How To Thrift Shop: 7 Thrifting Tips For Second Hand SuccessImage by View Apart#thriftingtips #thriftshoppingtips #tipsforthrifting #howtothriftshop #thrifting #sustainablejungle
Image by View Apart

How To Thrift Shop: 7 Thrifting Tips For Second Hand Success

Cue Maclemore’s 2012 hit because… we’re about to go thrift shopping. 

Thrift stores may be the best place for all things worn and weathered, you yourself might become the same if you head in without a plan. As wonderful as they are, they can be overwhelming and under organized. Part of the magic, yes, but a challenge when making shopping at thrift stores a sustainable first resort for needed “new” things.

Whether the upcoming weekend has you planning to hit up your local Goodwill, a massive multi-family garage sale, or simply staying cozy on the couch while perusing online second hand stores, we’ve got a (thrift) haul of our top thrifting tips and tricks just for you.

Or watch our video on the highlights of how to go thrifting below.

1. Prepare For Your Pre-Loved Adventure

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Your level of preparedness somewhat depends on how intense you plan on making the excursion. Are you simply hitting up one shop on your way to meet some friends for dinner, or are you heading out for an all-day thrifting extravaganza to score a new stock of goodies for all your upcycled thrift flip ideas?

Before you walk into the mecca of hand-me-downs, take some time to think about the following:

  • What do you actually need? Notice we said “need.” A thrift store can be a great place to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, but if you go in without a plan, studies show you’re 97% likely to leave with a bag of 80’s tees and an old prom dress. Just kidding, there are no “studies” but we certainly have enough personal experience to back this up. Make a list and *try* to stick to it.
  • What is your budget? While you certainly won’t be at risk for spending as much as you would at a shopping mall, you can still end up spending a lot of money during a day of thrifting. “But it’s only $2!” adds up when you’ve said it forty times. Set a budget and stick to it. 
  • Do you have an open mind? If you’re a virgin thrifter and only expect to find gross, smelly, ripped clothes, you will. Trust us, you will. If you go in knowing you’ll find a pair of black, vegan leather boots, size 7, you’ll probably experience some disappointment. There will be some gross, useless stuff, but there are also rare and valuable finds. Keep an open mind and you’ll be impressed with what you do find (like an unexpected pair of $275 jeans for $6!). 

Don’t forget to bring your reusable bags, too. Otherwise, when you leave the thrift store with a massive haul, guess what they’ll put it in? 

A massive plastic bag.

2. Mindset Matters

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A thrift store can be either a wondrous treasure trove or a place where you can accumulate more junk than you know what to do with, so it’s important not to use it as a coping mechanism. The following tips for thrifting can help you get into the right head-space and maintaining your energy throughout:

  • Get into a state of zen when you walk through the doors. Pop on a good playlist or podcast (we happen to know a great one… hint hint) and take your time as you search through everything. Something energized and upbeat is a good way to keep you in your prime shopping state.
  • Wear comfy shoes and dress in layers (temperatures in thrift stores seem to vary from walk in freezer to a sauna). Nothing will ruin your trip faster than finding yourself physically uncomfortable.
  • Bring emergency supplies and rations. We normally bring an eco-friendly bottle of water and a small snack since no one can shop effectively when hangery. Hand sanitizer is also an essential.

And don’t forget: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time, have fun with it, and enjoy the process, not just the haul.

3. Early Bird Gets The Worm

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Shopping at thrift stores is kind of like shopping on Black Friday—Sustainable Black Friday that is—so don’t be afraid to set your alarm on a weekend and start early. The thrift store pros will be out before anyone else to have prime access to all of the recently-donated goodies. 

If you’re heading to brick-and-mortar thrift stores near you, check their website or social media in advance. Many thrift stores have special sale days where garments with a certain color tag are 25%, 50%, or even 75% off. To avoid the rush, get there early. Once there, start with the hot commodities, like shoes, dresses, and new arrivals.

4. Leave No Hanger Unmoved

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A thrift store isn’t for the faint of heart. Think of thrifting as a sport, because you can expect some competition. Everyone wants to get their hands on that vintage Patagonia Snap-T pullover, and it’s a case of “finders keepers”. 

To find the good stuff, you’re going to have to put in a bit of work—AKA flipping through every single hanger to find the true gems. As you carefully comb each rack and refine your sense of discernment, remember quality is more important than quantity

  • Inspect all angles. Keep an eye out for any pill balls, snags, tears, stains, or signs of damage. Damage isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but know which flaws are fatal and which are fixable.
  • Turn the garment inside out. Check the inside of the piece to see if there are any lining tears, loose threading, missing tags, or other issues. Again, most of these can be easily fixed but be real with yourself, but will you actually spend the time fixing them? 
  • Check for all necessary hardware. Be sure that all zippers, snaps, buttons, and hook-and-eyes are there and securely attached. 
  • Perform the good old fashioned smell test. You can generally expect older garments to smell like mothballs and musk – easily remedied with a few washes. But some garments hold far more foul odors that no amount of washing will ever entirely erase.

In your frenzied flipping, don’t forget about discount bulk bins. The typical thrift store cycle means items are kept for a limited period of time. Discount racks and bulk bins (where items are sold by weight, in pre-packaged bags, or just for ultra cheap) are normally the last stop before the garments end up in landfills or sent overseas for possible recycling. 

If you want to reduce the environmental impact of piles of clothes in landfill or shipping something around the world, try to find the hidden gems in these piles, or at the very least, the diamonds in the rough that could be polished into something pretty magical through some of our upcycled clothing tips.

5. Get Familiar With Fabrics

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You’ll develop a certain thrift store finesse over time, where you’ll be able to simply feel the fabrics to determine if they’re quality or not. For instance, jeans made out of 100% cotton have a wayyyy different feel than jeans made with 98% cotton and 2% spandex. 

Before you can feel the fabrics, check out the labels—knowing both where to look for them and how to read clothing labels (especially vintage clothing labels).

These will tell you what something is made of, but you should have a basic understanding of various fabric qualities and merits, as this can work as an excellent tiebreaker if you just can’t decide between those two equally adorable a-line dresses.

This is less of a tip on thrifting and more of a tip on clothes buying in general, but go natural if you can. While buying synthetic goods is never more acceptable than at a thrift store, natural fabrics are still better if for no other reason than you can compost them if you fully wear the life out of them. They’re also usually better for your body. 

6. Don’t Depend On A Dressing Room

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Many thrift stores don’t have dressing rooms so it’s important to know what to wear thrifting that will easily allow you to try things on.

Also consider that many thrift stores haev vintage clothes from eras when sizing was much different. Not that today’s size consistency is any better (ladies, you know what we mean). To prevent other shopping from seeing you in your birthday suit, prepare with these thrifting ideas:

  • Dress in layers. Thinner leggings or bike shorts are easy for trying on pants and a tight camisole underneath a jacket or sweatetr makes it so you can easily slip dresses or blouses over top. Or if you own a catsuit, this is your time to shine.
  • Have a friend handy. No mirrors? Have a friend close by to snap a photo. Or don’t be embarrassed to take a selfie in public.
  • Always pack a pair of socks. We’re assuming you don’t want to try on someone’s old shoes with your bare feet, and no one else wants your bare feet in shoes they might buy. 

7. Keep It Controlled & Conscious

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Image by FG Trade

Perhaps the most important of all these thrift shopping tips is to know when to rein it in.

Thrifting is one of the best tools we have for making shopping sustainable, but as it’s become increasingly become less stigmatized and people from all walks of life are taking part, there have been some concerns about the ethics behind it. Some of the big corporate giants in the world of thrifting (ahem, Goodwill) have been in the news recently. The CEO of Goodwill received a salary of almost $730,000 in 2018—while workers with disabilities earn less than minimum wage.

Plus, with the massive spike in second hand shopping trends in recent years, some have raised valid points that thrifting’s newfound popularity is raising prices and making it less accessible to those who actually need thrift store prices to obtain necessary goods at all—not to mention that it’s now yet another facet of consumerist trends.

Just because buying used is better than buying new doesn’t mean we should forget that buying nothing at all should still be our first choice. With this in mind, here are a few approaches for how to shop at thrift stores in a more conscious manner:

Only Buy What You’ll Wear

Sometimes, our hunter and gatherer nature returns when we’re waist-deep in thrift store finds. Our blood is pumping, our eyes dilated, and we’re ready to go back to the pants section just one more time (for the fourth time).

But if you’re only buying something that will end up sitting on the floor in your closet until you return it to the thrift store again next month, don’t. Avoid the cycle of overconsumption and disposal, from which thrifting still isn’t exempt. No one needs a second closet, more shoes than fingers and toes, or a ‘70s polyester pantsuit that will surely be incorporated into a new, trendy outfit. 

Thrifting inherently contradicts fast fashion but the rules of slow fashion still apply. Always ask yourself: will I wear this? If the answer isn’t an emphatic “yes”, leave it on the rack—even if that sultry-sequined jacket has the same price as a soy latte.

Avoid Purchasing High-Need Items

For many people, shopping at thrift stores is driven by necessity, not fun. They’re the only way some people are able to dress for work, clothe their quickly-growing kids, or prepare for the changing seasons. For this reason, there are some items generally in higher demand.

If you’re not stretched financially, leave these items for other people who need them more: seasonal garments (i.e. winter coats and boots, swimsuits), professional clothes (i.e. interview-worthy garments, scrubs, suits), and plus-sized clothes. 

Support Smaller Shops Aligned With Your Values

Prices of second hand goods are growing as exponentially as the popularity of thrifting itself, so to keep thrifting accessible to those who need it, avoid larger, affordable thrift chains and turn to smaller consignment or online vintage stores. If you’re only buying minimally and what you need, these prices are still a drop-in-the-bucket compared to buying new.

Similarly, if you’re opting for supporting charity thrift stores, aim to support those that align with your values. 

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