How to Thrift: 35 Thrift Store Tips & Tricks
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Whether you’re a lover of the environment or simply love a good deal, learning how to thrift is a great way to sustainably fill your closet with quality items at a fraction of the cost. This fun, treasure hunting–like shopping trend is not only a way to make your money go further, but extends the life of a pre-loved garment.
Thrift shopping is a win-win for consumers and the environment, as it keeps still-wearable garments out of landfills and can help you curate a one-of-a-kind wardrobe.
If you’re new to the world of thrift shopping, don’t let the idea of sifting through discount clothing bins and racks hold you back from discovering a great deal. In our guide to thrift shopping, we offer 35 thrift store tips and tricks to give you the tools you need to save in style.
Whether you’re interested in learning how to plan your next trip, what to look for when thrifting or how to thrift luxury and high-end items, we’ve got you covered.
Many receive a thrill from thrift shopping, as the best gems can be hard to find or are found when you least expect them. In order to avoid getting distracted, overwhelmed or even discouraged while thrift shopping, it helps to have a plan and strategy set before embarking. Explore the following thrifting tips for before you even enter a store.
1. Use Thrift Store Finders
You might already be familiar with thrift stores in your area, but it can help to do some research beforehand to become familiar with their hours and locations. If you’re looking to hit multiple stores in one day, jotting down thrift stores on a map can help you decide which to prioritize, how long traveling to each will take and how long to shop. Using thrift store finders can help you uncover less-known thrift stores in your area. To find stores near you and decide where to go thrift shopping, use the following resources.
The Thrift Shopper: The Thrift Shopper is a national U.S. thrift store directory. They list only charity-driven thrift stores so your purchases and donations will be going to a worthy cause. Each listing in the directory includes the store’s hours, phone number and address with a map link.
Thrift Stores Locator: This locator allows you to search for thrift stores in your area as well as filter by stores that specialize in antiques and furniture.
Goodwill Store Locator: Find your local Goodwill thrift store by using their national locator. This locator can also filter by stores, donation centers and job centers.
Salvation Army Store Locator: Find your local Salvation Army store by using their national locator. This locator can also filter by stores, donation centers and job centers.
Savers Store Locator: Find your local Savers store by using their national locator.
2. Choose Your Preferred Type of Thrift Store
There are many different types of thrift stores that you can choose from each with their own specialties.
Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert for TrueTrae, says that while you might find the best deals at a large thrift store, “a boutique will have a much more curated selection and often there will be experts on hand to make recommendations.”
To learn about the different types of thrift stores and the pros and cons of shopping at each, explore the image below.
3. Find Out a Thrift Store’s Speciality
After deciding what type of thrift store you’d like to shop at, consider researching what types of items specific stores specialize in. Some stores’ selection will be better for certain things, and it might say on the store’s website or signage what items they carry in high volume.
Gerrid Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Joy Organics, recommends determining the store’s specialty in advance. He says, “Before you leave, choose which store carries the most of the precise items you’re looking for and conduct your search there first.” Consider calling the store ahead of time and asking sales associates for the store’s specialty, researching online or asking friends for recommendations as to what stores have what you’re looking for.
4. Consider When Stores Restock
Thrift stores differ from regular stores as they don’t put in regular orders or carry standard merchandise. Instead, they tend to have restocking days around when they get the most donations and when new items are needed on the floor.
Use the criteria below to get the first pick at the best items.
Early in the morning: According to a Goodwill employee, the store’s opening is the golden hour for restocks, meaning the newest stuff is put out that no other customers have seen. Consider arriving at the store before it opens to get in line for a first look at new items.
Early in the week: Most stores get an influx of items on the weekends from people who have the time to clean out their homes, load up their cars and drop off donations. At the end of the week, there’s not as much “good stuff” left, so waiting to go until Monday or Tuesday after volunteers have had time to sort through donations and restock the shelves could help give you the best options.
After a holiday or busy weekend: While holiday weekends tend to be busier for shopping, people also have more time to go through their closets and homes. After a busy weekend, it also makes sense that employees would have to restock a lot of the store, so a Monday morning shopping trip after a holiday weekend is almost guaranteed to be fruitful.
Before setting off on your thrifting quest, check with store associates to learn what days they restock as stores can differ.
5. Consider the Neighborhood
When choosing a thrift store, consider what neighborhood it’s located in. Inventory tends to come from the surrounding neighborhood, so shop in places where you presume your ideal items will be worn or donated most by the surrounding community.
If you’re looking for trendier pieces, shop in a neighborhood where you admire people’s style or at specific stores where they curate their inventory. If you’re looking for certain items like jackets or outerwear, you might have better luck shopping in an area that has colder or more severe winters.
When it comes to deciding whether to try your luck in suburbs or cities, small towns tend to get less inventory so they receive shipments from big cities and have fewer crowds.
Paul Moody, Chief Editor and founder of Pro Mover Reviews, recommends scoping out thrift stores located in smaller cities about 60 to 90 minutes outside of the city. “It’s a little-known industry fact that urban thrift shops, especially larger chains like Goodwill and Salvation Army, receive such a frequent flow of donations, they often outsource inventory to rural subsidiaries,” he says.
6. Shop Off-Season
Although you might be eager to shop for your new winter coat during the colder months, thrift stores have the best options during the off-season. You’ll have more luck finding summer clothing in the winter months and vice versa. Canwen Xu, a product marketer at iris, adds, “Even for larger, consignment websites like the RealReal, they have designer stuff for cheaper when you’re shopping off-season.”
Similarly, you’ll find the best deals for seasonal items and decor right after the holiday. Thrift stores will be marking down Halloween and Christmas decorations right after the holidays occur — granting you the opportunity to find a deal for an item you can use the following year! For more information about how to shop by season, explore our guide to the biggest sales by month.
7. Consider Discount Days
Shopping on weekdays allows for fewer crowds and more options to choose from, but it also can allow shoppers to take advantage of color tag deal discounts. Color tags are utilized by thrift store employees to identify when donations are processed and put onto the sales floor.
According to a Goodwill article, employees rotate stock in stores every four weeks using red, yellow, green and blue tags to track how long items have been available for purchase. On the fourth week that they are on the sales floor, employees discount color tags.
It’s important to note that all Goodwills are individually owned so any sales, special deals or coupon values will vary for each location, and some locations might not have them at all. Similarly, color systems and discount days differ by store, so becoming familiar with the store’s policies in your area can help you map out the best days to go for the best deals.
8. Browse Pinterest and Other Social Media Apps for Inspiration
Game plan ahead of time by using social media apps like Pinterest or Instagram to curate outfits and color palettes you’d like to shop for. Save pictures of fashion inspiration on your phone for quick reference. This will make it easier for sales associates to help you locate specific garments or let you know if they have something similar on the racks.
9. Sell Before You Shop
Before you thrift shop, sell your pre-loved garments to resale shops or online thrift stores to get some money in your pockets you can use on yourself. Bonus: Your stylish pieces will make a great addition to someone else’s closet soon!
Before selling to curated thrift stores, take note of what they are currently “buying” and bring your best items to them first. Also take note of their buying process and rules in case you need to sell by mail or appointment, wash garments beforehand or only bring a certain amount of items or types of items.
Some popular resale stores are linked below.
Also check out ASOS, eBay and Tradesy coupons.
10. Take Inventory of Your Closet
Once you have fashion inspiration saved on your phone, take inventory of your closet to see if you already have items that you love but have never worn because you haven’t had the right piece to complement it. Take photos of these outfits and add any missing staples to your list.
11. Make a Plan Using Your Phone
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to hunt for, plug all of the store’s locations, hours, specialties and purchasing inspiration into your phone. Lastly, make a shopping list so you can check off each item once you’ve added it to your cart. Planning ahead can help you limit impulse buys or get distracted by low prices.
Set a spending limit for not only how much you’d like to spend at each store, but also how much you’d like to spend on each garment.
Nadia Koenig, content creator, jewelry designer for La Nadia Jewels and frequent Poshmark and Depop seller, recommends adding a spending limit to each item on your list to help you stay on budget. “Be intentional about what you’re looking for so you don’t buy something too similar to what you already own,” she says. Research how much similar items cost on popular retail websites and decide how much you’re willing to pay for them.
12. Dress for Try-Ons
Since many thrift stores don’t offer dressing rooms, wear an outfit that will allow you to quickly try on clothing before purchasing to ensure it fits. Tamecca Seril, CEO of FOLKUS, recommends wearing a “bodycon layer” such as a bodysuit, leggings or biker shorts “to make trying on clothes easy and to create a barrier between your [skin] and the clothing.”
If you’re shopping for specific items like pants or denim, consider wearing a flowy dress, or if you’re shopping for a special occasion bring the shoes, socks or other garments needed to ensure your purchase complements perfectly.
13. Pack a Bag of Necessities
Shopping with a crossbody bag is a thrifting tip of its own (to keep hands free and ensure you don’t leave or set down your belongings) but don’t forget to fill it with essentials to make sure you’ll last throughout your shopping trip.
Some items to keep on hand are:
Snacks and water
Batteries to test appliances
Travel phone charger
Once your strategy is set, the fun part can begin! The following thrifting ideas will help you navigate thrift stores, look out for the best deals and items you might have missed prior and keep a level head as you begin your thrifting quest.
14. Scan the Aisles and Game Plan by Sections
Walking into a thrift store can bring a wave of excitement followed by a feeling of stress. While employees do their best to organize garments by section, the mass amount of items can make you question where to begin.
Narrow down sections to stay focused and prioritize the items on your list. Kirstin Lukas, personal stylist and wardrobe consultant behind Dressed Easy, recommends focusing on a few categories of items to avoid getting overwhelmed. “Maybe hit the jeans and tops, or the jackets and dresses. You will need to look through each piece on the rack, so to do it quickly make sure you have a list of what to look out for,” she says.
Also, consider checking out other sizes but for time’s sake, stick to the color palettes you like. Linda Nguyen, consignment specialist at Ideal Luxury, says, “If you’re typically a small, skim through extra-small and medium as well because every brand is sized differently. If you know you’ll never wear a particular color, save yourself some time and skip right past it.”
15. Stick to Your Wardrobe Style
Thrift shopping can easily make you surpass your spending limits if you find a lot of usable items. A low price tag might spark your interest in items you might already own or persuade you to buy something outside of your style comfort zone.
In order to stick to your budget and avoid adding items to your closet that you might never wear, Alex Williams, certified financial planner and the CFO of FindThisBest, recommends that you keep your wardrobe style in your mind to avoid splurging. “If you buy something against your style, chances are you would still look for your preferred items and your total bill would cross your limits,” he says.
16. Branch Out From Your Department
If you’ve looked through your target section but have not found the specific item on your list, consider looking through an unusual section. Emily Appelbaum, contributing writer at Family Destinations Guide, recommends not sticking to your one size and your one department in the thrift store. “You can find, for example, larger pants sizes for women in the men’s section and oversized jackets as well,” she says.
Women can also find flattering button-down shirts, oversized sweaters and flannel shirts in the men’s section.
17. Check the Back Racks
Thrift stores don’t typically carry multiples of an item so some of the best pieces may be on the racks at the back of the store or near a frequent try-on area. Just because they weren’t a good fit for the person who originally found them doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. If you can’t find something but have an idea or a picture of the item, ask a sales associate if they know a good place to check for it or if there’s something similar in the back.
Don’t forget to look behind the counter to see what higher-end items aren’t being kept on the floor.
18. Inspect Items Closely
When you’ve found an item you like, inspect it for the below criteria to ensure it’s worth the purchase.
If items seem damaged but still usable, ask sales associates for a discount. Tips on how to do that below.
Stay positive and respectful
Say something along the lines of:
“I like this item, but it looks [chipped/damaged/stained]. Is it possible to get a discount?”
19. Avoid Items with Original Tags
While finding a relatively new item with original tags might initially feel like a score, be cautious of the price point stores are selling it at. While employees might deem it higher quality since it’s never been worn, you might end up paying for a lower-quality fast fashion garment that is priced higher because of its tags.
20. Take a “Time Out”
Once you’ve collected your loot, take a “time out” to decide what’s a no, maybe or yes. Here is the time to practice discipline and ask yourself questions to ensure your purchase will be worth it.
Do I own anything like this?
Was this on my shopping list?
Do I have something to wear this to?
Is this something I’d actually wear or just wish I could wear?
Do I want this just because it’s discounted?
21. Check for Deals
Before purchasing, check the store for any deals or special offers going on. Stores often offer discounts for students, military and veterans and seniors on top of discount days and color tag discounts. If you don’t see discount information on signage, ask employees before you check out.
When thrifting for vintage or luxury items, there are few more steps in place to vet authenticity and the higher price point. Explore five thrifting tips for when shopping for vintage and luxury items.
22. Learn to Recognize Quality Items
Learning how to recognize quality items is key for sharpening your eye at thrift stores. Matt Weidle, Business Development Manager at Buyer’s Guide, suggests comparing known quality items you see with cheaper name brands you’re familiar with. “Compare and contrast a vintage/second-hand sweater from with a similar style from …you’ll soon be able to detect a quality piece without even picking it up off the rack,” he says.
23. Check Vintage Labels You’ve Never Heard Of
If you’re unsure whether a certain garment is vintage or not, check for brands you’ve never heard of using a vintage label resource. These sites allow you to search by brand name and will show you photos of what vintage labels look like in person.
24. Check the Composition Label
Another great way to vet quality clothing is by checking the composition label. Jake Turner, a qualified authenticator at the luxury resale site Cudoni, says that “a high percentage of luxury fabrics like wool, cashmere or silk is often a good indication of the quality of a garment.” A woven, not printed, tag in a piece of clothing can also indicate that it’s made from a higher-quality brand.Blazers with linings and wool-blend coats will also be made of more expensive materials than other items.
25. Look for Leather
Shoes made of 100 percent leather usually have the words “Vero Cuoio” marked on the bottom, which is the Italian phrase for “true leather.” Shoes that are leather but have a rubber sole will be marked “leather upper.”
26. Check Sizing
Vintage clothing tends to run at least four sizes smaller than modern sizes. The further back in time you go, the smaller the clothes get, and you may have to adjust up another size or two. When in doubt, try on the item of clothing to ensure it fits.
When it comes to giving garments new life, there are many options outside of keeping your thrifted items. The following tips will help you lengthen a piece of clothing’s life cycle if you choose not to keep it.
27. Resell on Apps like Depop, eBay and Poshmark
If you found a wonderful piece of clothing but it doesn’t fit your style or size, consider reselling it on fashion apps like Depop, eBay or Poshmark to give the piece new life.
When you are finding items to resell for a profit, it is best to shop with an app to compare prices. Chad Wyatt, the founder of Dealorium, recommends using a pricing app like Amazon to compare price points. “Check out the top results and the bestsellers to see what the going price is. If the item…is a considerable amount less (keeping shipping in mind) then you can resell for a profit,” he says. If you aren’t selling, this hack can also tell you that it’s a steal.
28. Gift Them
Thrifting doesn’t always have to mean the items need to go into your closet — or a closet at all! With so many sections and items available, you can thrift the fashionista, book lover, cook or decorator in your life a personalized gift they will love. Just be sure to clean and wrap the item to ensure it looks as good as new!
29. Change Its Look/Purpose via DIY
If a certain item doesn’t fit or look like you wanted, consider turning it into something new. Check out our DIY printables for ideas on how to give old clothes a facelift.
In today’s digital age, thrifting is not limited to an in-store experience. However, when learning how to thrift shop online there are a few considerations to keep in mind before hitting the purchase button. Explore three tips for online thrift shopping below.
30. Know Your Measurements
When shopping online, you aren’t able to try items on or return them if they don’t fit. Brock McGoff, men’s fashion expert and founder of ModestMan, says that the number one mistake people make when buying used clothes online is not knowing their measurements. Before purchasing an item, verify that your size coincides with the products. “You can usually find the measurements of a garment in the product description. If not, you can ask the seller to provide them,” he says.
Don’t be afraid to ask the seller to provide specific measurements and, if they are in a different country, use a sizing conversion to find your true size. McGoff says, “Since secondhand shopping usually doesn’t come with free shipping and returns, you want to make sure you don’t buy something that doesn’t fit.”
31. Inspect Photos Carefully
Shopping on online resale sites makes proper inspection more difficult. Koenig recommends checking the photos carefully beforehand, and if you feel like a part isn’t displayed properly or the images are blurry, ask for more photos taken in daylight.
“Trustworthy sellers will happily take more/better shots for you. Check the website’s return policy when you buy a more expensive piece — most online marketplaces offer solutions in cases where your items aren’t the way they were described,” she says.
32. Shop on Websites that Offer Authentication Services
When shopping for high-end luxury items, use websites that offer authentication services. The online marketplace Mercari lets you authenticate your item for a small fee prior to the sale while Poshmark sends items priced $500+ in for authentication by their own team after the sale. “These are great services if you’re not familiar with what to look for to make sure your item is authentic,” Koenig says.
Similarly, other sites will handle the entire sales and authentication process in-house. “The Real Real, Fashionphile or Rebag offer the most convenient secondhand shopping experience as they receive the item in-house, clean it, take professional photos, offer great customer service and write clear descriptions about the condition of each item,” Koenig adds.
What Not to Buy at Thrift Stores
There are many great items to purchase at a thrift store, but there are some that are better purchased new. Below are a few items to skip buying at a thrift store:
Defective: Items that might be defective and are no longer safe to use such as helmets or vintage appliances.
Unsanitary: Items that might contain germs such as mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture and stuffed animals.
Expired: Items that might be expired like makeup.
Unregulated: Items that are carefully regulated for children’s safety like car seats, cribs and swings.
Unhygienic: Items that might be unhygienic like undergarments and swimsuits.
Unsafe: Items that might contain lead or unsafe substances such as old dishware.
Lastly, we included some thrifting best practices to help you have a better thrifting experience overall.
33. Visit Often
Thrifting takes time and practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t find everything on your list in one sweep. Plus, no two thrifting trips are the same due to the constant cycle of items, so you’re bound to find something next time if you strike out this time! Visiting thrift stores often can help you hone in on the tips we listed above and make each trip more fruitful than the last.
34. Form Relationships with Thrift Store Staff
A second thrifting best practice is to form relationships with employees. Thrift store staff can be your greatest resource when navigating a store and helping you learn more about sales and restock days. More importantly, it’s important to be courteous and kind to employees — a smile and a simple “thank you” to the folks helping you out can go a long way!
35. Clean and Take Care of Your Items
It’s easy after a long day of shopping to lug your items home and leave them bagged up or in the back of your closet. But for many items, time is of the essence. Lukas recommends that once you’ve purchased some pieces that deserve space in your closet, take them home and wash them right away.
“If the pieces are vintage or delicate, be sure to launder them accordingly (or dry clean if necessary),” she says. Tailoring is always an option, so if you are planning any alterations, make them quickly so that you can begin styling them with other things in your wardrobe.
We hope our guide of thrifting best practices has given you key insight into how to thrift apparel, home goods, appliances and more. With the holidays right around the corner, consider thrift shopping for sustainable gifts that do the planet some good and provide a personalized touch.
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