20 tips for the thrift shop

I recently discovered that thrift store shopping is now cool.

And that makes me very happy.

I've been consigning clothes since college, and have been a regular thrifter since I moved close enough to walk to one. There are two reasons why I am such a fan:

a. I am poor.
b. I like to vote with my dollar.

Living on a grad student's stipend, it's just not an option for me to go all BR and Bebe once a month to refresh my wardrobe. We humans adjust quickly to the pleasure of new things, so it's just not worth spending a ton of money on the stuff that won't seem as amazing a few months down the road. And I also believe we can send powerful messages about what we believe in by withholding our dollars. At the thrift store, I can get brand names without directly supporting unethical practices. Those companies have already been supported once; I avoid supporting them a second time. (And let's be real...Even if companies have generally good practices, they are still making a ton of money charging way more for clothes than what they are actually worth.)


I'm also happy about the new popularity of thrifting for two reasons:

a. I hope others will vote with their dollars too.
b. I hope this means more awesome donations for me to buy.


If you're ready to jump on the bandwagon, here is a looong list of my top tips for making the most of thrifting.

General Tactics

1. Go often. Turn over is high in thrift stores. Buy less per visit, but make more visits.
2. Go early and on weekdays. Saturday mornings are busy and full of children. To have the most pleasant experience and get the best stuff, go when it hasn't been rifled through yet and all is still quiet.
3. Go when stock is new. You can ask someone at your thrift store what days they put out new stuff, or if you go often enough, you'll just notice when the shelves are more full.
4. Bring cash. Many places don't take cards.
5. Go to multiple stores. Different stores can be better for different things. I go to one place primarily for clothes, and another place primarily for housewares. Check out the ones in your area.
6. It's not too good to be true. A lot of people donate a lot of awesome stuff for tons of reasons. If you find something amazing, trust your instinct and cash in. I once picked up a guitar for Rock Band that sells for almost $100 on amazon for $5!
7. But don't get it if it's not perfect. That said, a lot of things seem awesome at first, but have little flaws that will bother you later. There is plenty of stuff in the thrift store, and you'll find yourself filling up your home with junk if you're not prudent in your selection. You might not need that version of Trivial Pursuit from 1983 (true story).
8. Vintage does not necessarily = awesome. Case in point: I once bought an old sewing machine, could not find a manual online, and ended up returning it to the thrift store whence it came.
9. Check behind the counter. Sometimes the more high ticket items are kept behind the counter, or if you're looking for something in particular, the employees can let you know if they have it, and it's just not put out yet.
10. Purge your home. It's always a good idea to take a load of donations with you to the store. Not only does this keep your home from getting cluttered, but I also believe it contributes to positive thrift store karma...what you give, you shall receive.
11. Know what not to get. First, there are the obvious things...underwear, pillows, cosmetics. And then, certainly, you should avoid buying anything you don't really need or really love. Again, it will just lead to a junky home. And finally, there are certain items that will be a sticking point for you personally. It is really hard for me to find a good fitting pair of jeans or dress at the thrift store. So when I really need something like that, I usually just buy it new.

12. Check where dishes were made. There's a pretty good chance they were made in China, and checking that is a good way to screen for quality and potentially hazardous products. It's also an indicator of high quality goods. You never know when you'll stumble across some Royal Doulton.
13. Plug it in. My thrift store has outlets by its collection of appliances and lamps, so you can test them before you take them home.
14. Give them a good cleaning. No matter how clean an item may appear to be, it will always be coated in the grime from someone else's home. I hope this one goes without saying...

15. Scan clothes. Sometimes, the clothing section can be huge. And since it's generally not organized by size, some scanning techniques can be really helpful. I often skim pants, skirts, and dresses for length. I need them to stand out as shorter than everything else on the rack. I also skim patterns. If it doesn't stand out to me as something I love, there's no point taking a closer look.
16. Check key areas for key defects. Key areas are the armpits, the groin, and edges. Key defects are tiny holes, stains, loose threads, and pills. Give it a good once-over too. Look closely. My store washes all clothes before putting them out, but it's good to give a gentle sniff too...hard-to-remove smells like cigarette smoke will linger. And don't get it if it's not perfect.
17. Be wary of staples and stickers. My thrift store staples the price onto clothes...generally onto the tag. Sometimes it's right through the fabric though, and it can be particularly difficult for certain fabrics to survive them (like silk and thin cottons). The picture below was a rookie mistake of mine. Luckily, I was able to remove them very carefully without causing any damage, but I haven't always been that lucky.


18. Check labels for brand and care. I generally don't get anything that requires dry cleaning (except coats) or hand washing. And if I know the brand is not high quality when it's new, I usually won't buy it used.
19. Wear something light. My thrift store doesn't have dressing rooms, and even if it did, I wouldn't always want to try everything on bare skin. Wearing something light (like leggings and a long cami) allows you to try stuff on top. I can also get away with not trying everything on. It helps to know what size you are in common brands, and to know what cuts tend to fit you well.
20. Wash it asap. Again, if you couldn't figure this one out, thrift store shopping is probably not for you.

Any other tips from seasoned thrifters?


  1. These are all good! Thrift shopping is like therapy to me.

  2. LOVE this post. I buy a ton of my clothes from Vintage and thrift stores! Great tips all around :)

    x Abby

  3. GIRL this is awesome and much needed. I have to admit I am the worst thrift shopper. I always blame it on bad luck, but I think I just don't try often enough. Slash I talk myself out of a lot of things. What are some of your favorite thrift stores in Boston??

    1. I definitely talk myself out of a lot of things too...that's good practice, I think!

      I like the Goodwill on Comm Ave for household goods, and Urban Renewals for clothes (but UR doesn't have dressing rooms, and you sometimes have to search for a good find). I do NOT like the Goodwill in Cambridge. And apparently Boomerangs is pretty good, though I've never been...sounds like it's a bit cleaner and hipper.

  4. Unfortunately the quality of goods is directly proportional to the surrounding neighborhoods. Upscale people donate upscale goods, while rural GWs tend to have more Wal-Mart and low-end department store stuff

  5. Love these tips! I've always been a little wary of thrift shops but this makes me feel like I could conquer one! There's a couple on my bus route home from school (right in your hood, I think!) that I'll have to stop by ASAP.

  6. these are all great tips to go by, and i still find myself forgetting even after years and years of thrifting. honestly, i'd go everyday if had my way! it's such a fun treasure hunt. there is a small shop just steps away from our apartment right now, but i stick to the "50% off" tags.

  7. The connection glitched on me, so if there are two comments, that's why! Great post, and your tips are very comprehensive....couldn't think of another thing to add!

  8. Whatever's good for your budget is always cool ;-)
    Lots of people like shopping but have to cut back on their clothing budget and only purchase the essentials. Getting deals on clothing at stores such as this one makes it possible to stretch a dollar comfortably.


Thanks for making me smile. =)