BC Brown Books

8 Steps to Shopping Thrift Stores

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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.

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