10 Tips for Shopping at Thrift Stores

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I (Jessica) am a self-proclaimed failure at thrift store shopping. So, I have a few things to learn from Rena’s tips today. Maybe you do, too.

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Confession: About 80% of my wardrobe was bought from a thrift store. If you’ve never been thrift store or consignment/resale shopping, I really recommend it. I will warn you that your hands will feel dirty and gross afterwards, but the treasures you find will be totally worth it. People have told me that they don’t like wearing things that are used, but I like to think of them as “previously loved”.

Here are some tips to think about and to help make your thrift shopping a success:

1. If possible, wear specific clothing to go shopping.

Not all thrift stores have dressing rooms, so sometimes it is a good idea to wear clothing that will be easy to try clothes on over. A neutral colored tank top works well to try on sweaters and shirts, a skirt to try pants on under and slip-on shoes that are easy to take on and off.

Unfortunately you most likely won’t be able to return items, so it is important to know it fits you really well before you purchase. If there are no mirrors, go ahead and have a friend (or one of your offspring) shoot a picture of you.

2.When you go in, start in the area of the item you most desire.

Depending on the size of the thrift store, you might not get to everything. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with the item of clothing you would most like to purchase (shirts, dresses, etc.).

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3. Go in with an open mind, not something specific.

I’ve always heard that the higher your expectations, the more likely you will be disappointed. It’s highly unlikely that if you are looking for a “forest green cardigan from GAP with 3/4 length sleeves” that you will find it. Instead, just look through the cardigans and hope to find something else that might fit in your wardrobe.

You also might be surprised with the amount of things that you find that you WEREN’T looking for. So, being ready for anything is your best best.

4. Look through the clothes quickly.

Because you probably have a lot of ground to cover, it’s best if you skim the clothes quickly by looking at the fabric and colors and only stopping when you see something that pleases you.

5. Don’t be afraid to try on sizes that aren’t yours.

Because most of these clothes have been owned before, there is the chance that the item has been shrunk or stretched out, so feel free to try on sizes that are close to your size. I am a size 12, but have clothes that are size 10 and size 14.

This could also have a lot to do with the manufacturers’ not having consistent sizing. If you hold it up to yourself in the store and it looks like it would fit, go ahead and try it on.

This also applies to shoes. In my wardrobe, I have shoes from 7 1/2 to 9. Just make sure to TRY IT ON!

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6. Stick with brand names.

I wouldn’t consider myself a “label fiend”, but when I come across something in a thrift store that I like, I ALWAYS look at the tag. This gives me an idea of what size it should be to fit me, what the fabric is made out of, and how well it is made. Get to know your brands as far as ones that might come from Ross, Target, Gap, Old Navy or Nordstrom because you are most likely to encounter these.

This is not to say that if you find something that doesn’t have a brand on it, don’t get it, but just be wary of the way it is made. I have found some cool, possibly homemade things before. In this instance, judge how the fabric feels and how it fits you.

7. Look for wear and tear & be honest about whether you would wear it a lot.

Look the item over carefully for any rips, snags, or material that looks like it could pill easily. Discerning the wear and tear will help you decide how much you like it and if you want to keep it. Also, make sure that it’s something that you would wear often and be a good addition to your wardrobe. Don’t just buy it because it is a good deal.

It is helpful to shop with a friend in these instances to give you honest opinions about your purchases. It is also a good idea to check the tag for the care of an item, such as if it needs to be dry-cleaned.

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8. Know what works on your body type.

If you know that you look horrible in pencil skirts or cropped jackets, it’s probably not a good use of your time to bother trying it on. Go ahead and skip these items.

If it’s an item you are unsure of, it could be a good idea to try it on because you could be surprised to find a new style that works for your body. Don’t bother with items that don’t fit you really well or aren’t comfortable.

9. Think about how you could accessorize or fit the item into your wardrobe.

While I shop, I hold items up and make outfits with them in my head. If I see a pretty cowl neck sweater, I think “this would look great with a denim skirt and knee-high boots”. This will help you decide whether or not to purchase an item.

10. Don’t get discouraged, be consistent.

Thrift store shopping is hit or miss, so some shopping trips might seem like failures. But there will be those amazing finds that you get, that will make the search totally worth it.

When you do start finding a lot of great deals, beware! It’ll get super addicting! You will want to go all the time to see what you can find.

Some other tips include: taking cash with you AND checking store hours before you head out, since thrift/consignment store hours aren’t always the same as normal stores.

How do YOU make thrifting a winning experience?

Rena, aka “the girl with the smile”, is an optimistic style blogger in San Diego. Learning about fashion through trial & error (high school years were pretty awkward), she loves fashion and the ability to create a look and boost self-confidence through clothing. Since Rena lives with all men (husband and two sons), she needed an outlet for her fashion knowledge, so she started the blog The Girl with the Smile.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Pamela J says

    I love the Goodwill in our town. My kids can ruin an outfit quickly! (tears, stains, etc) At least I can be glad I didn’t pay too much for it and let them just be kids. Great tips!

    • Totally! I am the same way. I get ALL my kids clothing from clothing exchanges or thrift stores and therefore don’t get as upset when they complete beat up their clothes. 😉

  2. The big box thrift stores around here are expensive, but there are little ones that have great deals and are a lot more fun. I’d add two tips to your great list: find the little thrift shops, and shop the sales.

    Last week I sent 4 girls and $20 off to a tiny local thrift shop and they came home with an enormous garbage bag of quality clothing that would have cost several hundred at a big box thrift store.

    • What a score on the garbage bag full of clothes! Unfortunately around my parts, the smaller thrift stores tend to be more expensive. But a totally great tip to shop around for the best price. 🙂

  3. Susie E says

    1.Shop off season. I found the perfect trench coat I’d been looking for…. in June.
    2. Keep a wish list of what you would like to find (pinterest works great for this) Having a goal helps keep me focused.
    3. Look for discount days and coupons. 50% off at a thrift store really rocks!
    4, Know your store and befriend the employees. One employee told me that the best day to shop that particular store was on Tuesdays, because the had time to process the weekend donations and put them out.

  4. I love thrift stores – All of my favorite clothes are second hand. I see it as treasure hunting. You can’t argue with spending $2 on a sweater that would cost $80.

    I heartily encourage making it a family venture with the kids. My 16 y.o. daughter embraces thrift store shopping because she’s discovered how much she can get on a tight budget – including some of the brands she loves. If you start young, they get used to it.

    • Sarah, It’s totally like treasure hunting! That’s why it can get so addicting! I can’t wait for my kids to be older and appreciate a good deal! 🙂

  5. Jessie says

    I try to hit up all the thrift stores in my area and make a mental note of what they have. Some stores have loads of furniture, a great selection of maternity clothes, small appliances. Other times I pick where I go because of cleanliness and organization!

    • Jessie, I bought about half of my maternity clothes from thrift stores! And a clean & organized thrift store is ALWAYS a plus. I especially appreciate ones that have carts that I can corral my kids in while I shop. Heehee.

  6. Janet says

    I have always been hesitant to buy anything with cloth from a second hand store. I have always worried about bed bugs and lice. Am I being too cautious?

    • Janet, I can understand your concern and feel like it’s totally valid. I have never had the unfortunate experience of getting any nasty critters, but if you’re worried, you could bring it right home and wash it on “Sanitary” to make sure to kill any unwanted friends. And just remember that thrift store shopping isn’t for everyone, so if you go and just aren’t getting the appeal, then don’t worry about it and stick to the stores where you feel comfortable. 🙂

  7. Mama Sheep says

    I’ve been a yardsale and thrift store shopper from day one thanks to my mom and my aunt. And now all 4 of my kids are! I love when our local thrift store does bag sales. Anything $4.99 and under goes into a bag for $10 and anything $5 and up goes into one for $20. I got a pair of pants and a shirt for each of my three oldest, pants and jammies for my (at the time newborn) all for $10!

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