Thrift shopping is gaining popularity again thanks to social media. People from all over the world are looking to show their vintage second-hand outfits, save some money and help the environment through eco-friendly alternatives.
So if you want to jump on the shopping-on-a-budget boat, we've prepared our BEST thrift shopping tips for your thrift shopping success. Also, you'll get a couple of bonus PRO-tips throughout this post, so keep scrolling!
Why should you shop at local thrift stores instead of purchasing stuff brand new?
Thrifting is eco-friendly and helps the environment!
Not so long ago we talked about the damage caused by fast fashion to the environment and how we could join its counterpart, the slow fashion movement. One of the "how-to's" was, indeed, to look for second-hand clothes. But how can this help the environment?
Mainly, thrifting helps the environment by reducing textile waste. "The EPA reports that Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste a year, equaling just over six percent of total municipal waste (for context, plastics make up 13 percent of our waste stream)". If we begin to search for second-hand clothes, we can at least reduce our individual impact on that number.
It also helps by lowering air pollution and water consumption caused by the fashion industry, reducing chemical pollution, and last but not least, it encourages recycling! DIY projects from second-hand items and clothes are really fun to do, plus, there’s nothing more eco-friendly than giving old items a new home.
Shopping at your local thrift store saves you money in the long run!
“You get what you pay for”, right? Well, not in every case. Once you dive deep into the world of thrifting, your mind opens up to a new reality: Spending $100+ on a brand new piece of fabric isn’t necessarily a synonym for good quality. If you can get the same thing in great condition for much cheaper, why should you pay its full price? By thrifting, your wallet and bank account will be eternally grateful.
How to find the best thrift stores in your local area?
Google is your best friend. By simply searching "best thrift stores" plus the area you are located in you'll surely find a couple of good ones with great reviews on Google Maps. If you want to go further, Yelp is a great tool for finding thrift stores. Just like Google Maps, it has reviews and specifications about the place, whether the items in there are worthy or not, or even if they have health and safety measures.
Word of mouth also helps to filter out the good thrift stores from the not-so-good ones. Ask your friends or family about their experiences, they will surely help you choose.
PRO-tip: in case you don’t find any thrift store near you, there are also online thrift stores like ThredUp.
Tips on how to Shop the thrift stores like a pro
What should I look for when thrifting
Thrifting is like a sport for some, and like every sport, there are guidelines that must be followed for optimal performance. So, what should you look for when thrifting? Here are some of my best thrift shopping tips and ideas.
First of all, details. Do not skip details. Examine the piece for any rips, stains, tears, missing buttons, super-funky smells, or stuck zippers. If you are planning to repair the item it’s okay if a jacket has missing buttons or a stuck zipper, but if you don’t, it’s better to leave it on the rack. And if it’s a piece of furniture, do not skip details either. Inspect every chair, and every table before getting it into your vehicle so you know what insect or bug may be hiding inside.
Tags are also a thing you always need to have in mind, make sure to read them so you know who made the piece, what size it is, and how to wash it. Maybe you'll stumble upon a garment made by a famous fashion designer, who knows?
Last but certainly not least, look for discounts! Later on, we’ll talk about discounts at Goodwill, but almost every thrift store has discounts depending on the day or whether you are a veteran, a senior, or a student. If you can save, why not save even more?
What should you not buy at thrift stores?
When thrift shopping, usually any item that you can clean well is a safe bet. But in some cases, items can be dangerous and unsanitary not only for us but for our loved ones as well. So the next time you find yourself sailing through the shelves of a thrift store, think twice about these products:
Stuffed animals: Although they are adorable and kids love them, used stuffed animals are a no-no. They are probably dirty and/or can carry germs, bedbugs, mold, and allergens, among other things.
If you have kids at home, you know that they constantly touch, hug or even chew on their stuffed animals. And while you might try washing the toy in hot water, some germs can withstand high temperatures.
Mattresses and pillows: When it comes to mattresses, pillows and anything in between, discard the idea. Why? For the same reasons as the previous point – they serve as germ storage. Although you probably won't find mattresses at your local thrift store, don't give in to temptation if you see one.
Children's safety equipment: Car seats, cribs, and strollers are a must for toddlers, but… So much so as to buy them at a thrift store? We’re not sure about that.
When it comes to children’s safety you can never be too careful. The faults in used child safety equipment aren't always visible and since it is almost impossible to know the past of these items, it is best not to take any chances. In regards to car seats, the risk is even higher. The Government of Canada for example recommends that you should always replace car seats after an accident, but you never know whether people followed that advice or not.
Electric appliances: Not only can old electric appliances break right after you buy them, but they can also damage all the wiring in your house, causing a power outage or even a fire. This applies not only to TVs but to other electric appliances such as microwaves and more. Better to be safe than sorry.
Underwear and bathing suits: It seems obvious, but we have to say it anyway. Underwear and bathing suits are something very intimate and even if we try to sanitize them, we don't know what we can get from the person who has worn them before.
Unless you’re 100% sure the panties and bathing suits have never been worn and still have the tags on them, avoid buying used ones at all costs.
Valuable things to look for at thrift stores
On the other hand, if you want to find a potential treasure, definitely go looking for these things!
Silver: Most of the flatware in thrift shops is inexpensive, but you can always study and get informed on how to spot real sterling silver. Check piles of mismatched flatware or serving pieces and keep your eyes open for that shiny price.
Books: Whether you’re an avid reader or a collector, a thrift store is an excellent place to find books of any kind, even valuable ones. Original, older hardcover books and signed first editions are your best bet. If you stumble upon one of those and happen to know collectors or fans of that author, you’re in your lucky day.
China: Teacups, plates, and other elegant China pieces can be highly collectible. If you find the right pieces from antique sets of fine china that have discontinued patterns, you may be able to sell them online for a pretty penny.
Priceless Thrift Shopping Tips & Tricks
Plan on spending a good chunk of time inside the Thrift Store
Thrift shopping is never a 20-minute stop, especially if you want to get valuable items or revamp part of your closet. Keep in mind that in order to get the good stuff you will have to scan the store shelves for more than an hour.
Also, trying on clothes to make sure they fit, checking that the pieces you chose aren't torn or stained, and going back and forth to make sure you didn't miss anything you might be interested in can (and will) take a good chunk of time from your day. How to thrift like a pro? Be patient!
There are even people that spend hours going to different thrift shops in a day, but that’s for the diehard thrift shoppers.
Get into the right headspace/mindset to comb through the racks
If you have never been to a thrift shop before, not even Goodwill, we know that the first experience can be intimidating for some. The seemingly endless racks of clothes, the variety of items, and the characteristic smell may overwhelm you to an extent. But don’t worry, you just need to get into the right headspace before you start your adventure.
First and foremost, be aware that you will smell some… Things, while looking through the racks. Also, before you even put a foot inside the store, try to make a list of the things you want to get. And if you want to clear up your mind, even more, shop section by section. Start with the smaller sections (belts, scarfs) and then move on to the bigger ones (dresses, pants).
PRO-tip: Eventually, your mindset while thrifting will change for good, you’ll become an expert! While you search, train your eyes to scan more efficiently along racks or shelves to spot particular items of your interest by color, style, or even material.
Look through all the things in the store! Find That Hidden Gem
This complements the previous point. If your eyes aren’t trained yet, don't panic nor go like Flash searching briefly through the store. Instead, go deep. Check the back racks, try to look through all the things in the store, and search in various departments. Also, on any day, pay attention to the color tag of the day at Goodwill. Any item with that color tag can be purchased for half the price! Who knows what hidden gem you can get at a discount?
Don’t just buy all the things... Ask yourself if you NEED it or Want it
You enter the thrift shop just to look for a handful of things but suddenly, plenty of hours pass by and you find yourself with 20+ items ready to go home with you. This scenario is pretty common, but thrifting takes self-control. You don’t want to get things just because they’re cheap, but because you need them. Sure, you can grab that extra jacket that was calling your name while you were thinking about paying for what you already had but try not to be impulsive enough to take it all.
My top advice here is to take a look at your wardrobe first, and don't just shop for the sake of it. This will leave you with more stuff that you might not want or need. Make a list of what you are looking for, set a budget, and STICK TO IT!
Now you might not always find what you are looking for, and that's really the fun of it! Try and try again!
Choose Fabrics that are long-lasting and durable
Thrift shops offer all kinds of clothing options, ranging from ultra-cheap pieces to brand-name ones. But if you want to find long-lasting pieces, just look for the materials they are made of. The most durable fabrics you can choose out there are natural fibers such as cotton and linen, denim, or faux leather. Also, you can double-check the quality of a piece by making sure the fabric is not too thin. As a rule of thumb, thicker fabrics last longer than thinner ones.
You might think that buying second-hand synthetic clothing is okay, but most of it is made from polyester and other types of plastic that are actually creating microplastics when we wash them that are ending up in our waterways. So I'd stick to natural ones. This means really getting to know how to read a label and understanding fabrics like modal, lyocell, jute, etc.
PS. I buy all my jeans second-hand, all of them! I've nabbed jeans that cost $300, for $15.99! WHOOT!
To get the best thrift items get there when the store opens!
There are items and clothing pieces that people seek out a lot, so if you want to find the best, most high-quality pieces that were put out the night before, be an early bird. Also, try not to go on Fridays or the weekend, those days are pretty crowded. Instead, try to go on Monday or Tuesday, shop around holidays, and go on sale days. Goodwill offers 50% off on the first Saturday of each month, so be ready for those days!
Visit, small thrift stores, not just large ones like Goodwill
If you want your money to go back into your community, you should consider shopping at your local thrift store. Many small stores are nonprofits that partner with local charities, that way what you spend may get passed on to directly impact your community programs and services.
Also, when you visit small thrift stores you can get unique vintage items that you wouldn’t normally find in large ones. Plus, it won’t be as crowded as Goodwill. There is also a lot of controversy with Goodwill, the CEO earns a massive paycheck while the employees barely make minimum wage!
What should you wear when thrift shopping?
Wear comfy shoes and clothing that is easy to take on or off. I wear leggings and a top with shoes I can pull on and off easily. Be aware that not all thrift shops have mirrors or change rooms. This can make it more difficult as vintage sizing is not like it is today. If you are not sure, then leave it.
Make sure you know your measurements and make a note of them on your phone. It's good practice to take a tape measure with you. This can help immensely when trying to figure out if something will fit you. You can also ask a salesperson for help or advice on how the items look on you. Oh and DO NOT FORGET TO BYOB (bring your own bags).
How to spot REAL VINTAGE Clothing?
Buying vintage clothing can be a real rush, especially when you find a designer piece that you can't live without, but sometimes vintage shopping can be tricky.
By design, vintage clothing is at least 30 - 40 years old!
I've seen pieces that I've loved but found it hard to know if it's a rare designer piece, like a Dior blazer, or something from Joe Fresh five seasons ago.
It's raised a few questions for me, how do you know if it's worth the price? And how do you know it's actually vintage?
I chatted with a few people in the fashion industry and at some consignment shops in Toronto to get the best advice. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Price points for vintage clothing
You find the dress you love, but do you really want to spend $100 on it? If you love it, I say buy it, most of the time the item will be in very good condition, meaning that the person who wore it before you probably took really good care of it.
The store owner most likely cleaned and repaired it, getting it ready to be sold.
These are important things to keep in mind, you are paying for an original piece, in most cases, it's made very well, and a lot of care has been taken to get it to you. So, you're paying for the item as well as the curation of it. And it's going to last.
How to spot a deal?
I heard a quote recently "poor people can't afford cheap clothing", I swear I can remember my granny saying this too. But it's really so true. We just don't make clothing the way we used to. My mom has a few dresses that she has gifted me and they have lasted over 45 years now.
The age of the item can be determined by the materials it's made from, so look for natural textiles like silk, cotton, wool, and linen. You don't tend to see vintage clothing made from polyester or bamboo.
Dress, skirts, blazers, and coats will almost always be lined. Prior to the 1960s zippers will be made from metal, not plastic. The label will be stitched into the garment, not glued on.
Vintage clothing is made well. Very well.
It will most likely be made in Canada, USA, Italy, or France. Chinese manufacturing did not really take off until the 1970s. The stitching might be slightly uneven because it was sewn by hand. This is a good thing.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A knock-off is a real issue, but they won't have some of the details I've highlighted above. Popular knock-offs to look for: Fendi, Lois Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes. Just to name a few. If you are not sure, ask lots of questions, in most cases the store owner should be able to trace if it's an original.
Tips for shopping vintage:
- Look for items that are lined and structured well.
- Look for damage like holes from months.
- Is the item faded?
- Are there buttons or other hardware missing?
- Does it smell or is it stained (normally under the arms, collar, and inseam)?
- Do you think the stain can be removed? If it's oil-based, probably not.
- Is it torn anywhere, can it be fixed?
- Will it need to be altered at all?
- Will the quality of the fabric stand the test of time, things made from silk and lace are harder to care for.
- Have you tried it on? Sizes have changed drastically over time.
- Create a budget and keep that number in mind when shopping.
- Change your expectations, vintage shopping should be fun
Know where to shop:
- Consignment shops that have a good reputation
- Thrift shops and charity shops
- Your neighborhood garage sales
- Your mom's or granny's closet
If shopping online:
- the safest bets for online shopping include knitwear, coats, and blouses because they fit over several sizes
- Pay close attention to the measurements given online
- Make sure there is a return policy
- Don't forget duties and taxes still apply
- Purchase from a reputable seller who deals in authentic pre-owned goods - this goes for shopping in-store too
Some final words on thrift shopping tips
Thrifting not only lets you develop a unique wardrobe, explore diverse styles and find valuable pieces, but it is also a way to save some cash, buy new clothes in an eco-friendly way and have fun by yourself or with family and friends.
BUT! I also want to point out that because thrifting has become so popular many stores have raised their prices, which has had a negative effect on low-income families who rely on second-hand clothing. It's something to be mindful of, so try to shy away from essentials like winter coats, boots, suits, and plus-sized items.
And don't forget you can actually shop at online thrift stores too. If you want to be even greener, you can consider renting your dress and if you have extra clothes hanging around you can always sell your used clothes online.
Now that you know all the advantages of this exciting activity, if you keep these thrifting tips and tricks in mind you are sure to find some great deals, unique items, and more. Plus, you'll be one step closer to becoming a master of thrifting. Enjoy!
I'd love to hear from you, what are your best tips for thrifting!
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