I love thrift stores. Some of my best clothes come from thrift stores, and thrifting is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying things new. It’s one of the few things you can do that’s good for the earth and cheaper than the alternative. It’s also surprisingly fashionable.
In the first of what will hopefully be a series of posts, I’ll explain the basics of thrifting.
Why should you shop at a thrift store?
1. Price. In most thrift stores, you can buy an entire outfit for under $15. Many items are $1 or sometimes even less. You can often find items identical to what you would find at the mall for a fraction of the cost.
2. The environment. When you buy things second-hand, you’re supporting a sustainable model where things no longer of use to one person aren’t just thrown out. You’re also refraining from supporting companies that, nine times out of 10, have abhorrent environmental and labor practices. You can buy things made by questionable companies guilt-free.
3. Charity. Most thrift stores are run by non-profits who use the money they raise for good. Admittedly, some are a bit sketchy (I’m looking at you, Salvation Army!) but it’s still better than giving your financial support to a corporation that’s only goal is to make a profit.
General rules about thrift stores:
1. The best thrift stores are in the least trendy places. Many vintage stores have thrived on a model of buying stuff in thrift stores in a working class area and reselling them for 10 times the price in a more fashionable downtown. It’s not an issue of class as much as an issue of cool. Some of the best thirft stores in the world are in very ritzy suburbs. If you see a lot of hipsters, punks, goths, or anyone who considers him or herself as “artsy,” you won’t have much luck. My favorite thrift stores are in two kinds of neighborhoods: poor areas with high crime-rates (but only the ones hipsters are afraid to live in) and upper middle-class suburbs full of McMansions and people who drive SUV’s. There are exceptions to the rules, of course, and it’s worth checking out any store at least once.
2.. Dig around a lot. Good finds can be a needle in a haystack. If something is a maybe, see if you can try it on. Many items look like crap on the rack but fit really well, while other things look fantastic on the rack but fit weird. This is more true for thrift stores than anywhere else.
3. The best and most stylish clothing is usually between a size eight and a size 14. Thrift store selections are not based on designer fantasies but what people actually wear and buy and most American women are in those size ranges. If you are not in that size range, that doesn’t mean you won’t find anything, but I just wanted to be clear to people who are in that size range that they have the most to gain. I am a size four and have found some amazing things. A friend of mine who is a size 18 has also made some great finds and says that, overall, thrift stores are better for plus-sized women than new stores. That being said, do not let size stop you at all. Don’t base your decisions on what size the label says but rather, whether it looks like it would fit you. For vintage clothing, you’re always going to be several sizes bigger. Many of my thrift store items are an eight, because that’s what tends to fit for things made in the’70s and ’80s. If you’re very skinny you’ll have luck with vintage items from the ’50s and ’60s, when women were tiny. My best find ever was a wool suit from the early ’60s that looks like something Peggy Oleson would wear. It is insanely tight around the waist, and I can’t eat in it without undoing the button!
4. If you see something that you love, but it has a stain or is in a weird color, you could consider taking it home and dyeing it a different color. But make sure it isn’t 100% Polyester, because then you can’t do that. When it comes to minor damage, look if it’s something you can fix and only buy it if you still want it even if you can’t fix it the way you want to. Remember that the person who wears an item of clothing will always notice imperfections everyone else won’t. I’ve bought things with little tears or discoloration that was never noticed by anyone but me, even when I asked about it.
5. If you’re not sure and it’s under $5, go ahead and buy it. If you regularly shop in thrift stores, the money you save will be more than enough to eat the occasional loss if you end up donating something back again. One example of this is a blue sundress from the ’40s I bought for a buck. It’s itchy as hell, and I still have no clue how I’m going to wear it,but I don’t regret buying it. If you sew, you can even use the fabric for something new, though it’s mean to do that to something that’s really old and special.
6. If you see something that’s really nice but the wrong size or just not your style, you might want to check online to see if similar items are selling. A lot of money can be made buying things cheap at thrift stores and reselling them on Ebay or Etsy. Having a knowledge of vintage styles and designer labels can be very useful.
7. Have a thrifting buddy who knows your style and you can split the store and go through everything much quicker.
8. Shoulder pads usually come out easily!
In the next post, I’ll go over the different types of clothes and accessories you’ll find at most thrift stores and how to find an entire outfit for any occasion in one trip.