How to Thrift Shop

The words “thrift shop” conjures up three images for people: dingy church basements with creaky racks, the Salvation Army ringers around the holidays and Macklemore’s hit single.

The words don’t bring up the image of a college-aged woman digging through cigarette stained tank tops to find a new piece of clothing to add to her wardrobe.  

That woman is me, happily spending her spare days hopping from one thrift store to the next, finding treasures that most people would pass by because they didn’t feel like looking at each and every item on the rack.

That’s tip #1, if you weren't paying attention.

Look at everything on the rack. You could find a beautiful vintage dress and a gray cardigan.

I know some people are worried that others can tell you’re wearing second-hand clothes. Guess what.

They won’t.

But if you’re really concerned about people knowing you wear second-hand clothes, the next two tips should help you.

Tip #2

Don’t buy stuff that has rips, tears or stains - unless you’re willing to fix it. Those pieces are not worth your precious time and money.

The only exception to this rule is scarves - you can usually layer them to hide a stain or tear.

Tip #3

A washing machine works wonders on anything you might be uncomfortable wearing second-hand. That’s why they were invented: to clean soiled clothing. This striped shirt smelled a bit funky when I got it - but a few rounds in the washing machine took care of that.

The same people who don’t believe in the power of a washing machine generally squirm at wearing hats, shoes, stockings and jewelry - especially earrings - used.

Tip #4, then, is pretty simple.

Mild soap and a toothbrush/Q-Tip clean most jewelry. Just scrub gently and pat dry with a paper towel.

Hats and stockings can be cleaned two ways, depending on the material. Submersion into a mixture of mild detergent and cold water can clean both. Just make sure to pat dry and leave to dry in front of a fan. You can also put either article into a lingerie bag in the wash with like colors, pat dry and leave to dry in front of a fan.

Shoes can be cleaned by scrubbing baking soda onto the insoles and letting it sit overnight before shaking it out. Baking soda absorbs smells and generally kills bacteria. You might have to repeat a few times.

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I’m generally very proud when someone compliments an article of clothing and I say it’s thrifted. Why, you ask?

I’ve probably spent all day searching for it.

So tip #5?

You have to be prepared to spend all day thrifting, or at the very least, several hours. Every rack and bin might hold something you’re searching for, whether it’s a LBD or flowing maxi skirt.

And if you’re spending several hours in one shop, chances are it’s a small Ma+Pa shop that has two employees and a bathroom that doubles as a changing room. You’ll feel obligated to talk to the owners and employees, and if you frequent the place often enough, strike up a friendship with them.

That’s Tip #6.

Make friends with the thrift store staff, and donate/consign with them. The more they see you (every few weeks, maybe) the chances are they might hold something back for you is high. For example, a friend of mine saved these thermal leggings and fitted flannel for me because she knows how much trouble I have finding things in my size - both still had tags on them.

I mentioned size and changing rooms in a previous tip - so the next tip is pretty simple.

Tip #7

You have to be prepared to try everything on, even if the changing room is a bathroom or a little cubby with a shower curtain for some privacy. If a changing room isn’t available, you eventually learn how to eyeball your size.

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Last but certainly not least:

Tip #8

Shop in the men’s section for graphic tees, scarves, flannels, coats, jeans, belts, etc.

I found this XXL Millennium Falcon shirt two years ago in a discount bin in the men’s section. It is typically used for sleeping.

Thrift shopping is a craft, one that I have begun to perfect over the years. So my outfits might be a bit eccentric ( 'cause who really wears colored stockings with a pencil skirt?), but I’m saving money and finding pieces no one else owns. How’s that for a win?

Note: All of the pieces worn, (besides the Nike shoes) are my own, and have been found at various thrift shops/consignment stores in my area.

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