Best Practices for Thrift Shopping Beginners

Jonny Hector

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If you’re new to thrifting, the shops can seem overwhelming. Some are organized by color, others by size, and a few appear to have no organization whatsoever. Here are some practices that will keep you focused and help make your thrifting trips fruitful.

Take your time: You might be able to pop into a local boutique or even a department store and find what you need in 20 minutes or less., but secondhand

shopping is quite different. Every item is one-of-a-kind, so more time is needed to comb the racks. Allot at least an hour, ideally more, for any thrift shopping trip so that you’ll have time to explore the offerings thoroughly and methodically.

Be well rested and well fed: I know this is starting to sound like marathon prep, but hear me out. If you are worn out from a long day and attempt to sift through dozens of jam-packed racks, you may miss some treasures or make some bad shopping decisions. And honestly, you should never shop when you’re hungry. Ever. Thrift when you’re alert and well-fed so you can focus your energy on the task at hand.

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Bring a list: If you have a few items in mind, bringing a list allows you concentrate on tracking them down while skipping over a few racks and departments. Try to keep your list pretty general. You’ll have better luck finding “black sweaters” than you will finding “black cashmere V-necks with ribbed edging.” Focus on categories instead of highly specific items.

Tackle one department at a time: Start with tops. Once you’ve got an armload, head to the fitting rooms and pick your favorites. Next tackle the jackets. Hit the fitting rooms again. And so on and so on. If you attempt to look through all of the racks in all of the departments before you try anything on, you’ll just exhaust yourself. Shop department by department instead.

Examine every item carefully: Most donated items are in amazing shape, but a few are cast off because they’re stained or torn or full of moth holes. Before you plunk down your cash, take a long hard look at every inch of your potential purchases. If you spot some damage, it may not be a deal-breaker but make sure it’s something you can live with, repair yourself, or have repaired without adding too much to the overall cost.

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Buy for fit and function: What this really means is DON’T buy something because it’s a covetable brand name. DON’T buy something because it’s cool and cheap if it doesn’t fit well or you have nowhere to wear it. Remember, just because something is cheap doesn’t automatically make it a bargain.

Start with durable goods: Diaphanous silk blouses and open-weave mohair sweaters won’t age well. Generally speaking, wool and leather coats, denim, lined blazers, heavy twill pants or skirts, belts, and handbags will age well. If you’re worried about buying something used only to watch it disintegrate, stick to durable goods. (This also includes shoes in many cases, though some people are squeamish about buying used shoes.)

Keep an open mind: Thrifting will teach you that size tags are meaningless. If something looks like it might fit, try it on! And even if you arrive at the store with a shopping wish list, be open to hidden gems. If that suede jacket is calling your name, see if it fits. Being a focused thrifter is important, but so is going with the flow.

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