How to Thrift the Right Way

By Fiona Stone

Any given outfit I wear is anywhere from 90 to 100 per cent second-hand. Be it from a thrift store, a vintage store, some kind of consignment store or simply a hand-me-down from a generous person in my life, usually my clothing had a previous owner.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I find some pretty cool stuff at second-hand stores. The number one question I get from frequent outfit inquisitors is how I find all this cool stuff at thrift stores. Usually my reply is along the lines of “luck” or “I dunno haha!!” but that frankly is a blatant lie. There’s simply a right way to thrift. So here it is: all my secrets to finding really cool stuff from thrift stores.

Try multiple stores

The one thing people hate to hear is that you do not go to one thrift store if you want to go thrifting. You hit a whole bunch of them. I learned to thrift from my mom who is truly the queen of finding cool junk.

When we went thrifting together, it was not a quick stop at Value Village: in one Saturday we’d hit about 3-5 stores. You might find two good things per store; you might find nothing. A really good trip to one store would be maybe 4 pieces. Lucky for me, thrifting with my mom meant that she did the driving.

That’s not to say you have to hit 5 stores in a day. Now that I live away from my mom, I’m not able to go to stores in that capacity because I don’t drive and I have to take public transit everywhere. That just means it takes longer to do the same thing I used to be able to. The same moral still applies: a thrifted wardrobe takes a lot of trips. The reality is that 99 per cent of the crap at the store is just that: crap.

Take your time

The main difference between thrifting and just shopping at the mall (besides the price points) is that you actually have to work when you thrift. There’s one of everything at the thrift store, and it’s not always in the right place. You might find a really great pair of size 4 jeans in the size 8 section. This is especially true about shoes because the shoes obviously don’t follow any sizing guide that makes them all the same; they’re all made by different brands. I wear size 7 but find shoes in the size 6 and 8 section way more often than in the 7 section.

This means you really have to pay attention when going through all the sections. I truly, no word of a lie, will look through every shirt and every pair of pants to make sure I’m not missing any details that would make a piece attractive to me.

Touch everything! It sounds so stupid but if I’m going through a section and I find halfway through I wasn’t paying attention, I’ll go look at something else and come back. No one is looking at you. I used to look at everything once out of this fear but literally no one cares. Go through every single shirt seven times for all they care.

I know, people like quantities. In an average thrift store I will spend at least an hour and a half to get through it all. If it’s a small one (usually local, not a chain) it may be less, and if it’s a particularly good one I may spend longer. I told you. It’s work.

Don’t forget accessories

I guess this is more of a stylistic tip rather than a thrift store tip, but it’s valid either way, especially because thrift stores have the COOLEST accessories. People are so unaware of how much literally how much one accessory changes a whole look. One belt, one hat, one necklace transforms the whole thing.

Second-hand stores are a wonderful way to experiment with the kinds of accessories you like because they can be much less pricey than accessories bought first-hand. Plus, a lot of current trends are recycled from other times, so why not just get the actual items that they wore then?

Look at things differently, but know what you like

There’s a lot of stuff that might look really ugly at first glance. Don’t count anything out before it can prove itself. The way something looks on a hanger is not the way it’s going to look on you. Think about other items you already own that you can wear with it, see how many different ways you can style it. The great thing about thrift stores is that at those prices, you can afford to style a piece more than one way.

It’s important to keep up with people whose style inspires you. There’s a lot of things that I’ve found at thrift stores and tried on solely because I saw someone else wear it and I thought it was cool.

My favourite place for style inspiration is Instagram, because once you’ve collected a bunch of accounts you like it’s so low-maintenance. You just scroll. Like if you so choose, or even use the ‘save’ feature and add it to a collection of style inspo (I do this!). After a while the Instagram algorithm will start to spit accounts at you that are similar to the ones you’re already following.

Other than that I’m always looking for a new fashion blog to read. I’m a writer; I like words.

Get outta town

My favourite places to thrift are - ever surprising to everyone - the suburbs! Big cities do not have nearly as much thrift as residential areas. Big cities, however are loaded with consignment/vintage stores. Consignment stores will be more expensive but their selection is curated, so they’ll have a lot better stuff, just pricier.

If you get out of the city, you get the true thrift stores that have worse gems-per-crap ratios but will be cheaper. And hey, sometimes you find even better stuff, because a consignment store’s opinion about what deserves to be sold doesn’t always line up with yours. Thrift stores sell anything.

Don’t be afraid to look for specifics

At the mall looking for specifics is common. When you walk into a store and the associate asks if you need help with anything you can tell them exactly what you’re looking for and they’ll show you if they have it.

Thrift stores can’t do that, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go in looking for specific stuff. In fact, this can be a good way to make sure you don’t walk up to the cash with a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

If you go in to look, but specifically think, “I’d really like to find a new fall coat; preferably black,” you’d be surprised how often you’re able to accomplish this. Once I specifically went in looking for an orange windbreaker thinking I wouldn’t find one and whad'ya know, I did.

Knowing what you want actually creates a heightened awareness: if you know you want a specific thing, you’re more likely to spot it amongst the millions of things there. That being said, obviously, usually the more obscure that concept is, the less likely you are to find it. That’s just show biz.

It should be noted that this is just how I find stuff personally-- you might find a technique that works better for you. The more you do anything the better you get at it. But more than anything, personal style should be fun. So have fun! Put together stuff you wouldn’t usually wear but still like! Do what you want. 

If you want to hunt me down to see how I wear my thrifted pieces, find me on Instagram @fionapebble. Happy thrifting, kids.