My Favourite Thing Ever: All You’ll Ever Need to Know About Thrifting (Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I strongly recommend you do so before reading this post!

So, it’s 11AM on a Sunday and you want to go thrifting. Let’s get down to it.

Here are some tips to make your first time a success:

Above all eat, eat something first. Then caffeinate yourself into a frenzy.

You’re about to deal with an insane barrage of clothing—literally thousands upon thousands of items—that aren’t arranged by size and are jammed onto racks all topsy-turvy. You will be there for hours. Do NOT do NOT do NOT (!!!!) go into a thrift store tired or hungry. There will be shoes and purses and racks of shirts and toys and furnitures and housewares and books and jewellery… and you’re going to need energy to get through them all.

Thrift stores, with their mess and noise and faint, but distinct, musty smell, can sometimes overwhelm you with their sheer disorganization. Even as a seasoned thrifter, I still sometimes feel that apprehension towards my local Goodwill. However, don’t give in to that sadness! You must enter that store with enough energy to make it out alive and victorious, loaded down with finds.

Wear the right outfit.

You’re going to be trying on a lot of clothing, and you’ll have to try most of it on over your clothes to either save time or simply because there is no dressing room. Wear something simple like a stretchy one-piece dress, or jeans and a t-shirt. Avoid weird necklines and huge chunky sweaters.

Know your shopping companions.

I like to either thrift alone or with one of my best friends. I like to look where I want and spend time poring over each item I take off the racks.

But, if you’re not thrifting alone, bring only friends who won’t drag you down. The very very VERY worst thing is to bring a friend who shops exclusively at mall retailers (though there’s nothing wrong with that), who will trail behind you going, “I’m bored. This is boring. I can’t find anything at all. This place smells. Ew, who would buy that? This is so gross, I can’t find anything.” If this sounds like the person you planned on bringing, leave them at home. Or bury them under a pile of dog-earred children’s books in the book department.

What you want is a crew of skilled thrifters, veterans tried and tested in the battlefields of the biggest thrift stores in town.

The very best crew is friends who are cheerful, positive, adventurous dressers, and most importantly NOT YOUR SIZE. That way, everyone can shop in the same sections are the same time, all while avoiding the awkward “I saw it first” moment with your soon-to-be-ex-best-friend when a pair of size 7 Jeffrey Campbell chunky heels is sitting on the shelf.

Divide and conquer.

When you first enter a thrift store, don’t get overwhelmed and start wandering aimless around. Grab a cart, hone in on a section (e.g., skirts, shirts, sweaters, etc.) and dive right in. Look over the entire rack, pulling out anything that looks immediately interesting, then shove all the hangers as far over as they can go and start flipping through the shirts one by one.

Look through absolutely everything. Throw anything that looks approximately right for you in terms of shape, size, cut and colour, into your car and forget about it. Have one single big try-on session at the end with all the stuff you piled into the cart.

Finished with one section? Move onto the next and repeat.

No dressing rooms? No problem.

Many thrift stores don’t have dressing rooms (though I will never know why). Instead, there will be several mirrors scattered around the store, with groups of people gathered around them trying things on. Since you followed my 2nd piece of advice and wore a simple outfit, it’s not a problem. Don’t by shy—hustle up to that mirror and try on all the clothes in your cart quickly, pulling them on over your current outfit. Make sure to also share the mirror with everyone else!

Made rapid decisions—don’t hem and haw over items that you may or may not be interested in.

It’s cute? You’d wear it everyday if you could? It’s $1.50? Buy it.

It’s sooorta kiiinda cute? You’re not really sure what you’ll wear it with? It’s $8? Don’t buy it.

Wait, I know what you’re wondering. What if you want to try on jeans? Not so easy, now, is it? You’re in public! How are you going to take off your pants in public?!

Here’s now: Go to the skirts section and find the biggest, roomiest, poofiest, elastic-waisted, floor-length skirt you can find. Put it on over your jeans, then drop your pants, grab the new pair you want to try on, and pull them on underthe skirt. Drop the skirt. Ta-da!!!

The perfect change-room-on-the-go

Man, you’re getting good at this.

Look through all the sections.

Don’t limit yourself to just the women’s clothing section.

The bedding department often has other linens, like cute little vintage aprons. The mens sweater section is a treasure trove of giant cashmere sweaters and cardigans that women have given their husbands and their husbands have refused to wear (their loss is your win).

The kids’ section has hoodies and T-shirts at half the price of the adult section (I can honestly attest to this, most of my thrifting hauls have been from the kids’ section). Men’s shoes has great cowboy boots hidden among all the cracked leather loafers. The furniture section has awesome ’60s luggage sets and the books have all the best-sellers you’ve been meaning to read and weird teen-girl novels from the ’50s.

Look up high and low—the best stuff is hidden out of eye range; sometimes hidden by other sneaky thrifters in hopes that no one else will find it before they return. Poking through random sections is fun and rewarding because you never know what you’ll find.

Know your weaknesses.

This is my weakness:

Printed shirts. I would show you my entire closet full of printed t-shirts and button ups and long sleeves in all kinds of pattens and designs, none of which cost more than $5 and each of which I was 100% certain I needed at the time.

Maybe you love, say, hand-knitted fisherman’s sweaters. But you already have 5 of them, so do you really need another?

Thrift stores are full of bargain deals, but remember: you’re not saving money if you’re not going to get around to wearing that $4 sweater.

And that brings us to…

Are you really going to wear that?

Please, learn from my mistakes. No matter how cool, amazing, cute and awesome something is, do NOT buy it if it “just needs some work” and you’re not actually going to fix it up.

My drawers are a graveyard of jeans I’ve been meaning to turn into cut-offs, blouses I think I’m going to sew buttons onto and dresses I keep meaning to have hemmed.

Through this experience, I’ve finally learned something about myself: I’m not actually going to do it. I am not going to take things to my tailor, I’m not going to make things out of cool old vintage t-shirts. Only buy “project pieces” if you’re really going to spend time with them; otherwise you’re just throwing your money away.

Seriously, thrifting is absolutely fabulous.

It requires energy, determination and a laser-like focus. It’s a way to level the playing field for those among us who want to save a few (a lot of) bucks. $1200 for a pair of elbow-length leather gloves? PLEASE. Thrift until you find $4 leather gloves just like the ones you saw in that magazine. Wear them to a party. Everyone will be jealous, and you’ll be the cleverest girl there.

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