5 More Steps to Shopping Thrift Stores

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba

It’s cool to be cheap.

Especially in today’s “hipster” culture of upcycling, vintage revival, and shabby-chic. I have been dubbed by many of my friends to be the Queen of Thrift Store shopping. While I don’t think I’m queenly in my thrift shopping, I freely admit that I am damned good at it. As a matter of fact, 85% of my wardrobe comes from thrift or resale/consignment stores. I went through some basic information in my post 8 Steps for Thrift Store Shopping. Today I will touch on 5 more steps you can use to pair down expenses by shopping at thrift stores for your wardrobe.

Be a label queen. To tell you the truth, I never paid attention to fashion labels until I grew up and had to spend money – my money – to look good. Some very talented designers make inexpensive clothing lines but, let’s face it, it rarely holds up after repeated wearings and washings, even if it’s been professionally dry cleaned. Knowing the higher end designers and fashion labels can help you sort through the dreck at the thrift store.

  • “Wal-Mart” labels – These would be any clothing line that the Walmart chain stores would carry. They are inexpensive and produced in mass quantities. But they do not hold up to multiple wearings and washings. Avoid when possible. Examples are:
    • George
    • Faded Glory
    • No Boundaries (NOBO)
  • Midline Labels – These are labels that are slightly higher quality materials and production value. There are some excellent midline brands that, while they won’t last forever, are good purchases for your wardrobe. Examples are:
    • Old Navy 
    • Ross
    • Burlington
  • High End Labels – These are exactly what you’d expect. While they are rarer to run across, you will still seem them in thrift stores. If you live in a particularly affluent, or near an affluent area, they will appear more frequently. Especially with Goodwill stores that circulate their stock among the branches based on how quickly they sell. The most common examples of higher end labels I have seen in thrift stores are:
    • Anne Taylor
    • Vera Wang
    • Trademark
To alter or not to alter. Alterations are a pain. Finding a good tailor is time consuming and can be expensive. It’s important to go into any thrift store shopping with a clear understanding of whether or not you will be able to afford altering a specific piece you find, or if you won’t. Personally, I only alter pants and suits and jackets. Shirts, no matter how well made or higher end quality, cost too much per item to alter and just aren’t worth it compared to the cost of the shirt to purchase. But I’ve seen individuals who spent the whooping $5 for a shirt at a thrift store shell out $20-25 to have it tailored to fit them. Still probably cheaper than buying it brand new, especially if it’s high end stuff, but for me it isn’t worth my time.
Accessorize, baby, and work it. Quality jewelry is illusive. Since it’s a large investment, many people don’t end up donating it like they do their clothing. Stylish jewelry can span decades in the fashion world. What you’re most likely to end up finding in thrift stores is cheaper, mostly gaudy jewelry. But there are a few things to check to see if something that catches your eye is worth the buy.
  • Check links and clasps. Do the links of the chain on a necklace bunch and knot? Cheap metal. Does the clasp gape? Cheap metal. Is there visible glue holding the stone in socket or bracket? No brainer…cheap and move on.
  • Street sense. Have you seen other people wearing similar fashion on the street? Current style and a possibility. Have you seen the same similar style at a Walmart or other chain store? Warning; danger, Will Robinson.
It’s all the latest rage, darling. Everyone wants to be fashionable, to wear the latest styles. But knowing the difference between what’s trendy and has longevity and what’s just trashy trendy is important in thrift store shopping. Be aware that, since you won’t be getting the trendy thing the moment it hits shelves (people have to get sick of wearing something before they give it away), you’re going to be clinging to the idea that cool item that’s now on the thrift store rack is still “in.” Take caution that the item that finally hits the rack is still fashionable. Then you have to take a further step back to consider if the item is likely to stay fashionable for a while longer. Otherwise you’re just throwing away money, even if it is only $5.99.

Work it…play it. Thrift store shopping should give your pocketbook a little more wiggle room when it comes to a work wardrobe and a play wardrobe. But, if you’re like me, you’d rather spend whatever you are spending by shopping thrift stores on more important things – ahem, books! Those other things are going to cut into any savings you’ve garnered from shopping thrift. So it’s important to make sure a majority of your pieces selected can be used for either work or play.

  • Jeans. I don’t often get to wear blue jeans for my day job. It’s mostly suits and business casual. But, when we are given the opportunity, I can’t afford to buy (nor do I want to house) too many jeans. Instead I own 3 pairs – one pair of black jeans (always dry cleaned and never washed to maintain their color), one pair of dark blue jeans, and one pair of fashionable “grungier” jeans (the last pair I owned had the trendy style of strategically placed holes). I obviously can’t wear the last pair for my day job, but I can wear the other two for work or play.
  • Shirts. While I own several high end button down blouses for work, they aren’t likely to be a part of my weekend or evening wardrobe. However, by pairing a breezier and less quality top with a suit jacket, you can wear it during the day at the office and take the jacket off later to go out with friends or wear it on the weekend with a pair of jeans.
So there are 5 more steps to shopping thrift stores that will come in handy at the racks. Again, it’s possible to save a ton of money by doing the bulk of your shopping there. Personally, I like the freedom of updating my wardrobe yearly for only a few hundred dollars instead of thousands. Plus there is the added benefit of knowing how little you spent whenever someone compliments your outfit or tells you how good you look.

BC Brown
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.