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Thrifting Tips from a Former Thrift Shop Employee and Avid Thrifter 

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Carleton chapter.

I worked at a thrift shop for a little over a year, and during my time there I learned a lot. I also saw a lot — too much really — some people use donation as a glorified garbage can, that’s all I’ll say. 

As I started thrifting more and more of my wardrobe and people started complimenting me on my clothing, they also asked me for some tips on how to thrift better. With that I came up with Alexandra’s Top Ten Thrift Tips, normally rattled off in some long shpeil, but I’ve written them down here so they can be looked over whenever. This list focuses on clothing, shoes and accessories. 

Happy Thrifitng!


Check out all the sections.

Men’s, women’s, kids, home decor. Make sure to check out all the sections during your hunt. Sometimes items can be placed in the wrong spot, or tagged wrong in the sorting process. Also you can find things anywhere, no matter the section, that’s part of the fun of thrifting!

Also make sure to check all size sections because sizing is not consistent. It is beneficial to go through different sizes at the thrift, and not focus on the size label so much but the look of the article. This isn’t a shock as we know from experience all brands have different sizing. There can also be older clothing that may have a bigger size on the tag but fit smaller as sizes are readjusted with the size of society. A size 14 from the 60s and from now are definitely two different sizes. Items are usually sorted by size on the tag so this means you could be missing out on some great fitting items that are in a different sections because of their tags. 

Try it on.

Trying things on in general is important when shopping but it is especially important  when shopping at a thrift store. And as much as you might not want to it can be a necessity when clothing has been worn, so may fit differently and sizes are not consistent. Thrift stores aren’t the best for return or exchange policies in my experience so making sure the item of clothing fits nicely and you would actually wear it before making the purchase is definitely helpful in the long run. 

Inspect for rips or stains.

This is a must. Stores don’t wash donations, although some people think they do. Items are all inspected by hand so it is bound that some items get through the initial check even when they shouldn’t. The last thing you want is to get home to find out that the awesome shirt you just found has a hole or stain that won’t be able to be mended. Go through seam by seam, inch by inch and you’ll be sure to not end up with unexpected surprises when you go to wear the item for the first time.

Have a wish list.

Having a wish list is a nice way to focus a thrift visit. Also maybe manifest some gems in your thrifting future? I have items on my list that I might be hunting for for the rest of my thrifting career. A black oversized jean jacket with a worn look and feel is the unicorn item that I am always checking for. A list will help you inform what areas to check depending on the time you have. It can also help with over buying and also feel like a big win if you find one of the coveted items on your list.

Donate, donate, donate.

Help the cycle continue by donating items in your closet. If you’re just bringing more and more items into your wardrobe, you won’t be able to appreciate what you do have. A good rule of thumb is if you bring something into your closet take something out. Part of my interest in thrifting is about sustainability so buying and buying, even if it is from a thrift store does not equal sustainable consumption. Also, some thrift stores will give out coupons for donating to their store!

Take time.

If you’re looking for the best things, it’s bound to take time. Sometimes you can be really lucky and find something on the first rack you look at but honestly this is not normally the case. Thrifitng takes time, as much time as your willing to give, in order to find the best items. All day thrift days are the best but aren’t necessarily always possible. If you only have a bit of time maybe stick to a specific section or bring a friend and divide and conquer. 

Don’t leave stuff around.

This is more about good thrift etiquette. Be a good thrift shopper and bring stuff up to be put away or to the proper area when trying on clothes. No one likes to shop in a messy thrift store and we can all help to make sure that a little messy shop doesn’t get worse. Also, a random pet peeve of mine from working a thrift shop, please take the hangers with you if you take an item of clothing and don’t just leave them there on the rack. The last thing a sales associate wants to find on a super busy sale day is an abandoned cart full overflowing with clothing. 

Join the mailing lists or clubs.

I know it may seem like just another annoying spam email in your inbox, but signing up for clubs and mailing lists at thrift stores is a great way to be kept up to date with sales. Sale days are fun, but also crazy to shop at. But if you’re willing to fight the crowds you can still find some good things on those days at a discounted price. 

Go outside your comfort zone.

Thrifting is the perfect opportunity to experiment and try the styles you might be hesitant to spend full price on. Go for it, try on everything, sometimes the items totally outside your comfort zones are the ones that will surprise you. This also can lend itself to thinking creatively about the clothes you do try on. Shoulder pads can be cut out and tops can be cropped. A lot of the time when looking for items and trying them on I’m thinking about what I can do to make them better. If something doesn’t work for me as is, maybe with a little DIY it will be perfect.

Ask for a price adjustment.

I get it, sometimes prices at thrift stores are way to high. And I’m not talking about curated vintage or resale stores where a premium is sort of expected. No, this is for the stuff you see at a regular thrift store. It happens, a combination of people and machines are pricing the items and mistakes can be made.

Managers are willing to take a look at prices as long as you approach it in a friendly and polite manner. Customers can be very rude when pointing out prices so if you ask in a nice way managers will probably see what they can do.

Thrifting can be a great way to save a few dollars, and still look great at the same time. Get to your nearest thrift store and use these tips to get yourself through your next shopping spree!

Alexandra graduated in 2021 with a degree in journalism and professional writing.