Top 10 Thrift Store Tips & Tricks {or how to become a Thrift Store Fashionista}

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I have a confession.

I rarely set foot in real stores yet my closets and drawers are stuffed. Last week I bought two packs of hangers and cleared out the guest room closet to handle the overflow. My son owns more clothes than a boy his age cares about, and that’s not counting the next two sizes waiting for him to grow into. And I would rather slit my wrists than pay retail.

I am a thrift store shopaholic.

Having been a savvy clearance shopper for years, I’ve always bee-lined to the back of every store and nailed sale rack scanning down to a science. But that just wasn’t enough for me.

I had to take it to the next level.

I decided to brave a thrift store.

Admittedly, I was nervous the first time. Would it be scary? Nasty? A total wast of time?

Inside, my eyes bugged out behind my designer (flea market) sunglasses as racks of colored and styled clothes stretched as far as I could see. Thousands of items, each one unique, and all begging for a new closet. At first, I flipped through the racks timidly, assuming it would be worn-out discount department store rejects, but after five minutes my arms hung heavy with finds and I went in search of a shopping cart. Cashmere sweaters, preshrunk designer jeans, adorable summer skirts, vintage little black dresses, chic leather jackets, unique accessories–I had died and gone to budget fashionista heaven.

If you want to find you own thrift store treasures, you must understand the method to the madness.  Here are some of the tips I have learned through trial and error:

Learn how you can discover your own vintage treasures | Top 10 tips from a Thrift Store Diva

1. Location, location, location. It’s all about the real estate. The nicer the neighborhood, the better the donations. One Goodwill might consistently stock junk, but one on the other side of town may feature half an Ann Taylor store on the racks. And while I feel perfectly safe and comfortable in my favorite Salvation Army, the sketchy dudes stalking the parking lot of another made me keep on driving by.

2Know the merchandise. A used Walmart t-shirt for $2–not such a deal.  A NWT (new with tag) Banana Republic cashmere sweater set for $3—a steal! Learn how to spot quality fabrics and brands from a distance.

3Ignore sizes. They vary brand to brand anyway. (I own jeans in four sizes, for real.)  Almost everything is pre-washed and preshrunk. If it looks like it might fit, try it on.

4.  Dress for success.  Some stores don’t have fitting rooms. Some fitting rooms have a half-hour wait. If you come prepared in a skinny tank and leggings you can find a mirror and explore your inner exhibitionist. Trust me, everyone does it.

5.  Buy off-season.  If you go looking for warm jackets during a January cold snap you will be sorely out of luck. Look in July and you’ll have dozens to choose from.

6.  Ask if the store runs sales. Many stores discount a particular colored tag each day.  My Salvation Army has 50% off all clothes each Wednesday. It’s an absolute madhouse—but $3.50 Versace jeans are utterly worth it to me.

7.  Carefully check out the goods.  They are “recycled.”  Some stores inspect items thoroughly but others may put out items stained, ripped, or torn.  If it needs to be repaired, it had better be worth the work.

8. Look for what you NEED first.  Dying for a new pair of fitted black pants? Your kid growing out of his shorts? Check those racks first. I’ve watched a woman snatch every pair of pants in my husband’s extremely hard to find size after I’d wasted time browsing through tank tops I didn’t need. Ouch.

9Leave the kids at home. Yeah, I know that’s not always possible, but thrifting takes time and patience. Kids get bored before you can blink. If you do have to drag your munchkins along, make sure to bring something to keep them fully occupied. (i.e. Is your phone fully charged and loaded with games?)

10.  Check back often and don’t get discouraged.  Some days I find 25 steals I simply can’t live without. Some days I find crap. But you never know when some style maven may clean out her closet because she’s bored or changed sizes. Keep checking.

The only time I set foot in the mall now is to claim my free Victoria’s Secret panties (love getting those coupons in the mail!). I’ve nearly stopped making my rounds at Ross and T.J. Maxx because I know if I am patient, persistent, and sometimes just plain lucky I can find whatever I’m looking for (and usually so much more) for practically pennies.

Every Wednesday I’m overwhelmed with the urge to be at my favorite thrift store. The hidden treasures call me, tempt me, like a discount liquor store lures every wino for miles. Luckily my addiction is good for my (gorgeous second-hand Coach) pocketbook and doesn’t fry my liver. To make room for new finds, I often show up at the thrift store with a bag of donations. I’m all for recycling.

Amongst my fellow thrifty friends I gladly brag about how cheap I find my clothes.

(Them: Love your shirt. Me: Thanks!  {whispered} Salvation Army. $1.50!)

I try to convert my friends after each compliment I receive but only if they don’t wear my size.  I don’t need the extra competition.

When complemented by less enlightened folk who may snub their nose at my methods, I simply give a knowing smile and a modest “thanks.”

It’s vintage. It’s recycled. It’s unique. It’s me. large_4904276362

Now if I only had someplace to WEAR all my little black dresses…

Have you ever tried thrifting? Would you? Have any shopping secrets to share?

photo credit: Niccolò Caranti via photopin cc | photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc |  photo credit: Guillaume Lemoine via photopin cc

93 thoughts on “Top 10 Thrift Store Tips & Tricks {or how to become a Thrift Store Fashionista}

  1. Linda

    Great thrifting tips! Practically all my clothes come from thrift stores and many of my husbands shirts both T-shirts and button-ups. I’ve been shopping that way for about 5 years. There is a great one nearby as well as Goodwill. I even got a nice leather coat (not top dollar, but nice) for $12.50. I do love a good bargain, and try really hard not to pay full price for anything. Just got back from checking out a couple Dollar Generals. Have a great weekend!
    Linda recently posted…Quote of the WeekMy Profile

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  2. Katherine Scott Jones

    You are totally speaking my language. I’ve shopped nearly exclusively at thrift stores for the last decade or so, and I swear I’m never going back to the old way. Fabulous tips here, right on the money (so to speak). The “Shop for what you NEED first” tip was an especially good reminder. I feel I’m a savvy thrift-store shopper already, but your ideas will make me an even better one. Now–how do I get on the list for free Victoria’s Secret panties?
    Katherine Scott Jones recently posted…Spotlight on Tamara Welch, book bloggerMy Profile

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  4. Marie Tucker

    My husband and I both enjoy thrift store shopping. He brags about his finds much more than I do about mine. Lots of people just shake their head and smile, but we know how much we save and can put the extra money towards other things. (Our current project: remodeling the bathroom.) I extreme coupon to save on everyday expenses too.

    Reply
  5. Kerith Stull

    I regularly shop at thrift stores for my 17yo daughter who is always excited to get something new to wear and couldn’t care less where it came from. On the other hand, as a “plus sized” gal, I have a difficult time finding things for me. I get lucky once in a while but it takes fierce hunting skills! Thanks for the tips! Shop on!
    Kerith Stull recently posted…Remembering 9/11…My Profile

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  6. Jennifer S.

    I envy people who can do this. My sister is a genius at thrift store shopping. Sometimes I find a steal, but most of the time I walk away wishing my sister lived closer to help me. :) I agree with you about location. It does make a huge difference.

    Reply
  7. Marissa

    I am great big fan of the thrift store. You are so right about the location. I’ve also noticed after nice neighborhoods have garage sales the local thrift store has great stuff! And I don’t have to walk to a ton of different homes… And I agree, it’s just not the same when I have to wrangle my kids. It is a me only event, but totally worth it!

    Marissa
    Marissa recently posted…A Chance to be Salt & LightMy Profile

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    1. Kerry Ann Morgan

      OOhh–great tip about looking after garage sales! I have NO luck with garage sales, and I’ve noticed some ask 2 to 3 times what you pay in a thrift store–I suppose you have to be good at price negotiation? Good luck to you–I admire your skills :)

      Reply
  8. Kristen @ It Comes Full Circle

    Hi from a fellow thrift junkie! I love it! About 80-90% of my clothes are from thrifting and I am totally addicted. Do you know about the Thrifter’s Anonymous linkup at the Color Blind blog? It’s every Monday – you should join up! I love your writing style – adding you to my bloglovin’ feed now… :)
    Kristen @ It Comes Full Circle recently posted…It’s Kind Of A Big DealMy Profile

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  10. P.J.

    I’ve never been in a thrift store because, until recently, it didn’t seem like a “guy” place. I don’t buy clothes often, anyway, as I have enough to rotate for most situations. But I’ve talked to friends that do it and I think I’d like to check some out, just to see what’s out there.
    P.J. recently posted…Age is but a numberMy Profile

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    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      I’ve found a few of my favorite vintage jewelery pieces thrifting. Some older pieces are so much more high quality than today’s cheapo stuff. I wish I had your patience to make my own jewelry creations.

      Reply
      1. jasmine

        I have had really awesome luck with jewelry at thrift stores compleatly by accident! the last score was a ring that goes for 270$ at barneys I paid 2$ for? my guess is they don’t check if it doesn’t say silver or gold right on it. if you are interested in a piece and are not sure try it on while you look at the other pieces if it starts to itch its fake (real jewelry tends to be just slightly heavier to)- also if your not sure what you’ve got Google search its description you might be pleasantly surprised or even have a jeweler look at it to see what it is…I have been many times! GOOD HUNTING!

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  11. Amanda Smith

    Super tips!! 99 % of my clothing comes from thrift stores. I wish I had more time to shop them. I have occasionally been burned by a broken zipper or tear in something, but most of the time I score great buys! I am glad I am not the only one who thrifts, but…. Don’t tell too many people or we will run out of good finds!! LOL!
    Amanda Smith recently posted…When families blendMy Profile

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    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      Oh, I hate it when I miss something like that–especially since I stink at sewing. You’re definitely not the only one!

      Reply
    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      How cool! I’ve only made over some old family pieces. I bet you can do wonders making over hidden decor treasures!

      Reply
  12. Tammy Doiel

    I absolutely adore thrift stores–and garage sales, and almost die when I see the prices at stores! I loved all your tips–totally agree with dressing for success! And I will many times bring clothes I need to match up with me; some stores will need to mark it or see it before you start shopping so that they don’t think you’re trying to steal it later!
    Tammy Doiel recently posted…Wordless Wednesdays: Pictures of the Youngest Two KidsMy Profile

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  13. Britton

    I’ve been thrifting a few times, but I never really find anything THAT great! It’s definitely true when they say you will find some hits and some misses. I’ve been the unlucky one and haven’t found too many hits! I think the tip you said about trying a different side of town may be beneficial to me!
    Britton recently posted…See Much More with VSP Vision PlansMy Profile

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  14. Irene Soh

    WOW! These are really good tips!!! Unfortunately, the thrift stores in singapore are pretty crappy. Will take the opportunity to visit one when I am in new york end of the year. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      Yes–most of my gym clothes come from Ross–1/3 the price of regular retail stores (and used gym clothes are rather untrustworthy…)

      Reply
  15. Monica

    You’re awesome! I have the utmost respect (and envy) for you and my friend….and my oldest daughter for shopping prowess in thrift stores. I get so easily overwhelmed and discouraged….and have only occasionally had real success! I laughed when you said that you don’t brag too much around women of your own size because you don’t need the competition. :)
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  16. Linda

    What a great list! I’m a thrift store shopper too. I scour the clearance racks and can’t remember the last time I paid full price.
    Point # 3 is so true — nice to have things pre-shrunk, but I always look in the sizes up and down when shopping. I can pretty well spot items that will fit myself and family members just holding it up and giving it a once over.
    Wish I could use tip #5 more often. We live in small town America and the thrift stores are small and switch out clothing with the seasons. They do, however, have great sales at the end of each season to clear out their stock. Love taking advantage of those sales!
    My tip would be to know their return policy before buying. Many times sales are final, or returns allowed within 3 days, or whatever.
    I’m ready to go shopping!
    Linda recently posted…The Great Semi-Annual Seasonal Clothing Switch-OverMy Profile

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    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      Yes, absolute! One of my stores has NO refund policy. Eek. The other is 30 days. Much better for shopping for family members. Thanks for dropping by!

      Reply
  17. Cecilia

    Absolutely some of the best tips for shopping at the thrift store. Going for what you need to before just browsing is a must if you don’t want someone else to get it before you. Great article and I will most likely be looking for your name on a best seller list.
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  18. Rachel

    You have some good points in this post. I don’t do a lot of thrift shopping (though I do try to go to some consignment sales for kids’ clothes). I think your point about location is definitely true; maybe I have always just visited the wrong thrift stores!
    Rachel recently posted…First Impressions: MunichMy Profile

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  19. Heather C

    “I try to convert my friends after each compliment I receive but only if they don’t wear my size. I don’t need the extra competition.” BEST quote ever!

    The thrift stores in my area aren’t so awesome. I love the Target clearance rack though.

    Reply
    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      Yes–Most of my kid’s clothes came from Target clearance racks for years. Then suddenly, they didn’t have anything in his size. Good luck to you, and happy shopping!

      Reply
  20. Carol Z

    Great ideas. I haven’t done much thrift shop browsing, but there are some very nice ones — our local Salvation Army makes me a little queasy — and I bet I could find some cashmere sweaters. Thanks for the tips.

    Reply
  21. Sandra

    A woman after my own heart! I love thrifting and used to only scour thrift shops for items for my tablescapes. Now I look for clothes also. I found a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans for $6.00 and a gorgeous black blazer from Talbots for $3.00. Oh and cheap wine? I’m in. There’s no shame in my game!
    Sandra recently posted…Spice RackMy Profile

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    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      Yes–thrifting is BIG amongst food & lifestyle bloggers. Where else can you find unique pieces for photo-shoots for next to nothing? And cheap wine has come a LONG way :)

      Reply
  22. bolton carley

    Okay, nobody wants to see this body in leggings and a skinny tank (lol), but I love your style! I am a huge fan of thrift stores because I have a house decorated in all retro stuff and the only place to find it is in thrift stores. I haven’t delved much in the world of clothes that way, but I’m willing. Now if the nice neighborhood was just a little closer. :)
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  23. Andrea @ Project Simple Home

    I would really love to learn the art of the thrift. I don’t like spending a ton on my own clothing but I would like to have a bit more variety than your basic jeans and tees, so I think thrift stores might be just the ticket. Thank you so much for your advice, I never would have thought about a few of these (choose your neighborhood wisely? DUH!)
    Andrea @ Project Simple Home recently posted…National Emergency Preparedness Month SPECIALS!My Profile

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  24. Kerry Ann Post author

    Today’s score–the perfect black shirt to wear to Saturday’s Florida Blog Con (need!) and a teal cashmere sweater ($3–did NOT need, but couldn’t say no).

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  25. Tamara B.

    I have shopped at thrift stores before with a friend of mine who loved to thrift shop. I don’t know, I just never really got into it. It could just be because I don’t like to clothes shop. I was never good at putting outfits together. So I basically wear jeans and tshirts. :-)
    Tamara B. recently posted…Flexi Leads, Just Say No!My Profile

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  26. Kimberly Ann Hawes

    I love going to thrift stores…You find the greatest things. What’s interesting I do find vintage clothes which I love but it’s the furniture.

    I purchased a coffee table for 15.00 showed it a little bit of love and people think I paid a fortune for it. And that was a Goodwill Special.

    I love you post…more people should take advantage of the thrift stores they have so much to offer and just not clothes memories. There’s a lot of things in there that take you back to when you were kid.

    Kimberly Ann Haws
    http://over40andkillingit.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/lets-get-it-achieve-the-over-40-and-killing-it-lifestyle-today/

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  27. Renata Wurster

    So true that it is best to do it sans bebes! Another tip I would add though is to check the return policies if you are buying for someone not there. I recently tried buying pants for my son when he wasn’t with me and none of them fit. I went to return them and they only do exchanges within one week! Luckily I had time to go back within that period but it will make me more careful next time! Thanks for all the other tips!
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  28. Yvonne A Jones

    I would love to go shopping with you because your have “THE EYE”! You can spot a good buy from a distance. I’ve always been an impatient shopper…things must be in order or I can’t seem to find them and don’t like wading through… so I wait for one of my daughters to visit and we go together. There’s a new Goodwill in my area you’d love! Everything is very organized and they even keep colors together which makes it easier when you have a pair or slacks or skirt and know what you’d like to match it with.
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  29. Aimee

    I’m always crazy envious of people who live in areas where thrift shopping is worthwhile. I keep trying and trying here and it’s crap….all the time, regardless of the day, the location, if it’s early in the morning or right before closing. Nada. However, I did score a fabulous chandelier from the ReStore shop.

    Reply
  30. Tiffany

    I havent thrifted for clothes mostly because my closet wont hold any more, but I have thrifted for a lot of decor items for the house. I love it. Such a steal and nothing a little paint can’t fix.

    craftingafairytale.blogspot.com

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    1. Kerry Ann Post author

      Yes, I do. Unfortunately, not nearly as much, but my favorite stores have at least a couple of rows of plus size. Hope you find some treasures some day, and thanks for dropping by!

      Reply
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  35. shawn Brewer

    Im a thriftiholic..im a regular at several in my area, some have layaway, coupons, punchcards…i love it and im very good at it.

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