How To: Thrift Like a Pro

June 29, 2014

Hello, friends!  So, I realize it’s been a while since I’ve put up a How To post, but last month was so busy I just ran out of time, so I decided to postpone this post a bit.  Also, I wanted to make sure it was a good one, since it’s been requested a couple of times that I share some of my thrifting tips, and I definitely do not want to disappoint!  ;)


I have been at the thrifting game since high school, when I used to bum around town with my friend, stopping at the local Goodwill, Salvation Army and Savers.  We had limited budgets and big dreams, and like most high school girls, we thought we were super cool and unique by shopping secondhand and creating our own style.  Well, now that Macklemore has made thrift shopping all cool and popular, I suppose I’m probably considered a hipster, but I don’t care, I still like finding one-of-a-kind items at cheap prices!

If you’re new to thrift shopping, however, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when you’re browsing through the racks:

  1. Be open-minded.  This is easily and without a doubt my biggest tip for thrift shopping.  You have to have an open mind and not just look at the face value of an item, but at the possibilities of an item!  Be creative, think outside of the box and look for treasure where other people only see trash.  Try to look for pieces that speak to you, even if they’re not exactly the right size or they’re a little on the funky side, think of ways you can make them your own.  You don’t have to be an ace seamstress to refashion a garment into something fabulous – there are a million tutorials and DIY’s for upcycling and refashioning pretty much anything!
  2. Look at the quality.  Okay, now that you have an open mind, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.  Thrift stores can be a great place to go when you want to try a new trend, but you don’t want invest a lot of cash into something you’re not even sure you’re going to like, so you’re really just looking for something on the cheap.  (You know what I mean?)  That being said, thrift stores can also be a great place to find real, quality garments, including some awesome vintage finds!  This requires a little more patience, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to distinguish between higher quality fabrics and garment construction.  So if you’re looking for something that will last a little longer than the Forever 21 and H&M cast-offs, take the time to look for better pieces.
  3. Ignore tags, sizes & numbers.  I will tell you a little secret: I have clothes ranging from size Small all the way up to size X-Large, from size 4 up to size 10, and it all fits.  Thrift stores are a mish-mash of everything under the sun, including every size imaginable.  I own clothes from little girl and little boy sections, from women’s and men’s sections, too.  That’s the best part about thrift shopping to me – it’s all fair game.  Don’t worry about what the label says; if you like something and it looks like it might fit, then go for it!  Ignore the number on the tag and focus on the garment itself, especially since vintage sizing was on a completely different scale than the one we use today.  (According to most vintage patterns, I think I would be somewhere between a size 12 and a size 16.)  The only time you want to pay attention to the tag is when trying to determine if an item truly is vintage or not (vintage tags will just look old) or when trying to learn the material or washing instructions.
  4. Try things on.  I know it can be a hassle, but it’s worth your time and effort to try on what you find, especially if the thrift store in question doesn’t allow returns.  When you’re being so awesomely open-minded, and grabbing items from every size and section of the store, you’re going to want to try it all on to see how it actually fits.  I’ve grabbed dresses before that I totally didn’t think would fit over my hips, only to discover that they fit perfectly (like my Mod Thrift Style Thursday find!); and, on the flip side, I’ve tried on pieces that I thought would be awesome, only to discover that they have a totally weird fit, or just don’t fit at all (which is probably why they’re in the thrift store in the first place).  Trying things on can also allow you to see the potential in a garment that maybe you weren’t sure of before.  I’ve had it happen so many times where I grab a vintage dress or shirt, simply because it caught my eye, and, in the dressing room, the potential to turn it into something amazing will suddenly strike!
  5. Inspect carefully!  My last tip is also an important one.  A lot of times, items end up at the thrift store for a reason, so inspect everything very carefully.  I mean, like Sherlock Holmes careful!  Look for any small defect, rip, tear or mysterious stain.  It is the worst when you get something home only to discover that it has a fatal flaw and your new find is bound right back for where it started.  Some thrift stores are better than others at weeding out all of the “bad eggs,” but ultimately it’s up to you to take a close look at what you’re buying.  That being said, don’t despair if you suddenly discover that the amazing dress you just found, tried on, and fell in love with has a small stain, hole or tear.  There are ways to fix, patch or cover up small flaws – just look for some creative refashioning ideas!

Westchester County Thrift Shop, 1921

Here is a prime example of why I love thrift shopping:  I fell in love with the pattern and material on a too large, slightly stained vintage dress; but, I tried it on and I just knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to turn the cast-off into something fabulous.  It was vintage, it had a beautiful pattern, and I knew it was coming home with me, especially after I tried it on and saw the potential to turn it into a skirt or a dress.  So, I did just that; I refashioned it into a skirt that I now love, and for which I have received numerous compliments.  A dress that was once thrown out because it was in need of a little updating and it had a small stain is now a completely new, well-loved garment.  (You can see the transformation here!)

Yes, I thrift because it’s cheap and saves me a lot of money on clothes that I know may or may not last, but I also thrift because it can be creative, fun and a chance to remake something old into something new.  And, best of all, it’s an opportunity to find something totally unique or make something perfectly one-of-a-kind!

So, get out there and flex those creative, bargain-shopping muscles.  Hunt for buried treasure that only you can see and save some poor, lonely pieces from being forgotten forever amidst the racks and shelves of yesterday’s cast-offs!  And, as always, thanks for reading.  – Kristi :)

A WWI-era poster announcing Feb 3 as "Thrift Day."

A WWI-era poster announcing February 3, 1918 as “Thrift Day.”


*Images sourced via Flickr Commons with no known copyright restrictions.  Title image created by myself, please link to this post if you wish to reuse.  Thank you :)

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