Now I realize that most of you readers are not beginner thrifters. You all have awesome posts about your own unique finds. But for those who have never thrifted before, the venture can seem daunting.
First thing is first, thrifting is an adventure. Everytime I thrift I feel like I am setting off on a quest. What you find in thrift shops is unpredictable. You must be on the look out for hidden treasures that suit your specific style. A mint condition perfect fitting vintage dress is not going to came waltzing up to you. Most of the things in thrift stores are indeed tacky and unwearable, but its digging through that mess for the fashion gold that is the fun. Thrifting takes a lot of patience and an optimistic mindset.
The primary factor to think about when thrifting is the kind of thrift store you are working with. There are 3 different types of thrift stores.
These types of thrift stores are the most organized and the easiest to navigate through, but they are also the most expensive of the three. Consignment and Vintage shops are usually owned by people who are selling other people's goods for part of the sale. This means that the items are usually in better condition and that there are more name brands. The things in this store are picked out to be sold for a profit. Resale shops are slightly different in that the store buys used items from people and sells it in the shop for a profit. They only buy what they think they can sell so items in resale shops are also in better condition. There are chains of resale shops such as Buffalo Exchange and Plato's Closet that do this. If you are new to thrifting, these stores are probably your easiest option to start with.
The most common type of thrift store is a donation based store. A store that gets its inventory purely from free donations from the local community. Because everything is taken in and nothing it picked out by the store owner. Donation stores are harder to sort through. Not everything in the store is in great condition. Stores such as Goodwill, Family Thrift, and Savers are all just pools of things people don't want anymore. Don't be discouraged though! Some people don't want amazing things.
Outlet Thrift Warehouses:
These are the messiest, most chaotic thrift stores. They are basically where all of the things that Donation Stores could not sell go. That's right, they are people's unwanted unwanted items. Usually these stores are just warehouses full of bins of unorganized everything. It is the hardest to find things here because nothing is separated by size, gender of clothing, or even clothing at all. Often books, towels, and shoes are dumped into clothing bins too. These warehouses sound like hell to find anything, but their prices are dirt cheap. Most things a only $1 a piece and some places sell things by the pound. While condition and organization are at their worst here, good finds can be found at ridiculously low prices.
Now that you have chosen which type of thrift store you want to visit, where do you begin upon entering the store? Most beginner thrifters make the mistake of starting at one side of the store and working their way to the other side. You wouldn't go into a mall and start from one end, entering every single store until you reached your favorite shop would you? Thrift stores are no different. Resale and Donation Thrift stores are organized by type and gender of clothing. Some things are easier to thrift than others.You should head to the easiest to thrift items first and then ease your way into the more difficult to thrift items. What is easier to find differs from person to person due to personal taste and different body shapes. Based on my own personal experience, here are the easiest and hardest items to thrift and the reasons why:
Easiest to Thrift Items: Purses, Jewelry, and Jackets
-Purses are easy to thrift because they don't have to fit you body-wise and as long as they are in good enough condition to be able to hold all your crap- it serves its purpose. Thrift store purses are also the most up to date merchandise in the store most times. Purse styles change very rapidly. Most women get bored of purses and switch them out faster than they do clothes. This means that women are more likely to throw out purses they have bought recently so its easier to thrift a purse that is currently in style.
-Jewelry tends to be the exact opposite of purses. While they have their crazy 80's neon bright plastic phases, most simple jewelry is timeless. Not only does jewelry stay in style for prolonged amounts of time, but quality jewelry tends to stand up to wear and tear longer too. A classic pearl necklace or a silver chain never goes out of style and given good treatment, stays in better condition through time than clothes do.
-Jackets also do not have to fit spectacularly to be worth buying. Well, you don't want to be swimming in a coat, but it doesn't exactly have to fit like a glove either. Most jackets are made from tougher materials that stand the test of time better. Leather, wool, and denim can usually hold their own against wear and tear.
Hardest to Thrift Items: Shoes and Pants
-Shoes are the worst things to thrift for most people. While shoes don't have as many body fitting issues, most people just don't thrift shoes altogether. It is understandable not to want to buy used shoes. The human foot just creates sweat that gets trapped in the shoe and creates bacteria that gives off a very strong odor. While I'm sure you wanted to know that gross detail, thrift store shoes are also usually worn beyond reason. Most shoes you find at thrift stores have a hole in the toe or the sole is coming off the upper or the heel is about to break off. People just tend to wear their shoes until their breaking point and don't give them away until then. However sometimes people just find shoes too uncomfortable to wear and donate them fairly new. And honestly if I find shoes I'm in love with but are a bit worn, I just lysol and fabreeze the hell out of them.
-Pants have a very tumultuous track record with trends. One minute acid wash jeans are in and the next they are considered tacky and too 90's. Today's shredded jeans trend? Prepare to see it make its debut in thrift stores years from now when people may consider it too trashy. Fashion just tends to be very hot and cold when it comes to pants. There are just too many cuts (Wide-legged, Skinny, Boot-cut, Flare, Drop-crotch, High Waisted, Denim leggings, etc) to take risks on. It is hard to thrift pants because they also have to fit the body very specifically to be flattering and because most denim trends are not timeless. Needless to say, don't expect a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants moment when a single pair of jeans fits you perfectly- none the less you and 3 of your closet friends.
Aside from fitting and style issues, there are quality issues that need to be taken into account when thrifting. If you come across something that fits you well and suits your style, be extra careful and examine the item before you get your heart set on it. Some flaws in secondhand items cannot be fixed. Does the zipper glide easily? Does the fabric feel like it is a quality blend? Does it smell oddly? Is the a stain that looks like it can't be taken out? Do all the clasps and buttons work?
On the other hand, if an item looks like it is in great condition but you are having second thoughts about if it suits your personal taste or fits you correctly, remember that a good tailor can be your best friend. A dress can be taken in at the waist or hemmed up to a more flattering length. Shoulder pads in a jacket can always be taken out. Sleeves can always be cut off or taken in tighter. Buttons can always be replaced.
And never forget the alterations you can do yourself! Rip pants into shorts. Distress jeans yourself with a knife or sandpaper. Add a waist cinching belt to a shapeless dress. Splatter paint on a T-shirt. Dye anything if the color is outdated. Add studs or pins by hand to something. The possibilities are endless! And honestly if you screw up, at least it wasn't on a full priced brand new item from a retail shop.
Always take into account the cost of altering an item. Hemming or taking in something by a tailor is usually not extremely pricey, but it will add to the cost of an item before you actually wear it. Tailoring something more difficult such as leather or intricate embroidery can add up to be very costly. You have to take into consideration before buying if the total is worth it to you. Sometimes getting a cheaper thrifted item altered can add up to be more expensive than buying something brand new from the mall. But with the first option, at least you know it will be made to fit you personally and it will be a unique piece that no one else can buy. This is a much better option than something that is manufactured to fit a vast majority and produced in bulk for consumers everywhere. Your personal style and body type are unique, why shouldn't your clothes be?
-Do not believe tag sizes in thrift stores. Many times secondhand clothes have either been stretched out from wear or shrunken from machine drying. Different brands have different size measurements and alter in fabric fits. Clothes that are older are also sized differently, vintage clothes from previous decades are usually a little bit bigger than today's same size counterparts. Because of these differences, if a thrift store has a fitting room, try on everything! If the store does not or you don't want to try on things, examine a shirt or pair of pants that you already own and know fits you really well. Try to remember the width and length of it so you can gauge by eye if something in a thrift store will work for you.
-Explore other parts of the store other than your own department. I mentioned a while back that I had discovered the children's section of thrift stores. It may sound odd at first, but the kids department is a treasure trove of amazing finds. Little boys blazers, girl's faux fur coats, and boy's trouser pants work really well and are much cheaper than their adult sized versions. For me, children's sized clothes fit better and cost less.
-Fabrics are the key to speed thrifting. While thrifting is naturally a time consuming sport, (the best way to uncover a treasure is to pick through the racks hanger by hanger) there is a short cut. When browsing through a rack of clothing, automatically pull what attracts your eye. See a pattern you like? Go check it out. Notice an interesting knit? Pull it out. Sometimes what you find is an awful concoction that makes you shudder and immediately put it back, but other times you find exactly what you subconsciously wanted.
-While thrifting is a great way to break out of your comfort zone and find things that are taking a risk for cheap, not every trend is worth trying. It sounds obvious to say, but not every trend suits everyone's personal style. So if you find something that perfectly matches a certain trend that you aren't dying about, don't buy it just because its a current trend. Stay true you what you know you will wear and cannot live without buying. Thrifting is a great way to be stylish on a budget, but withhold from buying secondhand things just because they trendy or because they are cheap. Think about it. What is better? A bag full of cheaper thrifted hip items that won't stay in style for long or those classic black heels you've been dying over online for weeks? Shop carefully.
-As with all things, thrifting gets better with time and knowledge. Doing your research before setting out to the thrift shops helps a lot. It is beneficial to know the era of clothes and the trends of each decade. You will only know when you come across the perfect vintage 60's mod shift dress if you recognize that era. There are endless books about the history of fashion. You will start to recognize trends from the past when they return recently. That cheaply made imitation 20's flapper dress that just showed up on the mannequin at the mall? You can find the real deal at a thrift store for much cheaper.
-Knowing fashion eras also leads into knowing fashion names. What is fashion history without Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, or Christian Dior? Fashion powerhouses often put out trends that trickle down into mass produced cheaper brands of clothing. Not to go all Devil Wears Prada on you, but every article of clothing is an interpretation of some trend that started at the top. Knowing your big fashion houses helps you to become a better thrifter. Not that its common to come across something from these powerhouses in a thrift store, but it happens. I've never came across a Chanel 2.55 laying around in a secondhand shop, but I bought a Christian Dior scarf at a thrift store once and I've seen a Michael Kors sweater at a Goodwill recently. You never know what you will find.
-A more down to earth name recognition you can work on, (if you don't want to do a lot of research on high fashion) is remembering retail name brands. When I say that I'm referring to the stuff you find at the mall. It may seem ridiculous to know that American Eagle, Hollister, and Abercrombie focus on a younger, preppier consumer base. That Arizona is a J C Penney store brand and Mossimo is a Target store brand. That Old Navy, The Gap, and Banana Republic are all owned by the same manufacturing company. Or what the difference is between Wet Seal, Charlotte Russe, and Forever21. It may come off as label snobbery to know your brands, but knowing them helps you identify a piece of clothing's origin when you thrift and speculate if its worth buying. A cute top from Wet Seal at a thrift shop may not be worth getting because given it's cheap manufacturing, its been shrunken and stretched all different ways by its previous owner. On the other hand, a pair of J Brand jeans found in a thrift shop has most likely held up better due to its better quality.
-In addition to knowing name brands, you should know what brands fit your specific body type well. Everyone is made differently and its your job to find what brands of clothing are cut correctly and made best for your shape. After you can recognize this, hunt down that specific brand in thrift stores and be amazed at how much you save by doing so.
Overall I would say that my biggest thrifting tip is that you shouldn't be afraid of what others think. To be honest, when I first began thrifting I was fearful of telling people where I got my clothes. After a while though I realized that wearing things that I loved, no matter where they came from, is nothing to be ashamed of. Thrifted clothes set you apart from everyone else, they give your look a unique touch. I think that beginning to thrift has changed my view on clothes and fashion and has helped define my wardrobe. Don't worry about if others turn their noses up at you, if they ask where you got something you thrifted, they liked it enough to ask in the first place.
As I said before, thrifting requires an optimistic mindset. Optimism is the best skill you can be armed with when entering a thrift store. You will never find anything amazing if you shut down and tell yourself that you are going to fail. Thrifting requires you to see the potential in everything. Tacky things people throw away can become your most treasured pieces if you envision what they can become. I think of thrifting as practice for seeing the best in every situation.
Fashion Sketches by VizBasix. All photographs are not mine.
If you have never tried thrifting I hope this post will encourage you to try. If you are already a thrifting veteran, I hope I have added something to your growing pool of thrifting knowledge!