Finding good items at a thrift store can be difficult and time consuming. Things aren’t generally laid out like they are at a regular store; instead of neat racks full of the same items in different sizes, there’s a cacophony of different colors, sizes, materials, and shapes.
I’ve been thrifting since I was a preteen, so I have quite a few years of experience, and I rarely buy clothing items or accessories brand new.
Here are some thrifting tips I’ve accumulated over the years, so that you can learn how to find nice items at the thrift store:
1. Get to know your local thrift stores.
Each thrift store is unique. Even thrift stores that are part of huge chains, such as Goodwill and Value Village, will have different things to offer, since the demographics that are donating items to them will be different depending on the area they’re located in.
Here are some things to learn about your local thrift stores:
What I mean by this, is how quickly are items brought out and sold?
My local thrift store is only open two days out of the week, and they get an abundance of donations. I go there a few minutes before opening time, and there’s always been a lineup of people waiting to go in. Items get sold literally as soon as people walk inside the doors.
This thrift store has a very high turnover rate. Each time I visit there are plenty of new items, and things are sold fast.
What does the turnover rate tell you about the store? Well, a high turnover rate means that you need to be quick about deciding to buy things, and you need to get there early for opening time, but you can visit frequently and always see new stock.
A lower turnover rate means that you can take your time and the store probably won’t be as busy, but there won’t be a lot of variety when you visit, unless you visit infrequently.
Each demographic that donates will have their pros and cons. Here’s a bit of a break down:
Seniors. I’ve seen a lot of young people complain that because their local thrift stores get donations from lots of seniors, there aren’t many appealing clothing items. While this is usually true, they’re ignoring what the senior demographic’s donations are great for: antiques.
If your local thrift store mostly has seniors donating to it, pay special attention to jewelry, ceramics, pottery, and silverware. You might be able to find a genuinely antique or vintage piece.
Gen X. From my experience, thrift stores with mostly Gen X donators, tend to have a good selection of coats, blazers, and bags. Staple items that are good for work, but that maybe has a bit of wear, or doesn’t fit them anymore.
These places aren’t as great for finding more casual pieces, and accessories such as shoes, hats, and scarves can be hit or miss.
As a hidden bonus, you may be able to find some cool vintage items, such as old cameras and vinyl records, since Gen X people may be decluttering old items from their youth.
Millennials. Thrift stores with a lot of millennial donators tend to have some trendier and more casual pieces. T-shirts and shoes tend to be pretty stylish when from millennials, and you may be able to find some cool prints or cuts of skirts, pants, and sweaters.
On the other hand, you may not be able to find high end jewelry or accessories, and you probably won’t find genuinely vintage items.
Gen Z. My generation is the youngest one, and you probably won’t find much that’s distinctly from us. In my experience, Gen Z and millennial donations tend to be pretty similar, but we may also add in some old toys, books, or decorations that we’ve grown out of.
Of course, this stuff is relative, and my experiences won’t translate perfectly to everyone else’s experiences.
Thrift stores usually have special sales so keep an eye out for them. One of my local thrift stores used to have a monthly sale. During this sale you could fill up a bag of clothes for $15. Depending on how bulky the items were, you could easily fit 15 clothing items in the bag, so it worked out to be a very good deal.
I’ve also been to larger thrift stores where they’ll have a special day where everything is 30% off, or certain colors of price tags are reduced for a week.
Learning when your local thrift store has sales is a great way to save a bit of money.
2. Know what to look for based on the seasons and holidays.
People will be donating and purchasing differently based on the seasons and holidays, and thrift stores will usually choose to put certain items out depending on what time of the year it is.
As an example, thrift stores tend to get a lot of donations in the spring, since people are doing spring cleaning.
Late winter and early spring is also a great time to find light jackets and windbreakers, boots, and sometimes sweaters, as thrift stores will be looking to get rid of them.
Late spring and all throughout summer is a great time to find dresses, shoes, linens, and blouses. You may also be able to find some nice t-shirts, hats, and sportswear.
Autumn is a great time to find sweaters, scarves, and boots where I live, as the weather gets cool pretty quickly. If you’re lucky, you might also find some nice jackets, hats, and gloves during this season.
Halloween I find somewhat problematic though, as a lot of thrift store space will be dedicated to costumes and decorations. Clothing and accessories tend to be picked over, as kids, teenagers, and young adults will be looking for clothing that they can use for DIY costumes.
Late autumn and early winter are good times to find sweaters, coats, jackets, wools, furs, and leathers. Finding summery items such as sundresses and tank tops will be pretty difficult around this time of year.
Christmas time, in my experience, tends to be a good time to find home decor, accessories, and dishware, as those are often given as gifts.
3. Dress appropriately.
When going thrift shopping, make sure you’re wearing a comfortable and simple outfit.
Here are some suggestions:
- Boots or shoes should be easy to take on or off, so that you can try on shoes.
- Makeup should be minimal, as you don’t want to smudge anything while trying clothes.
- Keep your hair simple too, since a complicated hairstyle could fall apart from trying on too many pullovers or shirts.
- Flats are very comfortable to wear, and slip on and off easily, which allows for quick shoe try-ons in the store.
4. Have some style guidelines set for yourself beforehand.
I have certain rules for what I wear, because if I don’t give myself restrictions, I usually end up buying something that doesn’t match anything else in my closet, or that doesn’t look as flattering on me as I thought it did.
As an example, my closet is limited to six colors: white, grey, black, sky blue, red, and blush pink. I don’t buy clothing items for myself that aren’t in those six colors, and I don’t have to worry about my clothes not matching.
When it comes to jewelry, I tend to only wear simple, small, rounded pieces, and I never wear bracelets or rings. I avoid buying ‘statement’ pieces, since those look overwhelming on me.
5. Pay careful attention to materials, brand names, and insignias.
Specific materials will breath and drape differently, and need to be cared for differently. The materials can also give you an indication of the quality of the item, especially if you don’t recognize the brand name.
I’ve found that sweaters that are 100% cotton tend to be very well constructed and come from higher end brands than sweaters that are polyester and acrylic blends. Shoes that are made from genuine leather are easy to polish and have a nice shine to them. Linens breath well and are perfect for summer clothes, but they wrinkly easily.
If you’re looking for brand name items, I suggest that you learn a list of brands before you go shopping, that way you can recognize the items more easily. And if you find a brand name that recognize, but the logo is unfamiliar to you, then you may have found a vintage piece! Logos and branding changes to match the times, so it could be an old logo from a familiar brand.
Lastly, high end jewelry, glassware, silverware, and porcelain will have insignias on them. If you bring a charged phone with you, you can quickly look up any insignias you come across.
6. Never be afraid to make alterations to a piece of clothing that you thrifted.
Pants that are too wide at the waist, but fit perfectly everywhere else can be darted. A shirt that’s a bit too long can be cropped.
Also, don’t overlook pieces that are a bit wrinkled or missing a button (unless they can’t be ironed or don’t have any replacement buttons). Small things like that can be fixed easily.
Jewelry that’s dirty can also be polished, so keep a small polishing cloth with you while you thrift. You may be overlooking some treasures just because they’re a bit dirty.
Do you have any thrifting tips that I haven’t covered? If so, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear some of your advice!
If you found this post helpful, please leave a like or share it with someone else who’d find it helpful. Thank you, and I hope that I’ll be seeing you around!