Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tips for Successful Thrift Shopping

Thrift shopping has always been a big part of this blog, because it's always been a big part of me. Whether I was looking for a more interesting alternative to the neighbor's hand-me-downs in middle school or searching for vintage dresses to alter in college, I've been thrift shopping for one reason or another for most of my life. So you could say that at this point it's become second nature. When I was asked by Propelle to speak at the recent Style Summit, I immediately knew what I would be speaking about- thrift shopping and shopping second hand. Second hand items take up about 85% of my closet- these are items bought on consignment, at thrift stores, or swapped- and more often than not, these second hand items stick around far longer than items bought new, I still wear thrifted clothing that I bought in high school (not so, for the baggy jeans and skate tee's that I preferred new as a teen)! Thrift shopping is budget friendly, environmentally friendly, and a good time in my opinion.

This is a post that I've been meaning to write for a long time per many, many requests, and to be honest the task of putting it all into words was daunting. Or maybe I just made it daunting. Whatever the case, I finally sat down and wrote it, so, without further ado, my tips for thrifting. Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section!

To me, the ideal days of the week to go to a thrift store are Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. If you think about it, people are usually spending their weekends cleaning out their attics, basements, closets, and garages and dropping off their donations on Saturdays or Sundays. So, midweek you're not only competing with fewer people, but the selection will usually be better. Obviously, if you work a regular 9 to 5 job, it can be difficult- or near impossible- to make it to a store mid-week, so I also recommend going early in the mornings. I'm not big on late nights, so I'm usually up and out the door super early on Saturday mornings.

Where? Get Outta Town!
If you live in the city, chances are you've visited many a picked-over Goodwill or Salvation Army within city limits. While these thrift stores aren't completely without reward- they're great if you don't have a lot of free time to devote to thrifting- but you're also competing with college students and high school kids looking for that perfect 80's Night or Halloween costume.

So, where to go? Get out of the city. Rural church and charity shops are not only great places to find actual vintage, but they're typically much cheaper than stores within city limits. You're competing with far fewer people, and those that do shop at these stores most likely won't be looking at that insane 1970's maxi dress.

One of my favorite things to do if I have a little free time while traveling is to find a local thrift store. I did this all the time as an Admissions Counselor, and it always paid off. Plus, you get to meet interesting people! Sometimes.

Size *Doesn't* Matter!
Because women's (and men's) sizing has changed so drastically over the years, sticking to your sizing section alone is pretty pointless. I have thrifted items that span a range of sizes- from size 1 to size 16- and each one fits differently. Look beyond your size and you'll most likely find things you would normally pass right over.

Additionally, look everywhere else too: The men's section is great for vintage Levi's, flannels, button-ups, oversized coats, and grandpa sweaters. Check out the children's section for shrunken jackets, denim vests, school uniform separates (think solid sweaters and pleated skirts), and I've found many an early-nineties mini-dress hiding amid all those pastel Easter frocks.

The same goes for shoes. How many times have you tried on a pair of shoes only to set them back down in the wrong sizing section? Look at them all.

Learn to Recognize Quality!
This goes for quality leather, quality dyes, quality fabrics, and quality cuts. A vintage/ second-hand sweater from Saks is going to have better quality dyes than the same style from Target from five years ago, compare and contrast, and eventually you'll be able to discern a quality piece without even picking it up off the rack. While I'm not necessarily opposed to purchasing Big Box brands new, I skip over them in thrift stores because the shelf life of the garment has usually already expired. But that's just me.

Do you love a specific brand? Learn to recognize the markings of that brand. I personally love vintage Coach and Dooney & Bourke bags, and I know now to look for a specific type of strap and style of clasp when scanning the purses section, which makes it easier to pick out any gems that may be hiding within the chaos.

Thrift shopping is a great way to add higher priced fabrics to your closet that you may not be able to justify purchasing new. Keep an eye out for silk, cashmere, linen, and good quality leather.

Steer Clear of "The Challenge"...
So, I used to have a big problem. I used to buy ridiculous things. I would find something that could be totally awesome (!!!), if only the hem was shorter, the bust was taken in, the sleeves were cut off, and the collar replaced. Yeah, one giant basket of "to be altered" clothing later and I've learned that all that stuff is never going to happen. Let me be clear that I do fully support altering clothing, and I would love to think that I had the extra time or patience to actually alter all those things. But I don't. If you do, more power to you. But I guess what I'm trying to say is: be honest with yourself. If you're not going to alter it, don't buy it. Same goes for reselling things. And for things that are Just-So-Crazy-Wouldn't-It-Be-Funny-If-I-Wore-This-To...


Ask Yourself...
Can you wash it?
Can you fix it?
Will you actually bring it to the dry cleaners?
Is that a surface stain?

Keep a Shopping List...
Keep a running list of items you're hoping to add to your closet. An inspiration folder works great too. Take this list or folder with you when you're out shopping, and keep an eye out for those items. I know it sounds crazy, but there's nothing wrong with putting it out into the universe that your looking for something specific. If anything it will make you more focused when you're shopping.

It Takes Time, Baby.
The perfect, untouched thrift store chock full of vintage bags and dresses doesn't exist. Remember that building up a thrifted wardrobe takes lots of time and patience. I usually go to a thrift store or two every other week or so, and come away with two or three things. If you stick to it and have patience, thrift shopping will pay off.

Thrift shopping is an amazing resource for building up your wardrobe, trying new trends (oxblood, anyone?), and sticking to a reasonable clothing budget. If you stick with quality pieces, your thrifted items will be with you for years to come. Also, it feels pretty great to say whatever amazing article of clothing you're wearing cost a whopping three dollars.

Do you enjoy thrift shopping? Any tips of your own?

ps- East Coast friends, I hope everyone stayed safe throughout Sandy!


☯ZERO STYLE☯ said...

this is an awesome post! as a 9-5er and thrifting obsessive myself, i avoid saturday thrifting at all costs. sunday afternoon or after work thrifting seem to work well for me, as most thrift stores are open til 8 or 9 M-F. rural thrifting was a good tip! i do that myself occasionally, usually with great results. it is interesting how your eye becomes highly trained to detect quality items over the years. my thrifted YSL creepers and scarf are my prized possessions, thanks to my hawkeye!

Michelle | CreatureType.com said...

Such a great post! Thrifting is so much fun. I love the hunt and when it pays off, it's so exciting! I got lucky last week and got 6 lovely silk button-ups--all the same size and brand--presumably from the same stylish old lady. ;) They're in perfect condition, completely on-trend, and were $3 a piece! Loooove

Kara M said...

Great tips! I have just challenged myself to buy nothing new for 6 months. So, I have been getting to know my thrift stores and am loving it. I find The List helps me a lot! I know what I want. I also follow local thrift stores on twitter in order to know when they are having big sales. Saturday I scored a lot of key pieces and it was all 50% off!!

missris said...

Love these tips! A few thrift stores don't have dressing rooms so I always try to wear leggings and something on top that I can try stuff on over. I've also gotten really good at eyeing stuff and knowing when it will or won't fit. It always helps to be prepared!

Laura said...

Wonderful post, Julie! I'll be bookmarking this for sure - I never would have thought of a lot of these tips. Thanks so much! :)


nicola lynde said...

All of these points are so true. I've shopped out of thrift stores for years and although my tastes have changed over time, I can still manage to find pieces that fit into my wardrobe. Now I tend to buy blouses and jacket and the occasional skirt, but steer clear of shoes as they normally aren't comfortable enough to have longevity. I have so many friends who go into a thrift store and get overwhelmed by the thriftyness and end up buying only because of the price and because they are in a thrift store and feel the need to buy something wild. It really is an ability to filter out those items that are fun, but just not suitable. Thanks for sharing!

Mardle Made said...

Great post Julie.....you have basially just described my life! My Husband thrifted his wedding suit, it was AMAZING!!!

What awesome tips, especially for thrifting virgins! I's also add that if you are umm-ing and arr-ing and just can't decide, especially if it's a vintage piece then get it, but only if it's not going to break the bank. You only find vintage pieces once and when it's gone it's gone!

Plus, if you really like something but you think it is a little pricey (but still within reasonable limits) then just think of it as giving to charity rather than spending money on yourself. Easily justifiable then!

Thanks for a great post.



Anonymous said...

Great tips! I've only just started to have a look for second-hand clothes and this is so helpful. Especially the one about heading out of town - I would never have thought about that, but it makes sense :)

Ally said...

My tip: look for Goodwills and Sally Anns (Salvation Army) near hoity-toity neighborhoods.

I had a great one for a while where I found a vintage black cashmere ladies' coat & a Marc Jacobs jacket ($5-$10 each)!

Estate sales & community garage sales, too.

{Ashley} said...

These are great tips, Julie! I was encouraged to thrift from your incredible finds showcased on your blog. You've had some great successes! :)

Angie D said...

When I'm thrifting and looking for something specific, I like to look at the sleeves or hem of an item, that way I don't have to touch EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM. I also like to look at specific details, like a ruffle or button detail to discern overall quality! It's really a timesaver, and even my mom employs this rule ;). Hope it helps! I've found some really great gems at thrift stores (yes, even Goodwill). Hello two dollar plum suede Coach cross body and genuine sixties Ray Ban shades ;)

Kate said...

I have such a tough time with thrifting; I'm always amazed at other people's finds. My biggest problem is that everything seems to be plus sized or a size 2. I wear anywhere from 8-12, which are not at all unusual sizes, but most of what I find in my range is from big box stores.

So I usually stick to housewares. ;]

Melanie Yarbrough said...

You are spot on! My boyfriend and I stopped at a little thrift store on our way back from Portsmouth, NH, and I found a J. Crew coat for $6 and a set of four vintage Tupperware canisters for $1! I want to go back already.

Cynthia Meyers said...

I am an avid thrift shopper, and this list totally helps out! I am always on the look out for a good deal and love all the beauties i can find in a thrift shop. I live in a small college town, so our local thrifts are often full of great quality, high end pieces that college students just dont want anymore! Thanks for the advice for improving my thrifting!

blue roses said...

definitely second all of your points....

in terms of smaller towns outside of cities, look for church bazaars and sales, and definitely look to the local junior league. i have found countless amazing pieces at their consignment shops. this sounds a bit morbid, but, many nursing homes will also have shops affiliated with them where they sell old belongings, particularly jewelry.


Valentina Duracinsky said...

Great post!

Valentina Duracinsky Blog

Sandra Quitzimouche said...

great guide!
i totally agree with the ''to modify'' pile. it's hard to stay focused when things are cheap...

Abbie said...

Thanks for sharing these great tips! I always go for a sale in some shops because it's really worth checking them out.

Anonymous said...

These are GREAT tips! I've been obsessed with thrifting lately, so thanks for these :)

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Klaire Tausa said...

This is really helpful! Thank you! :D

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