How To Thrift, Part 2

This post was written by Lindy Shopper.

I have been solicited to write a follow-up post addressing some more specific questions about how I, personally, thrift shop – the questions come from Rebecca Brightly and Matthew Glassman, so thank you for your interest! I will try to address each question individually, so here we go…

Do you make up a game plan?

There are three reasons I would go to a thrift store – two involve a plan and one does not. One would be if I were looking for something specific – in my last trip it was an ivory blouse. In these cases the game plan is easy, go to the rack at the store where the item may be, scan the rack for colors and textures, and move on if the store doesn’t have what you need.

Another reason that I would head to the thrift stores would be if I am looking for pieces of a costume. The game plan here is more nebulous because often the thrifting can become part of the creative process. You may find something that could be altered to make what you need, or something that is similar to what you need but that could jog your creativity into thinking of a better or different way to make what you need. The plan of attack depends on what you are seeking and you may need to visit multiple sections in the store. Also, never eliminate possibilities based on gender or even age. The kids section has serious prop potential.

Finally, I do go to the thrift store for fun from time to time. I usually go when I have a companion, but sometimes I go because I need some retail therapy and I’m low on cash. Sometimes I hear about a friend’s really great find at a certain store and I have to go check it out for myself. On these occasions there is rarely a game plan, I just go and scan the racks for colors and textures I enjoy. I often wander around aimlessly at the beginning of my visit to the store because I’m looking for something to catch my eye. I’m not a digger, which is why it is often better for me to go thrifting with a companion because I can be a lazy shopper.

Where to begin?

How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed?

I do often get overwhelmed in thrift stores because I am a very Type A organized person and seeing racks upon racks of mismatched clothing sends my senses into overload. The sales people usually can’t keep up with the inventory, so asking them for help is an act of futility. My saving grace is when they organize the clothing by color because I immediately head to the green section. If there is no color-code, I seek my comfort zones – housewares and shoes. Both of these sections, by their very nature, do not fit into tight racks where each individual item is rightnexttoeachother. There’s some clarity and some room for the items to breathe in these two sections. If I am hesitant about digging, I know I can go to these sections and see everything without having to touch anything (usually, unless there are boxes to dig through). Once I have made friends with one or both of these sections, I start to feel more comfortable in my surroundings and have usually been in the store long enough to have something else catch my eye, or I’ll think of something I’d like to look for once my brain has calmed from the overload, or I go seek out my companion and see what he/she has found, then go from there. I have gone into thrift stores that are just so full of junk that it’s not worth it to dig. It’s better to leave at that point.

Do you give yourself a time limit?

If I am in a local thrift store I usually do not give myself a time limit. If I am traveling, there is usually a time limit and a certain number of stores on the agenda, so time must be used more wisely.

Do you bail if you’re not finding anything after a certain time?

Yes! I am a lazy and impatient shopper, so if I am not finding things that catch my eye I will leave.

Do you wander?

I am definitely a wanderer. I’d like to say I was more diligent and would start at one rack and work my way through the store, but that seems to require so much effort. I admire these people – my mother is one of these people. I will wander through a thrift store 3 or 4 times sometimes before I will touch anything. I like to take everything in before I commit to an area. I also find that in taking multiple looks at an area of a store you will see things on the 2nd and 3rd go around that you missed on the first.

You can never have too many kitchen clocks.

What specific kinds of items do you look for?

Sometimes the aforementioned costumes or a specific item, but if I am just going for fun I tend to look for vintage, shoes, kitchen items, and work-appropriate clothing. Vintage can be a long shot in thrift stores, but I have found some great vintage coats on the rack. Shoes can be hit or miss, but I’ve found some great 1970′s Nike tennis shoes for my everyday wardrobe, tap shoes when I needed those for a class, and clearly found some awesome turquoise glitter dance heels in my last run. Some stores I know even get unused shoes – a local thrift store here got some great low heeled character shoes in gold and silver that were fantastic (but not in my size). I have lots of yellow 1950′s kitchen paraphernalia in my kitchen, so I am always on the lookout to add to my collection of yellow accoutrements. Work appropriate clothing can be had, occasionally, and I find that these items are better cared-for than a lot of the other clothes in the store. Oh, and vinyl – if there are records, I’m going through the stack.

How much do you compromise on fit, color, and quality?

I always try to find things in the best possible condition, but the cheaper the item is, the more willing I am to try to salvage it. I’m pretty picky on fit and quality – if I can’t fix it myself based on my sewing skills and a bottle of Shout, I will probably leave it. I’m a little more flexible on color. If it’s not a color I usually wear, I may decide that the price is worth the risk and, in this way, I am pushing my own boundaries, which can be a good thing. If it works out, I have done well – if it fails, I didn’t break the bank.

How much you should spend on a second-hand item (and what is too much)?

I assess things similarly to the way I do vintage clothing, only my maximum price is probably $20 instead of $200. Unless it’s Prada or some other quality brand, or an actual vintage item, I try to keep things as inexpensive as possible. A safe average cost per item is $5.00 – some things will be more, some will be less, and this may vary depending on your location or the type of thrift store.

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4 responses to “How To Thrift, Part 2

  1. Ah! This has been very enlightening. Especially this part: “I will wander through a thrift store 3 or 4 times sometimes before I will touch anything.” I always feel I must start digging around soon after I arrive. Or that I must try a bunch of things on (if not, I feel I’m not doing well). If it’s okay to wander and not touch anything, it’s certainly okay to not try things on or leave without buying anything.

    Thanks for all your answers! This is great!! I’m starting to feel more inspired to check out thrift stores again. Overwhelm is my biggest enemy, and I think not pressuring myself is the best remedy.

  2. Yes lazy shopping!

    I have several charity shops down a road round the corner from my house – they aren’t on the scale of the large goodwill stores I see in the US, but they’re perfect for meandering into and out of on my way home. Just like you, I scan, occasionally feel for texture, but often walk straight out again.

    Sometimes, I get lucky.

    I actually find charity shop shopping MUCH easier than going to normal clothes stores and seeing racks upon racks of nice clothes in all sizes – I am paralysed by choice, pick up too many things, and often put them all down again because I shouldn’t spend that much and I can’t choose between them.

    So, in a charity shop where it’s a complete jumble of styles and sizes, I only have two criteria: Do I like it? and Will it fit me? If the answer to both is YES, I buy. If not, I don’t. Simple! And cheap!

  3. Wonderful tips. My thrifting rules differ from yours on one key point: color. The older I get, the less black flatters me. There is so much black in thrift stores! And jewel tones. I am slowly learning that, no matter how wonderful or originally expensive the garment, I will not wear those colors and will invariably end up donating the article right back to the thrift store. So I must not buy it.

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only impatient thrift store shopper out there. Nice post!

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