Want to make the most out of your thrift store shopping trips? My best shopping tips will help you save money and score big every time you go thrifting!
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I first learned about thrift store shopping when I was in my early teens. A few friends introduced me to Goodwill, and they were the ones who showed me the ropes.
In those earlier days, I didn’t really know what to look for. My style was still evolving, and I didn’t pay much attention to the brands I bought. I wound up with a closet full of mismatched (and probably somewhat dated) pieces that really didn’t do much for my body.
More than ten years later, I’ve refined my craft to the point that I only buy things that I know will express my individual style and highlight my best features. I’m far more selective of the brands I buy, and I tend to choose classic pieces over trendy ones.
In short, I’ve learned a few tricks that drastically improved my thrifting skills and help me make the most out of every thrift store shopping trip.
Even though you probably have a different taste in fashion and brands than me, I want to share six of my best thrift store shopping tips with you so you can make the most out of your shopping trips too!
6 Thrift Store Shopping Tips to Help You Score Big Every. Single. Time.
Be Aware of Current Fashions so you Know What to Buy (and what to avoid!)
I like to at least be aware of trends even though I’m not an overly trendy person. I don’t usually buy into the latest clothing crazes because I know they won’t last. Instead, I prefer classy styles that tend to look good year after year.
Still, I like to know what’s “in” so I can incorporate a few trendy pieces here and there.
Also, being aware of what’s in style now prevents me from buying dated pieces. If you’ve ever visited a thrift store, you know they’re filled with dated cuts, colors, styles, and even fabrics. I can spot a crop top circa 2001 a mile away!
Obviously, we don’t want our wardrobes to look like they came from Goodwill, so it’s a good idea to avoid items that went out of style years ago.
Try Goodwill First
Goodwill typically doesn’t price items individually (unless it’s a designer brand), so a stained shirt from Walmart costs the same as a brand-new-with-tags Banana Republic top. I like this equal pricing structure because it allows me to get the best brands for a set price.
Other thrift and consignment stores know the value of their items, so they often price each piece individually. This means the bigger name brands come with a bigger price tag.
Of course, the price is still better than what you’d pay in a retail store, but I like to find the lowest prices possible.
Shop in Affluent Areas
This one is key! Not all thrift stores are created equally. Be aware of the area where the store is located. If it’s in a low income area, the clothes will likely be worn, and there will be fewer name brand items.
On the other hand, a store located in a high income area is where you’ll find the best clothes. People with a lot of money are able to buy brand-new, top-of-the-line clothing, and they often don’t keep the items long enough to wear them out. This is why their local thrift stores are loaded with hidden treasures.
In affluent areas, I’ve found plenty of Ann Taylor, Talbots, and Banana Republic items with the tags still on them!! We’re talking brand new items that look as though they were probably hanging in the store last season.
My favorite Goodwill stores are in the areas surrounding Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is an expensive area, and many women who live there are highly fashionable.
My whole family loves to vacation near Charleston, so we make a point to visit a few Goodwill stores each time we’re there. Inventory is constantly changing, so we always have a fresh supply of top brands to choose from.
If you live near a high income area, pop into a Goodwill to see if you can tell a difference in the quality of clothing.
Look for the Biggest Name Brands you can Find
If you want to maximize your thrift store dollars, look for the best name brands for your particular style.
For me, those brands include Talbots, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic, White House Black Market, J.Crew, and a little bit of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.
These brands are more expensive and tend to be higher quality. So even though I’m the second (or third!) owner, the fabrics really hold up and take longer to show signs of wear.
So, you can spend $4 for a Walmart blouse or $4 for a Calvin Klein one. Which one do you think will last longer in your closet? Probably the Calvin Klein. It’s going to hold up better in the wash, so you’re getting a bigger bang for your buck in this scenario.
It may take a while, but eventually you’ll memorize your favorite brands’ labels for quick scanning. It can be overwhelming to wade through a sea of clothes crammed tightly on racks, but you’ll learn to tune out the cheap stuff and hone in on the goods.
Since I’ve been thrifting for so long, I’m at the point where I can recognize a particular brand without even seeing the label. That’s because I know the quality of that brand’s fabrics. I can tell the difference between an Ann Taylor blouse and one from Walmart, so it isn’t hard for me to spot the Ann Taylor among the cheaper fabrics.
Check Each Item Thoroughly
All of the clothes you see in a thrift store were donated for a reason. Sometimes the previous owner just didn’t like the item. Other times it’s because there’s a huge stain on the back of that gorgeous dress.
I always carefully inspect each item before I buy it. I’m looking for stains, holes, broken zippers, missing buttons, stretched-out fabric, etc.
Sometimes the flaw isn’t bad enough for me to put the item back on the rack. But there have been times when I was glad I spotted a grease stain before wasting $4 on a ruined shirt. It pays to be thorough or else you risk wasting money and/or filling your closet with clothes that have seen better days.
Try it on Before you Buy it
Some thrift stores have a no-return policy. This isn’t like a traditional retail store where you can just take it back if you don’t like the way a particular piece fits. I know it can be inconvenient, but you really need to try on every single thing before you buy it.
Also, keep in mind that these clothes are used, so that means the previous owner may not have laundered the items properly. Even though the tag may say a size 4, those dress pants might really fit like a size 2 if the previous owner tossed them in the dryer by accident.
I know this from experience, my friend! And I was so glad I discovered the shrinkage in the dressing room instead of at my house.
More Thrift Store Tips You Need to Know
Some of these go without saying, but I figure I should probably put them out there anyway just to be safe.
- Don’t buy underwear from thrift stores. ‘Nuff said.
- I’m not saying you can’t buy swimwear from a thrift store, but be selective. Personally, I only buy swimwear from thrift stores when it’s brand new with tags.
- Use discretion when buying hats. Hats that can be thrown in the washing machine (cotton bucket hats, for example) are probably okay, but ones that can’t be washed may pose a health concern (read: lice).
- Wash before you wear anything (both for sanitation purposes and to get rid of that thrift store smell).
- Visit thrift stores often. Inventory is constantly changing, so just because you didn’t find anything this week doesn’t mean you won’t find something next week.
- Shop off-season. You’ll have a bigger selection because everyone else is too busy looking for in-season clothes.
- Be selective. It’s easy to turn into a hoarder when shirts are only $2-4 a pop. Make sure you absolutely love and/or need the item before you buy it or else it will likely end up wedged in your too-crammed closet with eight other similar items.
Wrapping It Up
Whew! So those are my best thrift store shopping tips!
Remember to be aware of current fashions so you know what to buy and what to avoid, try Goodwill first because of its *usually* even pricing structure, shop in affluent areas, look for the biggest name brands you can find for your particular style, check each item thoroughly, and try it on before you buy it.
When you follow these tips, you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck every single time!
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What about you? Do you have any thrift store shopping tips to share?
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