My Wardrobe Is 90% Secondhand — These Are My 4 Top Thrifting Tips

published Aug 16, 2023
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racks of clothes in a tight shop, mannequin with white shirt and hat on top, striped black and white rug, clothes hanging on wall above racks, colorful vintage clothing, tote bags, stage spot lights on lower part of ceiling
Credit: Jennifer Prince

When I was five, my mom opened an antique shop, which means I was scouring thrift stores and flea markets long before it was considered cool. The purpose was twofold — to scope out goodies to resell and find things our family needed. It’s also a habit I chose to continue into adulthood as I curated wardrobes for my growing children and filled my closet with pre-loved finds. Admittedly, my younger self tended to grumble while traipsing around Saturday morning yard sales. As I’ve aged, though, I’ve become thankful for those early days of bargain hunting. 

Whether I’m thrifting at home to find a versatile linen dress or traveling and perusing vintage stores, I’ve discovered some tried-and-true tips for ensuring that I fill my closet with cost-friendly goods without overdoing it. I’m now well on my way to having a sustainable wardrobe I adore while enjoying the thrill of the hunt. Here are my four best tips for buying thrifted clothing.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Create a list of what you need.

At a retail boutique, you may consider it a score if you found a gorgeous dress for $40, but at my local thrift store, that same amount of money buys much more than a single dress. For me, it’s easy to get caught up in low prices and purchase way more than I need. 

Now, I like to have an idea of what I’m looking for before shopping. Sometimes that means heading inside with a mental list or a note typed on my phone, but going in with a loose plan helps keep me focused. Sure, I still make impulse purchases — that’s part of the fun of retail therapy and thrifting, since you never know what you’ll find — but if the point of thrifting is to save money, too many unplanned purchases can quickly thwart plans.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Inspect pieces carefully.

Thrift stores are full of castoffs, and sometimes that means scoring something brand new with the tags still on. However, most of what ends up at charity shops has been pre-loved, so give it a once-over before making your final purchase, as many stores are exchange-only or have a zero-returns policy.

I like to examine seams to check for unraveling, splits, or loose threads, which are all relatively simple to fix. Pulls and pills (those tiny, pesky balls) are often a no for me, depending on the piece. Snags in sweaters are easy to pull through to the inside of the garment. Additionally, scan for stains in natural light, and do a quick sniff test. Perfume and other scents will fade with washing, but sometimes musty or smoky smells linger.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Keep your smartphone close.

One of my favorite parts about thrifting is buying brands I wouldn’t typically splurge on at full retail. All tops at one of my local thrift stores are the same price, so a less-than-perfect Old Navy shirt will cost the same as a flawless Johnny Was silk top. Another shop I frequent tends to price notable brands slightly higher, but I still can’t complain about paying $4 for a J. Crew shirt.

Nowadays, there are so many independent designers with quality labels I don’t recognize, and that’s where a smartphone can come in handy. If a brand looks luxe, I quickly look it up and see if it’s a secret score. On one trip, I found a perfect pair of Rothy’s for a whopping $3.00. I quickly looked up the brand, which usually retails for over $100, and realized they were a steal. Not that it truly mattered, because I liked the shoes and they fit comfortably, but feeling like I got a bargain was the icing on the cake.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Get to know your local stores.

Although there are many thoughts on the methodology of nationwide thrift stores like Goodwill, you can become a local expert by regularly popping into your nearby shops. Not only do my local Goodwills have a color of the week that is 50 percent off, but on Sundays and Mondays, they offer an additional discount on last week’s color. Beyond that, I know how the store is organized and when they put new merchandise on the floor (which is constant, so there’s never a wrong time to go). 

Your local one-off charity or thrift shop probably has a specific way of doing things and may have a clearance section or run sales during certain weeks. This information may seem top secret, but these sellers want merchandise to move, so they’re usually happy to give tips on how to shop at their particular store. Being friendly to employees also goes a long way. Not only can it help you be in the know, but it will make for a more pleasant shopping experience for you — and them.