Thrifting Tips from a Non-Pro

I’ve been frequenting thrift stores since I was 14. Value Village was a block away from my high school and my friends and I often ditched class to spend hours trying on polyester dresses and sequined blouses with shoulder pads and would usually walk out of the store with bags and bags of loot. Those were the golden days; the fount of decent thrift finds was plentiful and, at least for a short while, our obsession with cheap vintage clothing was funded by our weekly allowances. By the end of high school our cherished Value Village as well as Tucson’s other thrift store goldmines were getting picked over by out-of-towners who would take our precious wares to Austin and sell them for ten times the original price at vintage shops. My taste in fashion also changed and I started preferring cheap and easy-to-shop-for Forever 21 clothes over one-in-a-million candy-striped button-ups and puffy-sleeved party dresses. These days, my wardrobe seems to be made up evenly of new apparel and Goodwill finds. I recently found a fantastic thrift store buddy though, and I feel like I’m reliving my high school days in some ways. I’m by no means a vintage expert, but I’ve picked up some pretty good techniques over the years for making a trip to the thrift store worthwhile. Here are some basic rules I follow when I’m in the mood to hit up second hand stores.

Have an idea of what you’re looking for
Before I go thrift store shopping, I look through my closet to get an idea of what I need and what I have too much of. That way, I can keep an eye out for a specific item I’ve been craving and avoid adding to my collection of high-waisted velvet skirts (I honestly don’t understand how I’ve accumulated so many). It’s always good to gather some inspiration before you shop. Look at your favorite fashion blogs or the websites that you shop at and pick an item or two to look for. Is winter approaching and you need a comfortable cardigan? Are you on the prowl for a simple black dress? When you have something specific to look for, it’ll give you a starting point when you walk into the store and start feeling overwhelmed by the endless lines of racks and people pawing through them. Having a direction to head in right off the bat will help you avoid feeling like you’re wasting your time.

Donate often
I believe that if you give, the universe will give back in some shape or form, so boost your thrift store karma by donating your clothes on a regular basis. The process of cleaning out your closet will help you gauge the types of clothes that consistently get unworn and neglected, as well as help you rediscover some items that you forgot about. If you start donating your clothes regularly, you’ll find yourself buying less crap that will make you question your sanity when you find it lying on the floor of your closet months later. It’s a win-win for you and your local thrift store.

Try on everything
Instead of debating whether you or not you love something while you’re looking through the racks, grab everything that appeals to you and make your buying decisions in the dressing room. Just because something looks drab on the hanger or not quite your size doesn’t mean that it won’t look awesome when you put it on. Be indiscriminate as you thumb through the racks and save your eagle eye for the fitting room. You’ll probably end up finding something that surprises you.

Don’t fall in love with something before you try it on
If you find the absolute best article of clothing you’ve ever seen (and God knows you will), don’t start planning your happy future together until you see how it looks on you. Murphy’s Law dictates that you’ll find the dress of your dreams in one size too small. I know this tragic situation all to well: everything about the article of clothing is perfect, except for the fact that it won’t button up or cover your butt or allow you to breathe properly. But since it’s the BEST THING EVER and you never want anyone else to wear something as awesome, you decide that you can tolerate the way it flattens your boobs into an awkward square shape. You tell yourself you’ll wear it after you lose those ten pounds you’ve been trying to get rid of. It’ll be inspiration, right? WRONG. Seriously, this mentality is the #1 reason why so many girls have the cutest fucking things hoarded up in the back of their closets that they never wear. If something doesn’t fit you, it isn’t meant to be. You can do better things with it than never wear it, like put it back on the rack and let someone else die of happiness when they bring it to the fitting room. Maybe if we all stopped hoarding the best items in the thrift store, we’d all find our perfect clothing matches more often.

If you can’t decide whether to buy something, give it some time
Sometimes after trying an item on, you still can’t decide whether to dish out the cash for it. Maybe the price is higher than you’d like or there is a small stain in the fabric. Maybe it’s amazingly flashy and incredible but you’re not sure if it’s quite your style. Even if the article of clothing is $1.99, it can be tough to resolve to purchase something if you aren’t fully sold on it. If you’re unsure, walk around with the item. Look at other racks and knick-knacks, and eventually work your way back to the fitting room and put it on one last time. As you try it on, imagine what you already have in your wardrobe that you’d pair it with. Does it need a belt or blazer over it? What is it missing that’s preventing you from loving it? If you’re shopping with a friend, ask her to try it on. You might just need to see it on someone else to realize how awesome it is. If you still can’t decide, imagine how you’d feel if you put it back on the rack and left it. Would you come back to the store fifteen minutes later and frantically search for it? Would you be upset if someone else picked it up and bought it? If not, fuck it. Don’t buy something you don’t want or need. You can buy a beer with the money you save. Although thrift store finds feel like one in a million, there are plenty of items out there that you’ll love. You just need to find them.

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