Get the most out of your thrifting with these simple tips.
Thrift shopping has always gotten a bad rap. Before it was cool, people thought of thrifting as a last resort for people who couldn’t afford new clothing. Then, it became trendy and got co-opted by hipsters looking for oversized golf sweaters to wear for Instagram posts.
Today, thrifting has been mostly forgotten about, which is a real shame because it’s a fantastic way to shop for clothing. It’s cheaper and more sustainable than buying new, and you can often find high-quality, nearly new clothing at bargain bin prices.
Thrifting is also one of the best ways to build up a diverse wardrobe with unique pieces that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a misconception that thrift stores and websites only have ratty, musty-smelling, ill-fitting button downs and dress pants. There’s much more to the secondhand market — if you know where (and how) to look.
Need proof that thrifting can be stylish? Here are a few of my favorite thrift items styled together (everything but the shoes is secondhand):
I’ve thrifted about half of my wardrobe, so I’ve learned plenty of tips over the years that have allowed me to shop more effectively. Read on for my best advice for getting the most mileage out of your secondhand shopping.
How to Thrift Shop
To get the most out of thrift shopping, you need to know not only what to look for but also how to look. It’s tempting to impulse buy anything that seems like a great deal but resist the urge. After all, you don’t want to buy something and later discover a huge flaw that can’t be fixed.
A general rule of thumb I live by is to only shop for clothing whenever I actively need something. (That goes for new and secondhand clothing). This prevents me from spending wads of cash on pieces that I’ll wear once or twice, throw in my closet for months, and end up donating.
This approach also helps me refine my search. For example, if I need a lined jacket for fall, then I can decide what kind of design and fit I like and search for garments that meet my needs. This way, I don’t have to spend hours hopping from store to store or wading through tens of thousands of listings.
With all this in mind, be sure to determine exactly what you want to get out of thrifting before buying anything, and set some ground rules for yourself to follow. This will save you money and make the experience a lot easier and more enjoyable.
9 Tips for Thrifting
Once you know what you want, it’s time for some strategy. Being tactical about thrifting and doing some research will help you save time and get the best results.
Normally, knowing how to thrift strategically would take weeks or even months of doing it, but I’ll save you some time by sharing my best advice for thrift shopping.
Here are my 9 top tips for successful thrifting:
Familiarize Yourself With Nearby Shops
It’s important to get the lay of the land before you go exploring. With brick-and-mortar thrift stores, the selection varies from shop to shop, so doing a little research before you head out can help you determine where you’re most likely to score.
Generally speaking, thrift stores in wealthier areas will be less picked over and thus tend to have better selections. However, you’ll have more luck if you plan to hit up a few stores at a time.
Go to Both Chains and Local Stores
Each type of thrift store has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to be aware of these in advance.
Chains like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Savers have spottier selections, but you’re more likely to find extreme bargains. Local thrift stores have curated selections and higher-quality (i.e., not smelly) items, but they’re more expensive and are often much busier than chains.
Browse Online Thrifting Platforms
Thrifting in person obviously has its benefits, but don’t overlook online thrift shops. While you can’t try before you buy, you have a much wider selection to choose from, and you can even find pieces from higher-end brands that you’d never find in a local store.
Know Your Measurements
There are no standards for clothing sizes, which is why it’s vital to know your garment measurements when thrift shopping online. It’s easy enough to do — simply measure your best-fitting items in each category.
For tops, this means taking chest (pit-to-pit), length, and sleeve measurements at a minimum. For bottoms, make sure you know your waist, inseam, and rise measurements.
It’s key that you measure your garments and not your body. That’s because most sellers online will have the measurements listed in the item description or shown in the photos, and you want to go off your own garments to avoid apples and oranges comparisons.
Know Your Fits
It’s easy to tell when an item of clothing doesn’t fit well, but it’s a little trickier to determine exactly how well a garment needs to fit.
That’s why it’s important to know what fit specifications you have. For example, if you carry weight in your stomach, you’ll want to look for shirts that are more relaxed (but not too loose).
If you plan to shop online, read up on different types of fits (e.g., slim fit vs. classic fit), so you know roughly what you’re getting into.
It also helps to know about alterations so you can determine whether a trip to the tailor can fix a subpar fit or whether it’s a lost cause.
Familiarize Yourself With Fabrics
If you buy clothing regularly, you owe it to yourself to develop a deeper understanding of fabric. Understanding fabric weight and drape can help you look at garments more analytically and decide whether they’re right for you (and whether they’ll last).
Fabric knowledge is particularly helpful for making educated guesses about fit when thrifting online. Even if someone’s modeling the item in the photos, they probably don’t have the same body type as you, so they’re not that useful.
Instead, critically examine the item and compare it to similar pieces you have, and you’ll eventually develop an eye for what fits you and what doesn’t.
Before you buy a garment, inspect it closely and thoroughly. If you’re shopping in person, make sure to look all over for any stains, rips, tears, or other notable flaws. Be sure to check in spots you wouldn’t normally think of (like the insides of pockets or sleeves).
If you’re shopping online, examine the photos and read the seller’s description to catch any flaws. This is a little harder to do, so when in doubt, message the seller to check an item’s condition.
Narrow Your Search if You Want Vintage
Today, most thrift stores carry a mix of clothing from about every decade from the 1960s onward. That’s great if you want variety, but it’s less than ideal if you’re after specific types of clothing.
Vintage and heritage items (think 1980s and earlier) are a little harder to find in good condition, especially if you’re looking for more sought-after items like outerwear or dress shoes. Your best bet is to cast the widest net by shopping in person and online.
The ever-changing nature of the secondhand market is a blessing and a curse. There are always new clothes coming in, but there’s also no guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for at any given time.
Successful thrifting requires a lot of patience and perseverance, especially if you’re looking for specific items. Chances are you’ll find what you’re after sooner or later — but it might be much later than sooner. You might go weeks without finding anything and then stumble on the perfect garment out of nowhere.