When I was growing up thrift stores got a really bad rap.  It was in the 1980s when the economy was booming (or so they said) and designer, name brand clothing was all the rage.  Izod, Calving Klein, Jordache, Forenza, Outback Red, Benetton, Esprit, I could go on forever.  The more labels you had on your clothing, the better.

It was also the era of the supermodel.  Excess was everywhere, from clothes to cars, and I was unfortunate enough to be growing up in a less-than-wealthy home surrounded by peers of upper middle class social status who could afford the trendy name brands.

Even though I had little to no money, I developed a love for fashion during this era even though most of my wardrobe consisted of trendy off-label items and a few designer pieces that I was lucky enough to get.  I still bought off the rack at second-rate stores and avoided thrift stores like the plague.  Why? Thrift stores were seen as gross, unfashionable, and substandard.

In 1985 a movie came out that changed my view about thrift stores.  The movie was Pretty In Pink, and it featured a main characher, Andie, played by Molly Ringwald, who created some very unique and pretty clothing from thrift store finds and her mad sewing skills. (Insert image of Andie here)  Andie was still picked on by her peers for her unique style, but she ultimately managed to whip up a killer prom dress for nothing and get the hot, rich guy.  This gave me hope that maybe thrift stores held some promise after all.

Still, it wasn’t until about two years ago that I finally braced myself to enter the newly-built Goodwill store in my neighborhood.  That shopping trip was life changing for me.  Since then I have become an addicted thrift shopper.  I have found more beautiful clothing for little cash than I can list.  Cashmere sweaters, new/never worn tops from clearance racks of local department stores, jackets, etc.  I absolutely adore thrift shopping!  Pretty and joyful- yes!

In order to get the most out of a thrift shopping experience there are a few tricks and tips to keep in mind.  If you have mad sewing skills, then there are fewer limits on your shopping experience.  However, as I do not, I like to follow these guidelines to make sure that I am getting the most value for my money.

Ten General Guidelines to Successful Thrift Shopping

  • Stores in suburban locations generally tend to have higher quality items, because people with more disposable income buy and cast off better clothing.  Still, keep an open mind.  You never know where you will find the perfect item.
  •  Most stores are organized by item type, size, and color family.  This makes it very easy to find exactly what you are looking for.
  • However, don’t be afraid to pick over every item in an area of interest.  I have come across some choice items that were stashed in the wrong area.
  • Know your style.  What colors do you prefer?  What do you wear the most?  What fabrics do you like?  Do you have a gap in your wardrobe that you are trying to fill?  If you know your preferences and your needs, you can find items that fit your style and will mix well into your existing wardrobe.
  • Thoroughly look over items of interest.  Look for stains, signs of excessive wear, holes, discoloration, pilling, or loss of shape.  If it looks shabby, put it back.  Items that can be fixed by ironing or washing are acceptable.  Once again, if you can sew and plan to restyle the item- go nuts.
  • Check the price.  While thrift stores have many great deals, don’t be surprised if you come across a luxury item that costs quite a bit more.  If this is in your budget and fits your lifestyle, go for it.  If not, put it back.
  • Don’t buy something just because it is a brand name item.  A designer label is a bonus but shouldn’t be your first reason for purchase.  You should love it and see it working well in your wardrobe.
  • Set a budget and stick to it.  I can’t stress this enough.  Thrift shopping can get very heady very fast.  It is easy to drop $50-$100 on tons of items only to regret the expense later.  If you set a budget you are more likely to pick quality items that fit your lifestyle well.
  • Try to relax and take your time.  Rushing often leads to impulse purchases and regret.  Most stores have fitting rooms.  If you don’t plan to alter an item, try it on first for fit.  Items in thrift stores are cleaned prior to sale so you are highly unlikely to get cooties from trying things on.
  • Have fun!  Allow yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and open your mind to new possibilities.  But… don’t buy it if you don’t love it.

My Personal Favorite Items to Buy at Thrift Stores

  • Sweaters (September through April)-  they switch to summer stock in Spring
  • Tops, especially long-sleeve t-shirts and peasant blouses
  • Dresses for my daughter
  • Dresses for me- sometimes skirts
  • Scarves
  • Blazers
  • Yoga gear (pants, t-shirts)

Where Have I Not Had Good Luck?

  • Shoes- I wear a size 5, ’nuff said
  • Handbags/purses- occasionally I find something but I am uber picky about my purses
  • Pants- I have about a 50/50 chance of finding nice pants that fit well.  I am small and also picky about fit
  • Jewelry- once again, I’m picky and sensitive to metals

Surprise Finds

  • New, never worn tights
  • New, never worn belts
  • Designer label cashmere sweaters (my favorite)

That’s all there is to it!  Have fun thrift shopping for your pretty things.  Have a prettyjoyful day!