Did anyone else spend their childhood shopping trips following mom around a thrift store? I hated shopping as a kid, and I have no idea why. Maybe it was because I wanted to be outside. Most likely it is because I didn’t appreciate used clothing the way I do now. Thanks, mom.
Usually, when I get compliments on my clothing, I have to reply:
“Thanks, I found it at the secondhand store.” Said with pride that only bargain shoppers understand. Why? Because I feel zero guilt about how much a spent, and I don’t feel devastated when I eventually spill coffee all over myself.
In response, I usually hear: “I never have luck at thrift stores”.
This, I completely understand. Shopping secondhand is not the relaxing boutique experience where salespeople help you find the best fit in the latest trend. It took time for me to appreciate what thrifting really is – a Forest Gump box of chocolates, the secret Santa gift exchange of shopping. No. You do not know what you are going to get.
Enjoying the mystery is what makes thrift shopping successful. It is simple, and anyone can do it. If you have struggled to find something you love at a thrift store, please read this.
THE FOUR-STEP SYSTEM
1. Take Your Time
Going into a thrift store is often overwhelming. They are not known for their cleanliness or organization. Racks are often overstuffed and hard to shop. You have to come up with your own reason why thrift shopping is worth it and even fun. Personally, it is the thrill of the chase. I know there are great brands hiding in there for me to find. So when you walk in, take a deep breath and take your time. Only when you do this will you find those great pieces that are waiting to be discovered.
Also – a thrift store is not really the place to find a specific item you need. If you are in a hurry and need something specific, a thrift store will be frustrating. The thrift store is only going to be fun if you go into it with an open mind. You can say “I need more pants” or “I need some long sleeve tops” and start digging in those sections. Unfortunately, if you are thinking “I need a fuzzy blue pull-over sweater with a scoop neck” you will be disappointed. Trust me, go in for the mystery.
2. Skim For Brands
I start in the tops section because it is a good confidence booster for me. I can usually find a cute top that fits well. Then I begin quickly looking through each item checking the tag for specific brands. I love seeing J. Crew, Lucky, Free People, and Levi’s, but for you, it might be different. If I see a brand I like, I stop and check out the item and decide if I like it.
When I say quickly looking through, I mean I am just flipping through hangers looking at brand tags. I don’t have time to carefully examine thirteen old Target brand tops. I love Target as much as the next girl, but it is not because of their quality clothing.
Next, I move on to sweaters and then pants, and lastly shoes (a note on shoes later). I never buy swimsuits or undergarments secondhand, for obvious reasons, but also because those racks are the absolute WORST and I don’t want to sift through those things. If you feel up for it, go right ahead.
3. Trust Your Gut
When you come across a shirt or a pair of pants that – regardless of the brand – make you stop and look – just do it! Maybe it is the texture or the pattern that catches your attention.
I often find that unfamiliar brands have great fabrics and fun cuts that I would miss if I stuck to a strict brand name search.
When it comes to browsing shoes, I trust my gut exclusively. It is partly because I am not a fashionista who knows a lot about shoe brands, and secondly because the shoes are displayed on racks that you can just look and decide which ones you would like to wear. Then I try them on and see if they seem sturdy and comfortable. If they feel and look good, boom. New shoes thanks to my trusty gut.
4. Carry It Around
Anything that I like, I take off of the rack and carry it with me while I shop. Sometimes this makes me look like a crazy secondhand lady with a full shopping cart. How else am I supposed to sip my latte with a bunch of hangers in my hands?? Sometimes I only find one or two things I like, but usually, I just grab things and throw them in if it feels right at the time (refer to step #3).
Also, if I leave an item I like on the rack, I will not be able to find it again quickly if I decide I want to buy it.
Instead, I stock-pile and do a couple of run-throughs at the end to weed out the items I can live without. I narrow it down to the items with the best shapes and highest quality fabrics.
And just for fun, I always allow myself to get one crazy thing that doesn’t follow any of the rules.
WHY IT IS WORTH IT
If you are still reading this, you are probably someone who values a good deal. You don’t really want to pay for brand name clothes. You are probably someone who has also fallen victim to cheap fast-fashion at Target only to realize that two washes later your items are see-through or unraveling. You want quality clothing that makes you feel and look great, without having to shell out so much cash. This is an amazing reason to go to thrift stores!!!
Something else I have realized – items that have already been worn and washed are far less likely to get ruined in your washer and dryer. Fabrics that have already been stretched, shrunk, and put through the test of time will show you what is worth buying used. What a garment looks like on the rack at the secondhand store is very telling of the overall quality. This is why I skim for brands, but also stop for quality feeling fabrics. I have purchased plenty of off-brand clothes that have lasted a really long time!
Lastly, buying used clothes is better for the environment and in some cases, benefits a non-profit organization that is supporting your local community. You consume less, spend less, and recycle clothes that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
So check out your local thrift store are give it a try! If you find something you love – send me a picture!