I love me some thrift stores! I didn’t always because if they existed when I was a kid growing up in Southwest Louisiana, I didn’t know about them. But by the time I started college in 1991, it was the IN thing to do for Generation X. Think Reality Bites and Singles and that grunge look. Outfits could be put together cheaply and had to be. Though our college tuition and fees were nominal compared to today’s costs, our student loan debts were capped. You literally couldn’t borrow too much. For a senior in college, for instance, Stafford loans were capped at $5500 for the whole year. There was, too, a lifetime cap on the total amount of student loans you could take out. So there was a lot of economizing. I knew of one student who couldn’t afford an apartment or dorm, so he slept in the theatre and music department’s piano loft and took showers in the rec center. And for new (or different) clothes, unless you were upper middle class and above, there were thrift shops.
I’ve discovered some of my all time favorite vintage pieces in thrift shoes- a band jacket, a coat and tails jacket, a pair of bowling shoes, and this beauty- a blue velvet blazer:
These days, I get MOST of my clothes from thrift shops. Why? Why not? I live close-ish to the largest bricks and mortar thrift store in the country. (ThredUp makes the claim for THE largest thrift store, but it’s an online deal).
The below pic is just a small fraction of the jeans available at my local mega thrift store.
Below is one of my finds at said thrift store- a J. Crew striped miniskirt. I’ve seen this retail for $200 and there are currently numerous listings of this exact skirt on Poshmark in a range from $10-$60. Not only does the thrift store have it beat for being able to try it on and see if it fits (a good thing in the case of J. Crew because there’s some egregious vanity sizing with this brand), but I didn’t buy it for $5.99. No, I got this skirt for $2.99 because I purchased it on the store’s 50% off day.
I’m so eat up with buying clothes at thrift shops, I even published an article entitled “5 Reasons to Buy Resale Clothing” back in 2012.
But I know thrifting is not for everyone. If I can, I like to save money on the things I buy. More often than not, I do. But for non-veteran thrifters, it can be daunting. Or maybe they just don’t want to buy second hand clothing. But clothes aren’t the only thing to buy. So as a thrifter for 20+ years and on this Thrift Store Day, I’ll give some tips on how to shop, where to shop, and why to shop.
What I like to do is track upcoming clothing trends. An google search for 2017 Spring/Summer clothing trends will usually pop up at least three slideshows of what’s on the fashion trend horizon. Even early in the year, you can get a head start on trends because Fall/Winter lines are so instrumental to clothing lines, they often do their shows well in advance of the actual season.
For instance, plaid has become a growing trend and will be big. As Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harpers Bazaar, Stylecaster, and French Vogue all show that plaids, checks, tartans- whatever you want to call them- will be in. Another in thing- SILVER. So, when these fashion trend forecasts come out, I head to my favorite thrift stores and actively look. I’m seldom disappointed. I’ve been able to pick up quite a few plaid pieces, including some gingham, which I already have been wearing ahead of the coming trend. Silver, too, especially since my older daughter has the coloring to pull it off well. If I can’t find whatever trend I’m hoping to get a head start on at a local bricks and mortar thrift store- I’ll hit up ThredUp. I got a tuxedo jacket and a pair of silver boots from them for those two upcoming trends.
If you are cool with buying clothing, some stores are better than others. For instance, Goodwill stores receive and process all their donations where they are located. This means that if you are in a small town, like I am, it’s possible you just bought your neighbor’s sweater and the next time they see you, they might say something. Salvation Army, on the other hand, moves their donations around. So someone might donate something 60 miles away and it shows up in your local shop after it’s been processed. Some thrift stores have no clothing at all or so little selection, it’s not worth it.
Here are the five reasons I listed in my article:
1- Resale clothing is less expensive.
2- Used clothing is green.
3- Resale pieces can last longer.
4- Limited resale selection can get you out of fashion ruts.
5- Used clothing is more likely to benefit local businesses and individuals.
Where I really get a thrill from thrifting is in the accessories. I can’t tell you how many vintage scarves and costume jewelry pieces I’ve been able to find in thrift shops. For instance, these two beauties:
And these brooches are just some costume jewelry pieces I’ve found at a charity shop. Though the individual pieces are cheaper at an auction, sometimes the jewelry is just too special to pass up despite a higher price. I always check for signatures and sometimes bring my eye loupe, too. You’d be amazed what can be had for cheap.
I’m also able to score some sweet purses. I don’t like expensive, showy purses, but tend toward filling out my wardrobe with a rainbow-colored selection so that I’m always able to put outfits together fully without feeling like something is missing.
Belts. Belts are surprisingly expensive. But at a thrift store, they are cheap.
Shoes. Don’t ask me why, but my mega-store has a good selection of barely worn shoes. I’ve never been disappointed with a pair. This may be hit or miss, depending on what you have available in your area. I scored with these over the thigh (or fold down) blue suede boots:
I have been able to fill out my selection of plates, bowls, cups, glassware, serve ware, and silverware at thrift stores. It made starting up my food blog and all the food photography way cheaper. College kids and first home people really should look into heading to the thrift store first because sometimes you can get an entire set of china for 8 for less than $30.
And kitchen appliances have their own trends. Juicing was big back in the mid-1990s and then fell out of favor. When it became popular again, I considered buying a new one, but I checked out the charity shops. Sure enough, there was one for $5. Would it work? Maybe. Maybe not. It was worth the gamble to try it rather pay 10X+ on something new. Sure enough, it worked and I’ve made many sorbets with this very old, but inexpensive kitchen appliance.
Just check this out. No need to buy retail.
I often score with this. The dresser we use as a dining room buffet or sideboard I got for $50. I recently updated this same room with a set of wood and black leather chairs for $40. My son’s bedroom furniture was thrifted, as well as my younger daughter’s dresser. In the master bedroom sits a cream silk couch thrifted for $50.
The key here is to learn what thrift stores have what. The above-mentioned mega thrift store? They really lack in the furniture department AND what they do have is, IMO, overpriced. In general, college towns have a better selection of furniture than non-college towns. For instance, the Salvation Army store in my town has the best selection of furniture, while the one only 10 miles away is lacking. So, it’s a matter of scoping out what’s available.
How to power thrift:
Go with a plan.
I always make a list of things I’m in need of. For instance, I rarely wear bras, but have become a shelf-bra camisole wearer. Laundering often, sometimes these break down and I have to get a new one. So if I’m in need, it goes on the list. If I want to be on trend, then I might have some things in mind to look for.
Don’t get overstimulated.
My mega thrift store can get busy fast. So there are a lot of bodies and a lot of movement and when you’re power thrifting for an entire season for yourself (and, for me, two daughters), it can be overstimulating. To complicate matters, this particular thrift store is very bright and ONLY plays Christian music. And not good Christian music. So I tend to go in with my phone and headphones, plug in, and play one of my playlists. It always makes things go better.
Again, my mega charity shop gets busy on their 50% discount days. But if I’m there when they open, I’m usually out with all my shopping done before it gets too crowded and any kids in tow get too rowdy. Seriously, the last can be an issue, especially in the summer.
When to go:
First, scope out charity shops when they are not busy. If you happen on one during their 50% off day, it’s not only going to be overwhelming, you may not be able to assess what that store is good for.
Then, take advantage of discount days if you can. In my area, Wednesdays are usually the 50% off days, but other days offer discounts, too. For instance, Salvation Army has certain tag sales in which a specific color is marked down for that day. Others do teacher, veteran, or student discounts. It’s worth it to look into it.
Seasonally, I’ve noticed that thrift store of full to the brim from late August through most of September. This makes sense. The garage sale season is winding down and whatever didn’t sell gets donated.
Where to go:
As of this post, there are 12,352 charity thrift stores listed on The Thrift Shopper. Whoa! That’s a lot! This easy guide lets you search by zip code or town name and state and not only tells you where these shops are located, but their hours. They also provide ratings for selection, pricing, organization, customer service, and cleanliness. This is nice to know. A store might be great on everything, but customer service and you’ll get frustrated standing in line waiting to check out for longer than you did shopping.
I’m a digger, gardener, and dirt doesn’t bother me, but for some people, it’s an issue. You may want to know if that thrift store across town is dirty. This site also allows people to leave reviews which are helpful if you’re in a new place and want to check out if it’s worth your time.
I think that about covers it for Thrift Store day. Do you thrift? If so, is there anything I haven’t covered that will help others to get their thrift store on? Let me know in the comments.