Natalie’s Five Basic Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

Looking to build your wardrobe on a budget?  Try shopping at a second-hand, thrift, or consignment store.  Here are five tips to help you maximize your shopping experience.

Author’s Note:  This article originally appeared on Helium almost 4 years ago, but the tips still ring true today.  This is a quick overview of the basics – in the future, I’ll write more in-depth articles on thrifting.

1.  Assess your closet.  Before heading to the store, take stock of what you already have.  Clean out all the clothes that do not fit or that you no longer wear.  (You can take them with you as donations.)  Decide what kind of clothes you need, either to replace what you are discarding or to match the existing pieces in your closet.  By examining your wardrobe, it will be fresh in your mind that you do not need any more black pants because you already have four pairs that fit.  By the same token, you will not buy several tops to go with black pants you have at home only to find out that the pants no longer fit.  Don’t forget to take inventory of your shoes.  It will be helpful when you are considering if you have any footwear to match the new potential dress you’ve found.  You may also find a pair of shoes at the store, but can’t remember how many pairs of black pumps you already own.

2.  Hit several area stores.  Plan a route of several stores.  Typically, you will find a few favorite places to shop.  One store may have a better selection of dresses; another, shirts.  Also, due to the transitory nature of the merchandise, your chances of getting lucky increase with the number of stores you visit.  While you may not find anything your size at Store A, someone just your size may have donated to Store B!  But even if you visit several stores and come up relatively empty-handed, don’t despair.  Try your route again in a few weeks or months.  The inventory can have a quick turnover as people buy and donate more, and you may find several items on a different day.  It’s all a matter of luck.

3.  Remember that you can’t return anything.  If you don’t already possess a refined skill of decision making, you will have to cultivate this skill in order to avoid buyer’s remorse.  Here are some basic questions to get you started:

  • Do you really like the piece, or just feel tempted because it is a great deal?
  • Does it coordinate with other pieces you already own?  Will you have to buy additional pieces like shoes, jewelry, or other accessories?  Are you willing to purchase these additional items if you don’t already own them?
  • Will you have an occasion/s to wear this piece to?  How often might you wear this piece?  Is it worth it, for the money or the storage space?

4.  Check for any problems.  Test all zippers, buttons, and other enclosures.  Inspect the garment for rips, stains, fading, or abnormalities.  Do a quick sniff test for lingering cigarette smoke, musty smells, or other odors which the fabric may retain even after washing.

5.  Check the “garment care” label.  Is the item dry-clean only?  Are you willing to buy the garment if the care is a little more involved than you are used to?  Some items that say dry-clean only may withstand a gentle cycle or hand-washing, but will not withstand a normal cycle like, say, cotton or denim.  Be aware that even some used garments may still bleed in the wash.

With these five tips in mind, you will save money and effort when you bargain shop at a thrift store.  Good luck!

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  2. […] of stores in the area.  Whenever you’re out thrifting for the day, it’s wise to plan a route of several stores to get the most from your outing.  Just as celebrities make their rounds on the “press […]



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