So you want to go thrifting, but you’re not sure where to start. What stores should you visit? How do you find anything good — and even if you do, how do you try it on?
Worry not, young thrifting padawan. I have answers to all of these questions and more.
But first, let’s talk about what thrifting is and isn’t.
Thrift vs. Vintage
Thrift shops and vintage shops are not the same thing. Vintage shops feature a lovingly curated array of clothing from specific style periods. Often, the clothes you find in a vintage store have been carefully restored, and you will likely see this reflected in the price. This is not to knock vintage shops — I love buying vintage when it suits my needs, but I mostly prefer thrift shops.
Thrift shops are clothing resale stores. They either purchase or receive donations of previously owned clothing and resell that clothing as-is (sometimes without washing it). Thrift shops almost always have lower prices than vintage stores, although you may find some vintage items mixed in with everything else. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and most consignment stores would be considered thrift shops.
Thrift shops are typically disorganized, with racks of clothing kind of jumbled together in general groupings like “Dresses” and “Women’s Jeans”. They usually sell pre-owned furniture and bric-a-brac (decorative items and knick knacks) too.
Get ready to dig through these racks with abandon — but not quite yet. First, let’s talk about what you’ll wear to go thrifting.
What to Wear When Thrifting
Not all thrift shops have dressing rooms, and it’s a good idea to dress with that in mind. My favorite thrift shop doesn’t have a dressing room, but I haven’t let that stop me from trying on everything from jeans to dresses to sweaters. I just wear strategic layers.
Try layering a simple tank top under whatever shirt or sweater you plan to wear out shopping. That way, you don’t have to try to slip that slinky dress over the cable knit sweater you’re wearing to see if it fits. Also, wear leggings if possible, so you can easily and modestly try on skirts, pants, and dresses.
So what happens if you forgot to wear leggings?
I live near a thrift shop and I often pop in on a whim — which means I’m not strategically dressed to try things on. That’s okay. There’s a workaround.
- First, go to the skirt section and grab the most enormous, stretchy-waisted skirt you can find
- Put that bad boy on over whatever you’re wearing.
- Then switch pants underneath it without fear.
Now you can try on those amazing sequined booty shorts you were eyeing, plus any other pants that catch your eye. How about that?
The Best Deals By Season
This may seem like common sense to a lot of readers, but I promise that it’s easy to forget when you walk into a brick and mortar thrift store: the best deals will be on clothes you can’t wear right now.
What do I mean by that? I mean that summer is the best time to buy cheap winter coats, scarves, and boots. And winter is a great time to snag a deal on shorts and sandals.
Most people go shopping with the mindset that what they buy can be used immediately — and that’s not a bad way to approach thrifting if that’s how you like to shop. HOWEVER, as someone who is obsessed with Fall Fashion, I can tell you that the demand for chunky knit sweaters is much higher in mid-September than it is in May. And the thrift shop owners know this too. They’ll price sweaters higher during fall and winter, and price them to move during the hot summer months.
Another season to keep in mind is Spring Cleaning season. As the weather slowly warms up, most people will feel compelled to do a big Spring Cleaning purge and get rid of their unused clothes. Thus, the springtime months are an excellent time to thrift for everything from clothes to furniture.
Overcoming the Overwhelming Options
When I ask my friends why they don’t like thrifting, the answer I usually get is: “There are too many options!” It’s hard to go into a thrift shop and not be a little intimidated by the disorganized racks. Where do you even start?
This is why I try to shop with a list whenever I can. Sometimes the list is very specific (Example: green military jacket, black pumps), and sometimes I keep it more general (Example: sundresses). No matter what my list looks like, having a general idea of what I want to look for always helps guide my journey through the racks.
What does my thrifting list look like right now? Here’s a screenshot. I like to keep it on my phone for easy access.
I also keep a list of thrift shops people have recommended to me, or places I’ve passed by but never visited.
Now that you know the basics, you’re ready to get out there and start hunting for thrifted treasures of your own.
Do you have any thrifting tips to add? Leave them in the comments section.