Tips for Thrift Shopping

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The number one question a thrift-lover is asked on a regular basis is: “How do you ever find anything?!” The thing about thrifters is we don’t see these shops as gross, we look past the scent lingering in the air from unwashed clothing, we see the limitless potential in every piece we see. The fun is in the search, the reward is discovering that magical piece whether its clothing, home decor or furniture. In these stores it is all one of a kind and to me, that’s something special.

I’ve watched plenty of YouTube videos and read plenty of blogs regarding the do’s and don’ts of thrift shopping. They all have similar points but a few I would disagree with based on how I go about it.

Try it on or wear your thrifting uniform

I used to load up a cart with items that looked like they would fit, I was pretty certain I was about this size and if not well I didn’t spend much so it’s okay. Its this attitude that gets you spending and wasting. More recently I have been taking the time to try things on, even if its just over top of my clothing. Now I don’t have a thrifting uniform (leggings, tank top as your base layers with easy to slip off shoes) I just go after work so whatever I’m wearing is how it is. Granted, this doesn’t make it easy usually for trying things on – so I have to really love it before I go through the effort in the change room.

Keep track of sale days

Some larger chain thrift stores like Value Village/Savers have mailing lists and will notify you a few days before a big sale. Sometimes they offer deals when you present your store member card. Other locations have a set schedule of days that certain types of items are on sale or will post a sign on their door announcing an upcoming sale.

Think beyond the thrift store

The key that helps me is to be able to think outside the store, come up with alternative uses or visualize the item in a space such as your home. Visualize your closet and your general style – does this item fit into that model? Where can you hang that painting? Will this feet between my furniture? What would this look like paired with that skirt?

Envision your wardrobe

We are often drawn to things that are unique, or flashy or maybe even sparkly. This isn’t to say we would actually wear this. Sometimes I will say to a friend that I am not sure if I like it or if its tacky. Sometimes clothing can go either way. We may be attracted to it for an unknown reason, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Does it fit within your individual style or does it push the boundaries too much?

Be patient

Patience goes a long way in the world of thrift. You cannot go if you are feeling rushed, angry or not in the mood. You need to be willing to dedicate time to take your leisurely stroll through the store. You also much go frequently. If you go once or twice a year sure you probably won’t find anything.

Buy only what you love

This is something that took me a long time to learn as I have the ability to alter and change items. I would buy it even with a mark on the chance that I could get it out with Spray’n’wash. I would buy tops that were just plain “staple” pieces like generic solid colour shirts thinking they would be good for an office setting. Sure, if I was a boring plain Jane type of girl!

Inspect carefully

Always check clothing and furniture carefully before you buy it. Most thrift stores do not carefully check for stains, rips or flaws and price based on the label – the number one thing that frustrates me about thrift shopping is the lack of quality standards. I would steer clear of electronics as normally people donate when it no longer works, not necessarily because it no longer suits their needs. Always consider price point matched against the value of the item. Is it worth this much to me?

Shop Off-Season

If you’re looking for home decor maybe decorations for the holidays, try having a look in the off season. Maybe even in January when the retail stores have their clearance sales – a lot of people donate their old items to replace with their new purchases around this time. You can stock up on great Christmas decor in the summer if you keep your eye out!

Check all size ranges

Peruse a variety of size racks just to see what jumps out at you. I know a lot of thrifters will say look everywhere but that’s a bit much don’t you think? Narrow down your search to different racks, let’s say sweaters. I can be a small, medium or large, or even an extra large if I want a slouchy look. Most people don’t realize that every brand has its own idea of sizing. H&M is my favourite label to joke about as honestly their size 2 can fit like a 10 and a 10 can fit like a 2. You really have to look at the item and try it on, ignore the label completely. I’ve found tons of dresses in the plus size section that are actually Streetwear Society or Dynamite – small fitting labels – so an XL is probably more like a medium.

Shop in off-peak times

My favourite time to thrift is during off-peak times when there is less traffic. This is also why I don’t go on Saturdays or in the middle of the day. First thing in the morning or at the end of the night which leaves you with less pressure and no hoverbots wanting to be everywhere that you are in case you find something they want.

Forgotten treasures

Don’t forget to check out forgotten essentials like the accessories, pantyhose, belts, jewellery and leggings. These are often priced very cheap and you kind find far more selection that retail stores! For example I buy the packages of pantyhose at thrift stores, they price them at .99 cents usually compared to Shoppers Drug Mart that can have them up to $15 – for an item I might put my fingernails through on the first wear I don’t see the point in spending a lot!

Will you wear it?

The most basic of questions to ask yourself any time you’re contemplating buying clothing of any sort. Don’t be suckered in because of the brand and price tag, don’t just buy it because its a great deal. We have a few thrifters that try to consign clothing at The Store and yes they may know the brand but they don’t have a concept of quality. Yes its a Lululemon hoodie, but it looks like its been to hell and back. They probably paid decent money at the thrift shop for it thinking they would make more money reselling at our store. Sadly that’s not plausible considering the condition. We are often drawn to things that we find unique, but not necessarily things that we would actually wear. Honestly if you have five tops already in dark slate blue, odds are you love wearing that colour – buying hot pink may not be in your best interest unless your goal is to step outside your comfort zone.

One in One Out Policy

To keep your home decor, furniture and wardrobe management, I suggest setting a policy for yourself whether that is “one in one out” or more like me “three in ten out” haha! Any time I buy a few pieces at the thrift store I come home and re-evaluate my closet. If I have found a new piece of art I had to have I do a walk around the house looking at my pre-existing art and decide if I still feel passionately about it or has it run its course. This way you are keeping your intake on the same balanced level as your out. If you ignore this you are on the path to hoarding!

A List of Wants & Needs

Most thrift tips have this listed but they seem to be too regimented with it. Yes keep a list of wants and needs in your mind, for me that’s tank tops, or white tops as I ruin them so easily being second hand in the first place they just don’t last. Sometimes its something like a tall narrow vase for grasses. You know where you want to display them, it just needs the right vase. These things are what you loosely keep in mind any time you walk in, but this doesn’t mean you can only buy whats on your list. Sometimes it can take months to find these specific items. I have always told people first off, the number one rule of thrifting is you can’t go searching for that one particular item. Kind of like finding that one needle in a stack of needles. It will find you when its meant to!

When in doubt…

…don’t. As easy as that. If you’re asking sales girls about your outfit, if its too big too small too wide too long… is it doing something funny in the back here? If have to ask the question, the answer is always yes. My response at the store is often “it doesn’t look too big from here but its about how you feel. If you feel that its too big, you’re always going to think so and won’t wear it.” If it doesn’t scream YES! Leave it be.

Personal acceptance

Accept that you will not always have “luck”. Too often beginners or “non thrifters” will sigh and say “I never find anything my sister finds things all the time.” Stop right there! If she finds things all the time that means she goes frequently so naturally she is going to find something sooner or later! Of course there are some stores where I rarely find anything, honestly I stop going to those places and check them out maybe once a year. Find stores that you find easier to scavenge, that you find more of your style in and stick to those stores. There is a Value Village in Ottawa off Clyde Street that I have so much luck in every time I’ve gone (this is a few times a year) and I think its because of the brands. I find the brands I love (Forever 21, H&M) that we don’t have in Kingston as often, and they are priced way better. Figure out where the cheaper pricing is as some places are competitive and others keep their prices generally lower. Remember that for thrifters, its about the hunt! You won’t always have luck and sometimes you will walk back out after an hour of searching with no bags in hand. This happens, that’s part of the gamble!


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