Erica Gordon is the author of Aren’t You Glad You Read This? The Complete How-To Guide for Singles with a History of Failed Relationships Who Want their Next Relationship to Succeed, available for only $4.99 on Amazon and on iBooks here.
Thrift store shopping is something I’ve always loved to do as a hobby – even before it was cool. I love the hunt, and I find that sifting through racks and exploring the store is a relaxing, enjoyable (and sometimes thrilling!) pastime. It’s exciting when I find something great, and sometimes I’ll find something so great that I can’t believe that what I’m holding is only $6.99. I love having a diverse wardrobe full of awesome finds that guarantee I won’t be wearing the same outfit as my besties – I’ll be wearing one-of-a-kind outfits they wish they had, instead. Vintage clothes are often very well-made with fine fabrics and lots of attention to detail, and they’re often incredibly stylish if they happen to be from a decade that’s back in style today. At Value Village, Goodwill or at your local thrift shop, you can score fabulous designer pieces on the cheap and end up looking like a million bucks after spending less than $20 on an outfit.
Every thrift store has hidden gems waiting to be found that will leave you with so many “OMG I love your outfit! Where did you get that skirt?” comments that your shopping mall days will be over. I’ve found Chanel scarves, funky leather jackets, vintage band t-shirts, beautiful pearl necklaces, designer blouses, stylish black cocktail dresses and plenty more to brag about. I wasn’t ‘just lucky’ if that’s what you’re thinking. There’s a strategy to thrift store shopping that can’t be taught … oh, wait. It can totally be taught. Let’s begin:
1. Store location matters and when you shop matters, too
It’s a must to shop at the thrift stores located in affluent neighborhoods. Who has the best clothes? Those guys. They’ll donate often, especially during the ‘spring cleaning’ time of the year and during seasonal cross-overs. You need to check back often, because next week there will be a ton of newly donated pieces on the racks.
As far as when to shop goes, ask a manager when their next sale day is, because plenty of thrift stores have 50% off days quite often – and then it really will be a “start the car!” kind of day. You’ll also want to ask managers when they typically restock and put newly-donated items on the racks so that you can get there first.
Another tip? Some thrift stores offer a discount card if you donate that day. My local Value Village gives me a 30% discount on anything I buy if I bring in a few bags of old clothes.
Giving back to my community and getting 30% off all of my thrift store finds? Yes please!
2. Shop the look
Always stay in-the-know with regards to what’s trending so that you can seek out those specific items at the thrift store. It’s much more likely you’ll find something awesome if you go knowing what you’re looking for. When swede skirts were trending, I found a bunch of those for under $6 each. When chambray button-downs were in, I got about 4 fantastic ones in great condition for about $5 each. Vests are back in now, so I’m buying soft, vintage leather jackets and cutting the sleeves off – and cutting the sleeves off flowy, knit cardigans. Is everyone wearing silk scarves as chokers? How about high heels with studded embellishments or swede ankle booties? Leather skirts? The thrift store has lots of those items, too. I especially recommend taking a look at the shoes section, where you’ll find designer shoes that retail for over $200 being sold for less than $10.
Fashion statements tend to repeat themselves over the decades, so you’ll likely find a vintage vest or a floral blouse that is a decade old yet totally fashionable and exactly like the ones in the malls right now.
3. Look for brand name designers, quality fabrics and like-new condition
You should never buy something only because you checked the label and it’s an expensive brand. You should read the tags to see what type of fabric the piece is and feel the fabric as well. Is it soft and smooth? Or is it rough and pilled? Pay attention, people. Look for linen, leather, cotton, silk and chiffon. Avoid polyester, nylon and pleather.
You’ll be amazed at what you can find. Some people may be donating because they needed to clean out their closet and their local consignment store wasn’t taking items at that time. Others are actually pressured to donate their clothing by a pushy spouse. But, remember that there are two types of people who donate clothes to thrift stores: people who take horrible care of their clothes, smoke, have pets, leave their clothes on the floor, etc. Then, there’s the people who are from clean, pet-free homes and have always taken fantastic care of their clothes by always hanging their items to dry and never leaving their clothing on the floor. When you’re at a thrift shop, you’re going to want to look for pieces that have been well taken care of and are in great condition. Check for stains, smells, rips and holes to figure out how the item in question was cared for.
Moderate pilling can be fixed by drawing a clean razor down in the direction of the fabric’s weave, and small stains can be embraced by covering them with fabric dye and changing up the look of your shirt. Analyze the piece and if you think the fabric is in such poor quality that it can’t be salvaged, put it back.
4. Don’t overlook a piece that with a few modifications, has countless possibilities
That $7 vintage button-down floral dress can be worn open as a vest over a t-shirt and jeans, or belted as a dress with high heels in the summer time. Those $4 mom jeans can be cut into cute high-waisted shorts and hand-embellished with a few silver studs. Oversized blouses can be belted and worn as dresses, and big sweaters can be cut into cute crop sweaters. Those $5 plaid button-downs can be tucked into skirts or worn with jeans, and you can embellish the pockets with lace, leather, studs or beads. The plain tan or worn-out white leather clutch on the rack for $8 can be painted a bright shade to add a fun pop of colour to your outfit, creating a very mod and fashionable look.
Vintage little black dresses in cute styles can be worn again and again, dressed up or dressed down. That soft, second-hand white t-shirt can be turned into a fashion statement by using colored dye and ice to ice-dye and create a unique, cool pattern. Suddenly, that $3 white t-shirt looks like you bought it at the mall for $50. (You can ice-dye white sweaters, too.)
One of the most basic and most versatile items in the thrift shop is the vintage tee. I get so many compliments on my one-of-a-kind vintage tees, and people are convinced I paid $100 for it on some overpriced online vintage-inspired store like Nasty Gal.
In the winter, I wear my vintage Bob Dylan t-shirt loose over top of a thin black long-sleeved shirt. In the summer, I tie it in a knot to make it a crop top and wear it with shorts. I have plenty of other cool vintage tees from thrift stores (from Converse tees to retro Nike tees to Backstreet Boys tees) and I often modify them by distressing them, or my personal favourite trick: cut a crew neck tee into a v-neck, then thread a leather shoelace through it in a criss-cross pattern to create that trendy lace-up look.
5. Buy lots of vintage jewelry
Thrift stores have an impressive selection of jewelry, and the prices are always very low. Most pieces are under $4 but I did spend $9 only once, on a beautiful vintage pearl necklace made with real pearls.
Eclectic, cool vintage earrings are everywhere for $3 and under, and lots of fun statement necklaces that will make your wardrobe a lot more fun.
Vintage watches are in style right now, too, and the thrift shop has plenty of those. I recently bought two awesome vintage watches that were being kept in my local thrift shop’s display case. One is a cool black and gold vintage watch, and the black leather strap is still in great condition – just a little softened from wear (no complaints here!) The other is a gold Wittnauer convertible watch that looks more like a gold bracelet than a watch. It came with 6 different coloured rings so it will always match my outfit and everyone always wants to know where it’s from. These watches were priced at about $20 each, but luckily, I bought them when Value Village was having a 50% off day. Photos of my finds below:
Tons of bloggers document their thrift store finds. From authentic Hermes scarves to Louboutin pumps, many fashionistas find themselves being able to afford to dress like a celeb on a normal-person’s salary!
What was your best thrift store find? Let me know in the comments below!