Tag Archives: how to thrift

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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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!