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!