I was an avid thrift shopper even before Macklemore’s 2012 song kicked off the second-hand clothing craze. Soon, everyone was wading through the racks humming, “I'm gonna pop some tags / Only got 20 dollars in my pocket.” But in 2023, with recent ethical concerns about how Shein and other fast fashion brands keep their prices low, thrifting has become more than just a quirky trend. It’s an ethical alternative for any young professional who likes to experiment sartorially without spending her entire paycheck.
Unfortunately, due to its low price point and exploratory nature, thrifting comes with a whole host of potential pitfalls – clutter, overflowing closets, and ill-fitting dresses. I asked the Instagram crowd what problems they encounter most often. Several girls said their main issue was “buying things that are cute at the moment that I never end up wearing.” My tall and plus-size friends complained of the opposite problem – they couldn’t find anything in their size.
While I don’t have all the answers, I’ve scoured the internet and drawn from 10+ years of personal experience troubleshooting my thrift game to bring you a new thrifting philosophy loosely inspired by TikTok’s "hot girl walk.” Introducing – “hot girl thrift.”
Hot Girl Thrift Rule #1: Embrace an Attitude of Gratitude
Before you enter your thrift store of choice, prepare yourself to feel okay with leaving empty-handed. For every successful thrift haul you see on Instagram, there are five undocumented trips that yielded absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, in an age of mass manufacturing, most women’s clothes are designed to fit a very specific body shape, and this can be infuriating for anyone who does not match it perfectly (a.k.a. most of us). Unless you have sewing skills or a tailor, the perfect fit is a unicorn. An expert thrifter learns to accept this reality.
The best way to avoid feeling frustrated by a fruitless search is to embrace an attitude of gratitude. If you keep your mind set on all the blessings you already have, you’ll be more zen. If you’re more zen, you won’t buy for the sake of buying. Every girl is guilty of the occasional retail therapy session, but shopping to fill an emotional void usually leads to regret. Gratitude for what we already own gives us the power to resist buying things that, if we were to be totally honest with ourselves, we’re never going to use.
So, when you’re tempted to make off with that pair of jeans that are slightly too tight in the crotch but “so cute I can’t pass up the deal,” think about the three pairs of perfectly good jeans that are already folded in your closet. You’ve already got plenty of clothes. Your wardrobe is sufficient – and so are you.
For some encouragement, check out @alexasunshine83’s “pieces I left & why” reels.
Actionable Advice: Before you leave for the store, take a quick look at your closet. Instead of focusing on what you need, pick out a t-shirt that brings you joy. Put it on. Wear it to the store. Feel sufficient and stylish as you shop, confident in your own hotness.
Hot Girl Thrift Rule #2: Set Goals Beforehand
Get specific! I like to keep a running “look for” list in my iPhone Notes. There’s no guarantee I’ll find the perfect set of vintage lace curtains on a given trip, but if it’s on my “look for” list, I can remember to look next time. It’s a perpetual scavenger hunt that gives me just the sort of fun challenge I crave.
Feel free to be creative here. There's a myriad of different ways to set thrifting goals to suit your needs:
If you’re a chronic overbuyer, your goal could be to limit yourself to one purchase per visit.
If you tend to buy mismatched statement pieces, your goal could be to buy an item only if it goes with an outfit you already own.
If you’re short on time, set your phone timer to 30 minutes and leave when the alarm goes off – even if you must leave empty-handed.
If you can never find anything in your size, limit your list to non-sized items like costume jewelry, tiny espresso spoons, or unique art.
While deciding which items of clothing to put on my “look for" list, I’ve fallen in love with “X Ways To Style” reels. Watching how one item of clothing can be worn multiple different ways for different kinds of occasions helps me determine what deserves space in my closet.
Actionable Advice: Start your own “look for” list, and vow not to deviate from your goals.
Hot Girl Thrift Rule #3: Get To Know Your Own Brand of “Hot”
As per the rules of the hot girl walk, never forget to contemplate your own hotness. Every woman has a couple of knockout gorgeous features. If she figures out what they are and how to work them, she’s set for life. Do you have piercing blue eyes? Dress in blue and find a good brand of mascara. Are your fingers elegant and perfectly tapered? Get your nails done and layer up the rings.
Thrifting is a great avenue for discovering what styles complement your personality and body type. With the low price points, it’s safe to take a risk on something you wouldn’t ever buy off the rack. By experimenting, you might discover that your calves look amazing when you wear a trench coat or that crimson silk brings out reddish undertones in your hair. The intel you gain from thrifting in your twenties can inform your fashion choices for the rest of your life.
For example, last week, I upcycled an asymmetric maxi jean skirt from a pair of thrifted jeans, and I’m never wearing a mini skirt again. I hadn’t realized it was possible for my five-foot-four figure to look regal.
This is a great exercise in self-acceptance. So often, we focus so much on minimizing our flaws that we forget to flaunt our assets. I don’t mean that you need to show off your body like it’s some sort of trophy. In fact, if you’re comfortable in your skin, you probably won’t feel the need to optimize your appearance every time you walk out the door. But there is a great deal of joy to be had in expressing yourself at your most vibrant.
If you’re so bogged down in self-criticism that you’re rating yourself a five out of ten on every point, ask your friends what they think your best features are. And while you’re at it, point out one of theirs. As you engage in the process of discovering your particular brand of hot, shopping will gradually become less frustrating and more fun. You will know with increasing decisiveness when a piece does or doesn’t work for you.
Actionable Advice: Take your measurements so you know your size, and keep a mini tape measure in your purse while you shop. It sounds extra, but it ends up saving time, money, and trips to the dank changing room. And don’t just take it from me. Mary Jacobs, who has made a career for herself as a second-hand stylist, recommends it in this NPR interview.
You can’t rely on size labels. H&M runs notoriously tiny, while Loft runs large. If you’re shopping Korean brands as an American size S, know you’ll likely be a Korean size M or L. With such variance in sizing alone (not to mention fit), a tape measure will bring you an objectivity you don’t need to second guess. And instead of measuring your body directly to determine your size, you might find it easier to measure the best-fitting items in your closet.
I hope this guide helps you during your next thrifting adventure. Just remember the three rules of hot girl thrifting, and you’re set. Adopt an attitude of gratitude to avoid impulse buying, set goals to focus your shopping efforts, and experiment with different styles to figure out what looks best on you. Thrifting doesn’t have to be a pain. It just takes a little intentionality. Happy thrifting, hot girl!
Support our cause and help women reclaim their femininity by subscribing today.