Random Rant 33: 8 Steps to Shopping Thrift Stores

I’m cheap. I like bargains. Although I’ve never had the fortitude or willpower to extreme coupon, the idea is intriguing. In the meantime however I save money elsewhere.

 Being fashionable is expensive. Good, quality clothing usually comes with sticker shock large enough to knock the wind out of a person. And the trouble with fashion is, once you collect your wardrobe (provided you get past the whooping price tags) and spent your life savings doing so, the damned style changes.

Growing up, we didn’t have much money. Hell, we didn’t have any money. I was the youngest of three daughters (a decade younger to be exact) of a single mom. Nurse’s aides don’t get paid well. They barely get paid enough to eat, for all their back breaking work. My mom was no different. The pay check simply didn’t stretch far enough to include new, fashionable clothes. I wore a decade-removed hand-me-downs and the primary “department stores” on our clothing agenda were Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul, and the spring time yard sales. As a kid I was mortified where my clothes came from. I went to great lengths to conceal the fact. But all those red-faced moments of embarrassment as a kid taught me a thing or two about getting good clothes for next to nothing. So for every time I was a butt at the local thrift store, I want to say, “Sorry, Mom, and thanks.”

Shopping thrift stores is vastly different from shopping regular department stores. You have to go into it with the right mind set. It’s not a single mantra to keep in mind; it’s a set of rules to apply. I’m often asked where I find my outfits, or how did I come up with the idea for the outfit I’m wearing. For me, it’s as easy as a few rules to keep in mind.

  1. Patience. ~ The old adage that ‘patience is a virtue’ is wholly applicable when shopping thrift stores. Unlike a regular department store, where you can dash in and out and get what you need in as quick as it takes to get in and out of the dressing room, shopping a thrift store takes a fair amount of time dedicated to it. You will need to set aside a block of time to go shopping for a good deal. I usually stick with two hours. I plan on my thrift store shopping taking two hours of my day. (Keep in mind that is two hours per store. If you’re going to multiple stores, which may be necessary, you could spend several hours shopping.)
  2. Game Plan. ~ There is nothing wrong with browsing at a thrift store. I do it all the time. Exploring the merchandise to see what’s “new”. Also I encourage you to browse your local

    thrift store several times before you intend to buy anything there. Doing so will give you the opportunity to get a feel for the store, the assistance factor of the employees, and the merchandise quality and turn over rate. As for the game plan, know what you’re going for before you get to the store.

  3. Self-restraint. ~ If it’s not in your game plan, don’t buy it. Simple. I’m not saying you should ignore an exceptional bargain (read: the Vera Wang with tags still attached, or the phenomenal party dress when you’re there to buy office clothes), but you should show a little willpower. If it isn’t an absolutely blow your socks off kind of find, you should leave it on the rack.
  4. Know Your Limitations. ~ Clothes that come into most thrift stores end up there for three reasons: a) They no longer fit the owner; b) They’re “out of style”; c) They’re defective. The first two should barely register as blips on your shopping radar. Your body is unique, so the clothing may fit you; and fashion is cyclical. What is “in style” now is irrelevant (except don’t buy those bell bottoms there; they will always be out of style). C however is important; vital even. 1) Never buy stained merchandise. That item has been laundered, probably multiple times since it was stained. You are not getting that out. 2) Don’t buy merchandise that needs extensive alterations. If you suck with a needle and thread and yarn, don’t buy the jeans that need hemmed, the blouse that needs a hole the size of your thumb sewn up in the front hem, or the sweater with a gaping hole in the breast area. Be realistic; if you have never taken an article of clothing to a tailor previously, you probably aren’t going to take that $4 shirt or pair of pants.
  5. Try Everything On. ~ This should be a no-brainer. But, once upon a time when I was still young and impatient (and deluded into believing I was two sizes smaller than I am), I was as

    guilty of this as any of you. Clothes vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer. Also clothing that has been worn and laundered dozens of times stretches and warps. You may think you know your size. Trust me, you don’t when it comes to thrift store shopping.

  6. Compare. ~ I’m not talking about prices. It’s negligible at a thrift store really. I’m talking holding each item up to the other items you’re buying to see if they work together. Know what’s in your closet at home and mentally picture if the item you’re buying will go with your existing wardrobe. Actually it’s no shame to take an item or two into the thrift store and compare them to what you’re getting. I do it all the time. Take all your combinations into the fitting room and mix and match to see what is interchangeable and what isn’t. It’s better than getting a surprise when you get home.
  7. Add Quality. ~ Sometimes you just have to break down and spend the money to buy a few good, quality items for your wardrobe. a) Jeans: I never buy jeans at a thrift store unless I need something to paint the house in or work on the car in. b) Jewelery: you can find nice jewelery at thrift stores, but it is the rarity rather than the norm. c) Underwear: um, just gross. You might be able to get nice, quality bras or something at a thrift store. But make sure they have all their original tags.
  8. Know When to Say ‘No’. ~ If everything about an item doesn’t meet the above criteria, no matter how badly I want it/need retail therapy/need an item to fill a spot for something, I. Don’t. Buy. It.

I’m not a fashion expert. I’m not a shopping expert. I do make fashion blunders from time to time. (More often than I’d like to admit actually.) But more often than not, I am complimented on my clothes. People freak out when they find out 75% of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores. I hear “Oh, I never find anything like that at [insert name of thrift store here] when I go!” This is my answer to how everybody can find the cool things I do.

You know what, disregard. I don’t want everyone looking as superstar as I do!! 😉

BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate other writers through humor and simple instruction.

Guest Post: The Path to Expertise by Connor Rickett

Like most experts, I’m not one. 

I like to be upfront about that. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; experts run the world, and look how that’s going. 

Anyway, it’s not really about being an expert. Experts died with the internet. Everything an expert knows is out there. Hell, it’s duplicated. I thought of that expert line with my own brain, and I’m moderately pleased with it. The residual smug self-satisfaction is still clinging to me; as I write, I bask in the heady aroma and some adjective aftertaste.

I was going make a point about how fifty gagillion people have thought of that before me, but check this out! That’s right, zero Google hits. I really am that good. No one bothered to write down: “Like most experts, I’m not one,” in the history of the world, at least back to the beginning of the internet, which is pretty much what matters ever since the beginning of the internet. 

Unique thoughts really do happen. They’re statistically favored, in fact. A mutual friend of BC and myself was reading an essay he wrote the other night, and he used the phrase, “The only letter between Alpha and Omega God has no control over is Delta.” 


So I’m going to make an entirely different point. This isn’t capriciousness on my part, it’s applying a talent for concisely and intelligently making (often stupidly stupid) points I couldn’t care less about in exchange for money from other people. You gotta be able to change things up on the fly. Only this time I’m doing for you, for free. You’re welcome. Okay, this next paragraph is going to backtrack to the exquisite turn of phrase from the other night, so keep up.

If you’re confused, don’t be. Delta is the shorthand for change in scientist talk. Being a scientist type myself, back before I thought becoming a poor writer sounded like a good idea (a quarter million in lost wages and counting!), I had all the tools necessary to think of this, and I wanted to punch Jacob in the snoz for thinking of it before me. Because I might very well have thought of it at some point in the future, and now I can never ever ever use it!Do you feel the anger? Nay, the writerly rage—wait, no, the wrage? Because, I mean, I’m being overly dramatic and hyperbolic here, but, seriously, that was a really great line, right?

Anyway, I do sort of paint myself as an expert. I have a whole blog dedicated to helping other freelancers. Tips, tricks, the best places to buy red ink for your budget sheets,  suicide hotline links, etc. Okay, not really the last two. 

But I’m really not an expert, as we’ve established. What I am, somehow, is experienced. I think those two terms get conflated too often. Experts on turning writing into money and success don’t write about those sorts of things; they’re too busy being rich and successful, and not sharing how they got that way so that they can stay that way. In spite of this, I’ve somehow survived several years of being a writer for a living. It’s been lean living, but it’s also not been outright failure or bankruptcy, which is, scarily, something that puts me in some sort of elite cadre of maniacs. 

So, what knowledge can my experience buy you? What can I say here to help you that a thousand other bloggers haven’t said before—you know, aside from that zinger of an intro?


Keep writing? 

Let’s check Google for that one . . . okay, about 1,800,000 results, so that’s not quite unique, hmmm. . . 

Okay, more unique. Look, I’m on a Stairmaster for hours every week. I hate the things, but I’m going on hike this summer with a buddy who wants to set a record on the John Muir trail—this hike starts with climbing up the tallest peak in the Continental US, and then goes for another two hundred miles. I’m on the Stairmaster, spending hours every week going goddamned nowhere, so that when I have to climb the mountain, I can

I probably still won’t set a record. It’s easy to be in the top 10% of something, it’s possible to be in the top 1% of a few things, but being the best at something is a tall order, and it won’t last for long. You’ll probably never become rich or successful as a writer. Hell, my experience suggests that most of the yousreading this won’t even become successful poor writers. Everybody wants to be a writer, because it’s the only form of immortality most of us can afford. 

Hang on, this is depressing, isn’t it? This won’t encourage you to visit my website or BC to invite me back. Hang on. I’m going to turn this around again . . . 

Unlike most writers, I do

If, at some point today, you wrote a thousand words down, you’re in the top 10% of the “writers” in the world. If you are making an active habit of learning more about writing, learning from the people who do it better, you’re in the top 1%. If you do both these things, and you keep doing them, even if you get nowhere, you’ll be ready to not make a fool of yourself when you arrive at a real mountain. It’s not about getting lucky, it’s about being good enough that no opportunity is missed. This is the only difference between myself most the people who don’t quite make it. 

People don’t not climb mountains because they can’t find them. I mean, they’re mountains, they’re not exactly hiding. They don’t climb them because climbing is hard. Stacking 100,000 words into some semblance of literary merit is hard. Well, if you want what’s at the top of the mountain, you can either climb, or you can watch other people climb. If you want to be, then do. If you don’t want to do, be something else. 

Connor Rickett is a former professional scientist, current professional blogger and writer, travel enthusiast, lover of learning, and reluctant participant in social media. He is currently in the early stages of fortune and fame: debt and infamy. Check out Cities of the Mind, his site for writers and freelancers looking to get better at what they do! Or just follow him on twitter or something. 

Random Rant 99: Vegas

Without life experiences, with very few exceptions made, the things an author writes, well, plain sucks. Now I’m one of those homebody types of writers. My favorite thing is to stay home, read a book, write a book, or watch a movie. But, let’s face it, after a while I’d have nothing to say. Like Johnny 5 said:

Need input.

Venturing outside the house, doing things, even something as simple as going for a walk or choosing to eat at a new restaurant, makes a writer’s life not only better but makes their writing better. I’m as guilty as being a shut in as much as any writer. I get bogged down in the words, in the worlds, I’m building. However when I do decide to peek outside the imaginary worlds I prefer to live in, I travel whenever possible.

In 2014, outside exploring the metro Phoenix area, I fulfilled a life long travel wish: Las Vegas, Nevada.

A fairly last minute, whirlwind trip to a bicycling convention, we stayed with (super cool) complete strangers (acquaintances of a friend), learned how easy it is to stay awake for days in a casino, the magnitude of the Hoover Dam, and just how you can push a little, decrepit car before she keens (which she did, to the tune of no transportation for weeks, a few hundred dollars, and much cursing). 

I’ll admit that staying and gambling in Vegas has never been high on my list of activities. I recognized however that venturing to see the Sin City was certainly something that should be done once in a person’s life time. I found, once I arrived, that Las Vegas was so much more than I anticipated.

I don’t like to gamble. Never have. And, until we went, I believed that was all Vegas consisted of: casinos. What I forgot to consider were the innumerable shows, music venues, art centers, live street performances, theater acts…not to mention conventions, cultures, and people… And the list goes on.

Naturally we did the casino experience, both on the Strip and in Old Vegas (an area on Fremont St that houses the Vegas The Rat Pack was infamous for, and is home to our good buddy up there – the Vegas Cowboy). Despite not being a big gambler I enjoyed my time on Fremont St. There is so much to see, so much activity, your blood buzzes and your mind swirls with ideas. I imagine it a lot like a cocaine high. 

Then there was bike convention itself. Interbike 2014. A whirlwind of every bicycling company or bicycling accessory company imaginable. There were companies I knew, a lot I’d never heard of, and even more I’d never thought to associate with bike or cycling. And the people! Whole families outfitted in, like, super cycling gear that probably cost more than all my possessions combined. Even the children – and I’m talking, like, toddler kids. (One of my favorite cycling kits is off to the side there. I had to send it to a friend who wasn’t able to attend and loves pugs and cycling.)

It was an exhausting day, with gorgeous bikes that cost more than most cars. By the end of it I didn’t think I could wring any more energy out of myself. Then we got back to the bike polo house (the acquaintances of a friend I mentioned). 

What to say about the bike polo house? 

One) It’s amazing, Two) It’s the kind of house, with all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life coming and going and interacting and cooperating, I want in the future, and Three) It’s a beautiful, controlled chaos filled with engaging people and alive with energy.

Needless to say, when we got back, my energy rebounded, we were up half the night talking and just relaxing before crashing out on the community couches in the living room. When we woke, it was to a bustling household filled with permanent residents (the 8 people who split all the bills and are over all responsible for the house’s maintenance and planning) and a handful of other transients about a ton of activities from morning rituals to philosophical conversations. After the house spokesman (at least that’s how I think of him) did his morning thing, he pointed us in the direction of must-see Vegas day-walking. Plus we had our own tourist-y agendas. I mean I couldn’t go to Vegas and not walk down the Strip, right?

After our meander through New Vegas, we headed back to the bike polo house to meet up with our new acquaintances, grab a bite, and hit Old Vegas. But Sin City is a ridiculously busy place and parking is impossible and expensive. Our bike polo host;s alternative.


Which, for whatever reason, naturally our bike polo host’s own. So we cruised Vegas in style: by bike and pedi-cab. (To the side you can see us locking up our myriad of individual bikes to the pedi-cab outside a local bar. We figured if anyone really wanted one bike, they were going to take a metal jungle of other bikes and one awkward, heavy pedi-cab.)

We met awesome people, and I spent almost the entire time outside the bar, on the curb (nice to be able to openly drink a beer without the cops freaking out and hauling you off to jail), talking about every subject under the Sun. Then it was off to the casinos!

We went with Fremont St on the recommendation of, well pretty much, everyone. The heart of Vegas, in my opinion, it’s bigger, brighter, and more fantastic than anything on the Strip.

There were a few things I had to see of course: The Golden Nugget, where Sinatra and the greats wined, dined, and crooned; the zip line, where you can fly like Superman across the skies of Fremont St; the dazzling lights and advertisement light show stretched across the expanse.

We stayed until dawn at penny slots (free drinks!), roulette (always color up so you know how much you’re winning and losing), and watching crazy people from every walk of life interacting, drinking, and carousing. Then wound our way, still energized and high on fun and friends, to our bikes (since detached from the pedi-cab fleet), and back to the polo house. Despite it being past dawn, once we got back to the house (also finding we were locked out of it quite accidentally), we sat up talking until, more than a little drunk, we collapsed in the living room, two new friends joining us on cots.

Once we were all awake, it was a little more sightseeing (I had to see the Lux – come on, it’s a gynormous glass pyramid in America!) and then time to head home. We found the new tire we’d put on the car before we left was going flat already – sucky – and it was hot as hell – the car has no air conditioning. But we were headed home. And another life time first, a cherry on the trip? 

We were going to see the Hoover Dam. 

I’m a writer, and I have no words to describe the Hoover Dam. Colossal, magnificent, awesome, in the truest sense of the word. (Hey, I’m a writer, you know I still had to try and describe it, right?)

I’ve never seen anything like the Hoover Dam. I was surprised to find out a lot facts about it. Indeed, other than its existence, I knew nothing about it. It amazed me to learn facts about such a truly American icon never taught me in school. 

What I learned most, however, was how much more of this country I needed to see. My dreams have always included far flung places and exotic sights, but I was surprised to discover the basic inclination to see my own country wasn’t something I had. The Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon (and I live right by it practically), Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park – not even blips on my radar. Until I visited Vegas and, on a side thought, drove through the Hoover Dam on the way home.

Now I have a new mission. See more, travel more, get the hell out of my house more. I’m starting small, despite the grand scale that spurred me into action, and close to home: Mt Ord, some of the national parks and lakes near to Phoenix, and of course the Grand Canyon. Yellowstone may be next; it isn’t terribly far from here, and I know the area a bit through an outside source. Mt Rushmore might take a bit more planning, but it can be done. I mean, once you’ve stood under one of the most famous signs in the world once you have to do it again!

BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having

committed almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate other writers through humor and simple instruction.