How To Snag The Best Stuff While Thrifting

To me, thrifting isn’t just something you do on a slow Saturday afternoon every once in a while – it’s a way of life. Okay, that may be a little dramatic, but I have been an avid thrifter since I was big enough to hold onto a shopping cart.

By Evie Solheim5 min read
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If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to revamp your wardrobe, or you simply want to be more sustainable, thrifting your clothes is a good option.

Keep reading for some tried-and-true tips for getting the most out of your thrift shopping.

Before You Thrift

Cut Down on Closet Clutter

This first round of tips matters before you even get in the car to head to the thrift store. You’ll quickly fall out of love with thrifting if you feel like all you get is a cluttered closet. Before you start bringing new items in, make sure you’ve taken care of the items you want to sell or donate. I love this method from blogger @Dinasdays, cohost of the Thanks, It’s Thrifted podcast: She keeps boxes in her closet marked donate, give, and resell. Once they’re full, she empties them out and starts again. There are many methods to help you declutter your closet, but this is a great one to try out first. And hey, how hard is it to donate a bag of clothes when you’re already at the thrift shop?

Know Your Measurements

There’s nothing more frustrating than buying an item of clothing without trying it on, only to get home and realize it’s a totally wrong size. Many thrift stores eliminated their dressing rooms as a response to Covid-19, making it even harder for shoppers to figure out how items fit. But if you know your basic measurements, you’ll be able to much more confidently assess whether an item will work for you. Just record your measurements in your Notes app and remember to bring a tape measure when you shop so you can quickly measure an item. 

You can also take the measurements of a favorite clothing item to use as a comparison. I used to walk around the thrift store with a doodle of my favorite jeans showing what rise, waist, and inseam worked best for me.

Follow Thrifting Accounts on Social Media

If you want to learn more about thrifting, then boy do I have some Instagram and TikTok accounts you’ll want to follow! You’re sure to find inspiration (and even more thrifting tips) on their pages. Some of my favorites are Alex Bailey (who stays on a strict budget when thrifting for her wardrobe or home), TikTok user @Kglillian (who puts together thrifted style boxes for her clients), Adey of @well_loved_clothing (who creates the most zany color combinations), and the aforementioned @Dinasdays

Make a Pinterest Board

If you tend to get overwhelmed at the sheer volume of clothes at the thrift store, try making a Pinterest board to help you narrow your focus. Several years ago, I actually made a Pinterest board called “Manifesting at the thrift store” – and I did end up finding some of the items I pinned! If you want chunky brown boots, pin chunky brown boots. If you want a cropped crochet sweater, pin a cropped crochet sweater. And then make sure you check those sections of the thrift store first and keep an eye out for the colors and textures you’re looking for!

Wear the Thrifter’s Uniform – Including Socks

All right, we’ve arrived at the last step before you go thrifting – getting dressed! Although you may be tempted to wear a cute outfit to show the other shoppers that you’re “that girl,” might I suggest the thrifter’s uniform instead? Black leggings or skinny jeans, a tank top or other tight-fitting top, and comfy shoes and socks are my go-to thrifting uniform. That way I can easily try items on over my clothes. And you’ll be happy you’re wearing socks if you decide to try on a cute pair of boots or sneakers – in the summer I often bring a pair of socks in my bag so that I’m not caught sock-less when I want to try on footwear!

At the Thrift Store

There’s No Bad Time To Thrift

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no bad time to thrift. I’ve found some of my favorite items on a Sunday afternoon, when you would assume that the weekend shoppers had already picked over the goods. So go whenever you have time, and go often. You don’t have to spend a ton of time in the store – just hit a few sections and bounce if you have to! However, if you really want to dive into the deep end of thrifting, give yourself a whole day to shop solo. Grab your favorite iced drink, pop in your headphones, and fill your cart with whatever strikes your fancy. Then you can take your time to evaluate each item in your cart and whether it would serve a purpose in your wardrobe.

Learn Your Local Thrift Stores

That being said, you can optimize your thrift trips by learning the rhythms of the stores in your area. A giant Salvation Army superstore will have much quicker turnover than a little church charity shop. Try to hit a different thrift store each weekend, and pretty soon you’ll figure out which one has the best shoes, the best accessories, or the best dresses. You’ll also learn when the shops have sale days or receive truckloads of new inventory.

Pay Attention to Colored Tag Sales

Now, I’ll admit I’m not the best about adhering to this rule – but many thrift stores categorize their items with colored tags and offer as much as 50% off certain tag colors on certain days. I recently found an embroidered blouse that looks like something straight out of Daisy Jones and the Six at the thrift store. It was only a couple bucks because all yellow tags were half off. Now that’s a big price cut. So next time you’re thrifting, keep an eye out for a sign or ask an associate whether any tag colors are on sale – and start in those sections first!

Make Sure Your Items Are in Good Condition

This is a big one! It’s easy to toss a fun top or cute pair of pants in your cart without realizing there are stains or rips. Before I even put an item in my cart, I give it a good once-over to make sure it’s in good condition. Hold it up to the light to make sure there aren’t slight discolorations or stains. Store employees often miss big tears or stains on clothing because of the sheer number of items they have coming in, so you should examine everything for yourself. 

There are some common places you’ll spot issues. Check the armpits of shirts and dresses for discoloration or rips, and the crotch and hems of pants for fraying and stains. You can thank me later!

Be Realistic About What You Can Fix

Let’s say you fall in love with a gauzy white blouse, but it’s got a yellow stain on the front – are you willing to take that risk? If you are, more power to you – after all, you’ll only be out a few bucks if you’re unable to get the stain out. However, taking gambles on damaged items can add up, so it’s important to be realistic about what you can and can’t fix, as well as what you have the time to fix. I try to only buy items that are already in good condition, since I go thrifting a lot and try to be choosy about what I take home with me. Also, I’ve got a pile of mending at home that I have yet to do!

Look for Companion Pieces

Find a pair of cute printed shorts? There might be a matching top hiding in a different section. The same goes for sleepwear, sweatpants, and pretty much anything else you could find at the thrift store – if you love it, keep an eye out for the same color or pattern in other sections, and you never know what you’ll find. Matching sets get separated all the time. And even if a piece doesn’t have a companion, you may find other pieces of clothing that complement it just as well on the same trip.

Brand Names Don’t Matter As Much As Material

This might be a controversial take… but I care about an item’s fabric way more than whether or not it’s brand name. That being said, knowing what brands use quality fabric can be a cheat code for finding items that are wool, linen, cotton, and silk. These natural fibers are always a great investment and last longer than many synthetic fibers. For example, I try to avoid anything made out of polyester because it makes me uncomfortable and sweaty. That’s why I always check an item’s tags to see what it’s made of. Sometimes information about material is on the easy-to-find brand label, but you may have to flip a garment inside out to find the info you’re looking for on the care label.

Ignore Size Labels

This tip goes along with knowing your measurements. When thrifting, you really never know if an item is going to fit you based on its size label alone. Vintage items especially will throw you off, since sizing has evolved so much over the years. If it looks like it might fit…ignore the label! Try it on.

Don’t Forget To Circle Back

If you think your thrift trip is over…that means it’s time for one more lap. You never know what you may have missed, or what someone may have just put back on the rack! Many thrifters say they always find the best stuff during their last lap around the store.

After You Thrift

Know How To Care for Your Items

These tips will help you make the most of your thrifted items. Caring properly for all your clothes is a must. I’ve made many thrifted items last for years by always washing on a cold, delicate cycle and hanging them to air dry. But for more finicky fabrics like cashmere and silk, you may need to call in the experts (a.k.a. the Internet) to find out if you need to use a special detergent or hand wash only.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Don’t get discouraged if you have a fruitless thrift trip or if you get home and realize something you bought was a mistake. Take a minute to think about what you can do better on your next thrift trip. I used to get distracted by funky florals and forget to look for the neutrals I actually needed. Now after years of thrifting, I’ve learned how to resist yet another printed piece – but it took time!

Share Your Haul on Social Media

Are you excited about your latest thrift haul? Then share it on social media! Not only will you get to connect with family and friends who also love thrifting, but your followers may have valuable info and styling tips for you. For example, I recently shared on my Instagram that I found Revere Ware copper bottom pots at the thrift store – and a friend sent me a great tip for cleaning them using ketchup! You never know who may be able to ID a tagless vintage piece or know how to get out a tough stain.

So there you have it, enough tips to get you started on your thrifting journey! Happy hunting!

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