How To Thrift

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

The loot from my thrifting expedition with Bill – plaid skirt with bias side panels, Stewart plaid wool tie, brown dress belt, belt back jacket, and turquoise glitter dance shoes, all of this for $10.50. My cat Guinevere approves.

On Saturday I embarked on a thrifting expedition with swing DJ Bill Speidel – anyone who is Facebook friends with Bill will have noticed that over the past few months Bill has been racking up some serious finds at various Virginia thrift stores, including English tweed jackets, designer ties, and a giant box full of Trafalgar braces. I know I’m not the only one salivating over his finds and Bill was generous enough to take me around to his Hampton Roads haunts.

This reminded me of my childhood shopping trips with my mom, many of which involved thrift stores and consignment shops – The Snob in Winston-Salem, the Salvation Army in Greenville, and Second Fling in Goldsboro, NC come to mind. Mom was diligent and found some great things over the years, like two Yohji Yamamoto suits and a pair of signature Ferragamo heels, things she would not have been able to afford off the rack, but could use second-hand (and sometimes never worn, with the tags still on – she is the master of finding things with the tags still on). She definitely taught me some good lessons about how to find good shops, how to assess the items in the shops, and how much you should spend on a second-hand item (and what is too much).

A lonely Brooks Brothers suit in a Norfolk thrift store

In my opinion, thrifting can be even more fruitful for guys, simply because menswear hasn’t changed a lot over the past century. For example, it is very easy for me to tell which women’s suits were made in the 1980’s (screaming electric color giant button trim shoulder padded mess), but it’s not as easy with menswear at first glance. Much of the dress clothing that ends up in thrift stores is still in great or very wearable condition, as most men do not have to wear a suit every day – these were special occasion or church clothing for most people, so your odds of finding items in good condition are high. Bill found two Brooks Brothers suits on our trip, that were still there from one of his previous trips – $40 would get some lucky gent a mint condition Brooks Brothers suit, they just have to go to Norfolk and get it.

Also, you can get really nice things for minimal investment, so if you happen to rip something dancing or continuously sweat through it, the possibility that it may be ruined hurts a little less at the bank.

Here are a few tips I like to keep in mind about thrifting more effectively:

GO EARLY

Like yard sales on Saturday morning, the earliest bird gets all the good worms. It may also be that instead of earlier in the day you should go earlier in the week – find out what day(s) they put out new inventory and be there on that day.

GO OFTEN

If you are serious about getting some really good pieces you can’t just go once a year and expect your wardrobe to materialize. Often may be variable, depending on the quality of the store and the turnover rate of items in the store, but it could be once a week, once a month, or once a season, depending on your needs or your commitment to thrifty shopping.

CHECK LABELS

I’m not usually one for brand labels when I am purchasing new clothes, but they can come in handy in the thrift store when you are gauging the quality and durability of a garment. It’s also important to check the other tags, such as the material and cleaning instructions. Sometimes the garment will have a country of origin tag, which is especially nice if you come across a nice tweed and find out that it was, in fact, made in England.

CHECK FOR FLAWS

Like vintage clothing, these garments were pre-owned and may have stains, rips, holes, or other flaws. It’s important to give a garment the once-over in the store to determine if they exist, the extent, and if the issues are repairable.

DON’T EXPECT A COMPLETE OUTFIT

This kind of shopping is piecemeal – you may find one wardrobe item you love and nothing to go with it. If you can’t think of anything you have to match it or aren’t compelled to build an outfit around it, then it might be best to resist the impulse buy, even if it only costs $5.00.

LOOK FOR ADDITIONAL DISCOUNTS

Even the thrift stores have sales and there may be certain days of the week or month where everything is marked down even further. Some stores mark items down based on how long an item has been in the store. It’s good to know the store’s policies on their sales and, if it’s a certain day of the week, refer to my comments about getting there early…

DON’T GET OVERWHELMED

Some stores are so big or so crowded with what appears to be a bunch of junk that it can be truly overwhelming, especially for someone who is a lazy shopper like me (I usually go up and ask the store clerks if they have what I am looking for – this is generally not effective in thrift stores). If the store groups by color, that’s half the battle, just go to your favorite colors. If it’s a jumble, scan for colors and texture you love – you don’t have to pull every garment through the rack to see if it works.

Happy thrifting!

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4 responses to “How To Thrift

  1. Could you speak more on these?

    “She definitely taught me some good lessons about how to find good shops,…how much you should spend on a second-hand item (and what is too much).”

    • It’s a personal decision, based on your income/budget, now much you want/need the garment, and the relative cost of the other goods in the store.

  2. Oh! I’d love it if you did an article about your specific thrift shopping technique. Maybe it wouldn’t be exactly applicable for everyone, but people could use it as a template.

    Personally, I struggle most with feeling overwhelmed. Do you give yourself a time limit? Do you bail if you’re not finding anything after a certain time? Do you wander? Do you make up a game plan? What specific kinds of items do you look for? How much do you compromise on fit, color, and quality? I used to thrift shop a lot, but never really for dancing clothes.

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