Shopping at thrift stores is a savvy savings move. Buying used or “vintage” items from thrift stores, garage sales, and even eBay is a great way to stock your closet or outfit your casa without spending a lot of scratch.
Not everything pre-owned is necessarily a find, however. If you have gone to a second hand store before, you might have noticed that not everything on those racks is necessarily a score; there’s a lot of junk out there that you won’t want to rock.
Instead of spending all day digging for something golden, shop smarter. The following is our eBay Deals Blog for popping tags and finding thrift store fashion and snagging used stuff online or in person.
Learn the basics.
This might be old hat for seasoned thrift store shoppers, but for those who are new to this sort of savvy shopping, these tips are a solid start.
- Shop often. Thrift store selections change all the time. If you don’t find something you want one week, you’ll probably be able to score it the next. Stick with it.
- Shop sales. Thrift stores have sales just like retail locations. Usually this comes in the form of a day where everything with a certain colored tag is half off or a senior or student discount. Find out when these are applicable and plan your shopping in advance.
- Don’t procrastinate. If you see something you want, you probably want to pounce on it. With a thrift store, once something is gone, you aren’t going to get another chance to buy it.
- Know what’s hot. Being unique and rocking leopard mink and green gators works for some people, but not everyone likes to stand out so much. Before you even think of buying, Lindsey Turner who blogs at Thrift and Shout recommends look at fashion blogs and style magazines to get an idea of current trends so that you know what to be on the look out for.
- Try it on. If you are shopping online, you don’t have the luxury of slipping into those flannel zebra jammies before you pull the trigger, but if you are shopping in a thrift shop, always try it on because it may not be returnable. You don’t always have a fitting room, however; consider wearing form fitting clothes so you can try on items over your existing outfit.
- Alterations may not be the answer. You could get clothing altered, but depending on the piece, you could end up spending more than you would have if you had just bought it new. Of course, if you are really on a budget, alterations could break your bank. Plus, if clothing has already been altered, you might not be able to make the changes you’d need to.
- Shop with your smartphone. Being able to search the web for added information can make you a savvier shopper. Look up brands you don’t know to see if they are known for quality. Research care instructions for exotic fabrics. Call your dry cleaner to find out how much they will charge you for cleaning that slightly smelly leather coat you think you really want.
Pick the right store.
Selecting the right shop also plays a big part in thrift shop success.
- Go to different areas. Thrift shops near college students, for instance, will be really picked over, and they may be pricier because they are so popular. Try to hit up the stores in high end areas or small towns where less folks are likely to be thrift store shopping.
- Take a whiff. Thrift stores have a smell. However, they shouldn’t smell like urine or wet dog or something else unpleasant and overpowering. If you are in a stinky store, you probably should just leave.
- Take a quick look. If you are on the hunt for sweet second hand fashion, you don’t want to drag your feet in a shop that is almost all plates and housewares. Also, if the racks look bare, you might want to bounce. You might still find a haul here, but it’s more likely that you are just wasting your time.
- Get store credit. Some stores will give you in-store credit in return for items you either “sell” to them or donate. When you shop like this, you can get hot new looks without spending a cent. However, take a look around these stores before you trade in any stuff—if there isn’t anything you want, it isn’t worth your while.
When you go thrift shop shopping you need to set some limits to make the most out of your thrifting.
- Set a budget. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only got $20 in your pocket because you might not want to spend more than that. If you set a limit like a budget of $20 or $40 per store or day of shopping, you will be a bit pickier and will only bring home things that you really, really want.
- Don’t go over a certain dollar amount per piece. Thrift shop-savvy rapper Macklemore dished on some of his thrift store shopping tips in a recent GQ article, and he said that he thinks twice before spending more than $12.99 for any single item. Prices higher than that aren’t exactly thrift store prices to him, and you should consider setting a similar limit.
- No when to say “no.” If something doesn’t quite suit your style or if it barely fits your body, just say no. Also if you already have 10 jackets with icy fringe, it may be smart to say no to number 11.
Don’t limit yourself too much!
If you want to be a successful thrift store shopper, you need to open your mind and accept that shopping used has different rules than buying new stuff at regular retail.
- Take risks. There are many reasons why used clothes end up on thrift store shelves, and usually it’s because these pieces have slipped out of style or weren’t quite hip to begin with. If you have an open mind and are willing to rock retro looks like your grandpa’s style or sport crazy colors, your options expand.
- Be ready to repurpose. You can get exactly what you want if you have an open mind and a bit of creativity. An attractive tablecloth could be your new Christmas tree skirt. A small man’s suit coat could make an attractive oversized ladies blazer.
- Be an opportunist. You might not be thinking about winter weather in July, but you could find a cool winter coat while shopping in the summer months. Be ready to buy things that you know you will need anyway, eventually, at any time.
- Don’t get stuck on searching in one section. When you are in the thrift shop, you should definitely branch out. If you are a lady, for instance, don’t just shop in the women’s section—there a plenty of finds in kid’s, men’s, and every other corner of the store.
- Don’t have tunnel vision. Macklemore also suggested in his GQ interview that you shouldn’t have any expectations when thrift store shopping. If you have only one thing that you are looking for, you probably won’t find it. Sure, if you have a hankering for a brown leather coat, be ready to grab at anything that’s brown and leather on the racks, but keep an open mind, dig around the store, and see what you get.
- Do your searching on eBay. If you have your heart set on a certain item, you probably will go mad trying to find it in thrift stores. Search for specific stuff on eBay instead.
Remember: quality over quantity.
Coming home with a big haul can feel really good! However, if you bring home a bag of stuff you will never wear because it’s in bad condition or because you don’t like it, you’ve just wasted your money!
- Look for top materials, good workmanship, and best brands. If you buy high quality items you get better value for your money. Well-made stuff is going to be durable and longer lasting; you’ll get a lot more wear out of these sorts of items. Looking for brand names is easier for thrifting beginners, and if you visit the Whatcha Find? blog, you can see some super impressive high end finds at low prices. However, touching fabrics, looking at seams, and such is the way to go for folks who know their stuff.
- Check it out. Inspect items before you make the investment if goods at thrift shop or garage sale. Turn clothes inside and out, examine collars, scour the seams, look for missing buttons, and smell for odd odors. Be sure that clothing items aren’t stretched out, especially if the piece you are looking at has elastic. While you’re at it, look for any visible stains especially at the underarm or crotch areas, as there are good odds they might not come out even with a thorough washing. One man’s trash may just end up being your trash if you don’t inspect before you buy.
- Know that furs aren’t always fab. Used furs and leather jackets are some of the potential high value used items that people love to score from thrift stores. If you decide to get a fur, make sure it doesn’t smell like cigarettes or any other strong or unpleasant odor, as you probably can’t get that sort of smell out, and trying to do so can cost you many times more than the coat in professional cleaning costs. Also, if it’s already shedding or lacks a lining, it won’t have very much life left.
Please share your tips for the thrift shop in the comments.