How To Find Good Clothes at the Thrift Store

I've never really been very good at any sports. Lacrosse, basketball, tennis, you name it, it probably isn't my thing. Thrifting, though, is another story and I'd like to think that I'd be a serious threat for gold if there ever was a thrifting Olympics... ok, I'd at least qualify for said Olympics. The rush that comes from finding some really choice piece among the racks is unreal. I've been thrifting on a semi-weekly basis for about five years and like anything, practice makes perfect. That being said there are definitely some tips and tricks to finding really righteous items and avoid leaving with a bunch of gigantic 90s mumu-style dresses and subpar 80s Cosby sweaters. Below are my top 10 suggestions for finding good clothes at the thrift store. Enjoy and good luck you thrifty babe!

1. Put In The Time
I think that one of the most important proponents of being a successful thrifter is simply putting in the time. Like sports the more you "practice", the better you'll be and the same can be applied to thrifting. Thrift stores change up inventory often so by going on the reg you'll have access to all the new items that are being put out on the racks. It may be a good idea to ask the staff when they generally add new donations to the floor as well. In my experience, the beginning of the week is usually a good time as people will clean out their closets and donate over the weekend and then all those items will be put out by Monday or Tuesday (but it certainly will vary from store to store).

In addition to going often, I find that I tend to have the most successful thrift trips when I have enough time to carve out a few hours to comb through all the racks. Unlike department stores or boutiques, thrift stores can be unorganized or sorted by color or item type it definitely pays to spend a good amount of time looking through all the racks. You never know when a vintage 60s blouse is hiding among last season's Forever 21 garb, which is why I always look through everything.

2. Location, Location, Location
In my experience, I've found that the location of where you choose to thrift can have a huge effect on the type of items you'll come across. Generally speaking if you go in areas that are heavily populated with young people / hipsters / anyone that might be interested in the same type of clothes as you are, you're not going to find as much as the store will probably be more picked over than somewhere that is a bit off the beaten path. A great example of this is Goodwill back home in Boston. Anytime I went to the Goodwill in Allston, I never had much luck save for the random item here or there. I'm fairly certain that this is because the store was smack dab in the middle of the Boston University campus and in an area with a very high concentration of other vintage hungry young people like myself. My favorite Goodwill was one in a neighborhood that was more heavily filled with older people and more yuppie types, who were not necessarily interested in the same garb as me.

Another tip would be to try and find thrift store that's that are located in areas with a high concentration of elderly people. Some of the best thrifting I've done has been in Tampa, Florida and I think this is because there are tons of older people donating all their clothes from the 60s and 70s on the reg!

I wanted these brown Chelsea boots sooooo badly. They were sadly like three sizes too big. TEARS TEARS TEARS. 
3. Dress the Part
This one ties in a bit with number one... if you're going to dedicate a few hours to finding retrotastic wears at your nearest thrift you want to make sure you are properly dressed and prepared for it. You'll want to wear comfy, basic clothes that will allow you to easily try stuff on if need be. I would suggest basic jeans or leggings and comfy flat shoes (with socks!!) so that you can easily try on shoes if you want. Trust me, the thrift store is not the place to break out those vintage 70s oxblood colored knee high boots with the stacked heel that you love so much, but are just the teensiest bit too small and therefore pinch your toes a bit, not like I'm speaking from experience or anything ;). Save 'em for later!

Also equally important is bring a few snacks to keep those energy levels up. I know that if I'm hungry and therefore getting cranky, my motivation to keep combing the racks will decline and fast.

4. Go about it methodically
The thrift store can be super overwhelming, especially if you're newer to the thrifting game. There's just so much stuff. Everywhere!!! I find that it's easy to divide the store into sections and then to conquer. For some reason I always start by perusing the shoes first, then the dresses and then moving through the always endlessly seaming racks of shirts, sweaters and so forth. There's no real science to this order; it's the way I've always gone about it. Find a method that works for you and put it into motion. It will make things a lot easier and less stressful than just wandering about aimlessly... and you'll have a better shot at finding something really rad too!

5. Grab Everything, Asses Later (and make sure to try it on!)
As you're going through the racks if anything peaks your interest or grabs your eye, pop it in your cart and then evaluate it's cuteness afterwards. You never know what else will be hiding at the store or how something will look once it's actually on your body so I think it just tends to make everything easier to examine all your items once you've scouted the entire store. Often times that sweater that you thought was sooo cute when you first saw it can't hold up against the jacket you found later or that bejeweled 80s dress that was adorbs on the hanger makes you look like a really bad Aunt Becky from Full House impersonator. That being said, your success rate will go up tenfold if you try everything on!! Vintage garments can be a whole plethora of shapes and styles and you really won't be able to gauge whether or not it works for you unless you try it (hence tip #3!).

6. The plan should be have no plan (or maybe just a vague one)
One of the obvious differences between the thrift store or a boutique or department store is that you have no idea what you're going to find... which is what makes it fun! If you go into thrifting thinking that you must find a plaid jumper, you'll probably end up being disappointed when you don't find one and might accidentally overlook something completely different that's actually really cute (not to say you'll never find any plaid jumpers at the thrift, because you will). A lot of my best vintage finds have been items that I had no idea I ever wanted... like this adorable linen giraffe print kimono type thing I found this weekend. Super cute, but totally unexpected.

That being said (and it might sound contradictory), but it might be a good idea to have an overall vague sense of what you're looking for in order to avoid leaving with items that you'll never wear. Know that you want to amp up your floral skirt collection this season? Spend a little extra time on that section. Thrift stores are also really good for basics so if you're looking for something simple, you'll most likely be able to find something that works for you. For example, I went into my last thrift trip knowing that I wanted to a solid red cardigan that would be light enough for Spring. I found about 3 that would work and then bought my favorite of the bunch. The same goes for solid tee's or blouses.

I also keep a running list of my dream items to always keep an eye out for, which includes black platform sandals because you just never know when you'll run across 'em. On the other hand, I've made a promise to avoid floor length 90s dresses because no matter how good the collar is, I know these will make me look like a giant sack and not in a cute way.

7. Look in unexpected places
It is crazy the amount of times I have found an cute crop top thrown in with the little girl's section or a cute lace dress in the pajama section is staggering. It definitely pays off to do a quick browse through some of the other sections as there's a high chance of finding something sweet that was simply placed in the wrong section. I'd also suggest the little boys section for a plethora of potential cropped sweaters or tops!

8. Look for high-quality, well-made pieces
One of the best things about thrifing is that you can find high-quality items made from great fabrics like silk, wool, angora, etc etc for very low prices so keep an eye out for items of this caliber as you comb through the racks! Not that there's anything wrong with grabbing something made from synthetic fibers or anything, but they might not last as long (especially since you're buying them second hand)!

9. Carefully inspect your garments
This is an important one. There's nothing worse than ending up with a closet of thrifted items that never see much wear due to staining or rips (and trust me it happens to the best of us). In order to avoid this, before you buy anything do a careful once over of your item to make sure it's in tip top shape. Check seams to ensure they are aren't ripping, are all the buttons there? Hold it up to the light and look closely for any nagging stains. For some reason thrift stores seems to be notorious for poor lighting (why is this?) so it may be worthwhile to take a little extra time inspecting for stains.

If you do find an imperfection, ask yourself is it still worth buying? If not, put it back. There will be something else that's better that will inevitably come along. If you're a good sewer or streamstress, it may also be worth asking yourself is it something that you could easily fix up. Be weary of this though and only buy if you think you'll actually get around to repairing it. I have a sad basket of thrifted clothing that has been sitting in my room for much too long full of clothes that all need buttons, hemming, cleaning etc that I've never attended to. *Sheds a tear*

10. Ask yourself: Do you reeeeally need it?
This might be the step on the list that I have the hardest time with. Before you buy something at the thrift, ask yourself do you love it? Will you get a lot of wear out of it? Do you already have 10 things that look super similar? Does it fit right?  Since the thrift store can be so cheap, I think it's super easy to get wrapped up in wanting to buy, buy, buy and then ending up with a regrettable amount of items that never see any wear. Soooo much easier said than done, but if the answer to any of the above questions is no than put it back and don't buy it!! Save your 4 bucks and go spend it on a new bottle of nail polish or something instead :)

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  1. Thank you so much for the tips. I don't think I would qualify for thrifting Olympics because I'm just learning. I'm always searching for blog post like this and online thrift shops, too. I just fell in love with this shop on eBay called americanfashionfox. Love this post. :)

    1. Thanks, Meghan!! So glad this post could be helpful!