’t looking for) or you need to buy EVERYTHING in the store. Many places will hold items for 24 hours but I find it easier to just take it with me.
- Pack a tape measure.
That way I always know if things will A. fit in my car and B. fit where I want them to go.
My trusty little tape measure. (My mom taught me this trick)
- Stop by the ATM beforehand.
To cut costs even further some stores only accept cash and some will charge tax or a credit fee on your card. I typically take out $20-60 depending on how many stores I’m heading to or what I’m looking for.
- Go through the racks hanger by hanger.
Or box piece by piece. You get the idea. You can’t tell what an item looks like by seeing a sleeve. A lot of times the goodies are wedged in there.
- Try to see things not how they are but how they could be.
Sounds so deep doesn’t it? Haha but for real, do you like the print on a long skirt but it looks too old-lady? What if you cut it and made a cute mini out of it? That oriental looking muumuu? Add a belt and it’s an amazing dress. That old bridesmaid dress? Add a few pieces of gold chain and viola, a formal dress. And a pair of perfectly worn in mom jeans become those high-waisted cut off shorts you’ve been eyeing at Urban Outfitters. When you’re spending $3 on something you can really go wild with cutting it up. You can see a couple of things I’ve changed up here and here.
- Don’t feel obligated to buy a two-piece set if you only want part of it.
This was a mistake that I used to make all the time because I was too afraid to ask and I ended up with pieces that I just had to re-donate. Some places will only sell it as a set but a lot of stores will let you buy only the item you want, just ask.
- Check for stains, holes, broken zippers, missing buttons, etc.
Some things can’t be fixed, like an ugly, 20-year-old coffee stain, but stitching up a hole in a seam or adding a button (or changing out all of the buttons) are easy fixes. As for stains, always look over the item carefully, they can be easy to miss but can make something completely unwearable. I don’t know how many times I’ve come home super pumped about something only to get it into the natural light and there’s a hideous stain on it…if there’s a window in the store take the item over to it and look it over…many stores aren’t well-lit places.
This stain will most likely never come out of this satin skirt and it’s SUPER noticeable.
This would be an easy fix.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount if something is damaged.
I’ve gotten things handed to me for free because I’ve brought it up.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away from the item.
If you’re going to have to put in a ton of work and the store won’t give you a discount is it really worth buying for $3? Usually my answer is no but that’s always going to be up to you.
- If buying shoes, check the soles.
Over time they tend to break down and fall apart. I’ve worn super cute shoes (that looked like they were perfectly fine) and after about an hour I walked right out of the soles…another time big chunks just started falling off everywhere that I walked. When shopping pick up the shoe, turn it over and bend it. Is it cracking? Falling apart? If the shoes are worth it you can have them re-soled but I usually just put them back.
- Look through all of the sections.
The little boy’s section is perfect for finding a great fitting shrunken blazer and the men’s section is great for finding that perfectly oversized shirt.
- Try everything on.
Vintage sizes can be much different and very deceiving on a hanger.
- Look for things when they aren’t in season.
For example…ugly Christmas sweaters. Most places will put them out all year so you’ll find the better ones when it isn’t holiday season.
- Become friends with the staff or get on their email list.
Many places will have discount days that are totally worth going to…these can be anywhere from 50% off everything to $10 for anything you can stuff into a shopping cart. Be careful if furniture shopping though…some places will mark everything up the week before so that half off isn’t super cheap.
- Give everything a good washing.
Most people clean things before they donate but they can take on a musty, old smell. Be sure to check the tags to see if it’s dry clean only and if it’s something super old and fragile wash on the gentle cycle. You can also get tips on how to clean hats and shoes if you’re worried about cooties and critters (although I’ve never seen anything like that).
- Keep a list of things you’re looking for.
I keep a running list in my phone of all of the things that I’m currently in the market for. Right now I’m looking for flannel, faux fur and a small desk. Just write down what you definitely need and any dimensions that may be important to buying furniture and other items.
- Always remember that just because it’s at a thrift store, it might not be the best price. I’ve seen many pieces of furniture, household items and toys that could definitely be bought new for around the same price, or less, so keep that in mind as you’re shopping.
- Some things that you can thrift but may not think about it:
-Christmas lights (always plug them in to make sure they work)
-Picnic blankets or, in my case, festival blankets
-Pet gates (baby gates)
-the perfect flannel shirt
-furniture ottomans (so easy to cover with new fabric)
-old books for decorating (look for the old Reader’s Digest Condensed Books…they always have great covers)
If you have any questions or a tip you’d like to add, I’d love to hear them! You can email me or leave a comment below.
Happy treasure hunting, friend!