Tips & Tricks For Thrift Shopping

In high school, I read fashion blogs everyday (pre-Instagram, y’all). When I first discovered them, I was so excited to have all this content in between issues of Teen Vogue. A lot of my favorite bloggers were into thrifting, which I desperately wanted to do but didn’t know how. For a while, I thought the only options were expensive vintage stores or places like Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads, which I didn’t have near me. I dreamed about going away to college and finding a group of friends who loved fashion and I could thrift with every weekend. And that actually happened!

One of my favorite thrift finds - an Anthropologie romper that was $10 at Goodwill!

One of my favorite thrift finds - an Anthropologie romper that was $10 at Goodwill!

But what I didn’t realize when I was younger is that I had lots of great opportunities for thrifting in my own backyard. I didn’t have to beg my parents to take me into San Francisco in order for me to thrift like my favorite bloggers. In between consignment boutiques and church thrift shops, there were a handful of places less than 15 minutes from my house. Now, I hit those up just as often as I do the more popular places in the city.

I love thrifting. I’ve worn thrifted pieces to major events, like my college graduation and my best friend’s father’s wedding. More than half of my closet is thrifted, and I’m trying to get it to 80-100% thrifted in the near future. Some of my favorite items of clothing are the ones I had to dig for in a secondhand or consignment store.

In this post, I’m going to talk about how I thrift, my tips and tricks, and what I wish I knew starting out, as well as answer some questions I got on Instagram with the help of a few friends!

First of all, my advice:

  1. Start with consignment! Most people can’t jump right into a Goodwill and emerge victorious with the perfect thrift haul. Go on Google Maps and look for local resell, second hand and consignment stores in your area. Sometimes, consignment can be a little more expensive than a Goodwill, but the items are already curated, so you know they’re in good condition. Having that stamp of pre-approval is a good set of thrifting training wheels.

  2. Get informed! Read blog posts and watch Youtube videos. There’s so much thrifting content out there and everyone has their own strategies. I’ve honed my thrifting skills by learning from others. I also have a Youtube playlist of all my favorite thrifting videos for you to start with!

  3. This is a very highly suggested trick: learn some sewing basics! They can really save you. I’ve purchased more than one dress from an expensive brand (Anthropologie, Free People, etc.) for under $15 because it had a small imperfection, like a hole, and then taken it home and fixed it up like new. I barely know how to use a sewing machine, so I often make these little fixes by hand-sewing. If you really don’t trust yourself to sew, find a good tailor you like that and maybe stockpile a few pieces to take in at once.

  4. Do some research on your favorite brands. When I thrift, I’m game to try on anything, no matter the label, but being able to recognize my favorite brands has helped me find some great stuff. For example, I worked at Anthropologie for four years and shopped the sale section for years before that, so I can recognize almost any Anthropologie piece from the last decade. Creepy, but I’ve found some absolute steals or things I lusted over when I was 14 years old. It’s also good to know your favorite brands because then you’re familiar with sizing and how the brand fits you, which can come in handy if you aren’t able to try on items for some reason.

  5. Go often. Thrift trips are not always successful, but if you go to the same spot every week, you’ll always find new things. That’s the beauty of thrift stores - the inventory is never the same. And, the more you shop somewhere, the better you get to know it. In college, I went to the same Buffalo Exchange at least twice a month and got very good at navigating the rack efficiently. I do the same thing with my neighborhood re-sell shop (similar concept to Buffalo, but a little cheaper) - sometimes I go once a week and sometimes I leave with nothing, but sometimes I’ve come in just after they bought a ton of great stuff off of someone and I was one of the first to try it on.

And now, some questions from Instagram! I used the new Q&A story feature to ask people if they had any burning thrift questions.

How do you find good thrift stores that actually have decent stuff?

I sort of touched on this earlier, but literally typing in “second hand,” “consignment,” and “thrift” in Google Maps could reveal hidden gems. I feel like most towns also have at least one Goodwill or Salvation Army.

If you’re not having any luck at all in your hometown, or maybe can’t drive and don’t get around much, there are a lot of apps and websites that have popped up in the last few years. I use Poshmark and Depop to find great secondhand finds, the website ThredUp is basically just an online version of Buffalo Exchange/Crossroads Trading, and a lot of people sell vintage clothing on Etsy. Poshmark and Depop work very differently, so if you’d like a post going into more detail on how to get the most out of both of them, let me know in the comments section down below.

Instagram shops are on the rise right now too - and stay tuned, because I have some interviews coming up with people who run their own online/Instagram thrift shops!

How do you clean thrifted accessories? Like hats, shoes, bags, etc.?

For this one, I turned to a few friends, because I don’t thrift accessories that often. When I thrift shoes or bags, I don’t take them unless they’re in fairly good condition, because I honestly just don’t want to deal. Here’s what some of my friends say:

Lucy: For shoes, if they’re leather, clean with a leather wipe. Leather wipes are great for bags and purses too. If the leather is dulling, I use leather spray (brown or black, depending on the color) to give it some life.

CeCe: Any bags that I get, I usually stick a dryer sheet in them for a few days just to get rid of that musty smell. For shoes I usually Lysol spray them if I’m going to wear them barefoot, if I’m gonna wear them with socks I honestly just wear them as is if they look clean!

What’s your advice for finding an awesome thrift piece? What is the most you should spend on a thrift item?

Still not over how beautiful these loafers are.

Still not over how beautiful these loafers are.

To find an awesome piece, my advice is what I said above, mostly. Go to shops often, know what your favorite brands look like and don’t expect to strike gold every time. Try on things even if they look weird on the hanger and don’t discount something because it’s not your size (because what is clothing sizing anymore? It’s a social construct and makes no sense.). If you’re shopping on an app, figure out search terms that might yield what you’re looking for, like “Stevie Nicks” (yes, I search that all the time).

In terms of how much you should spend, it’s different for everyone. Some people see $10 as the max a thrifted item should cost, others feel that as long as it’s cheaper than the retail price, it’s a good deal. For me, it really comes down to the brand and the quality. For example, last week, I thrifted a pair of brand new Cole Haan loafers at Goodwill for $30. Normally, I would never spend that much on shoes at a thrift store, but these loafers retail for over $200 and I could tell they were literally never worn. That’s also why knowing your brands is important - something might seem overpriced, but compared to its retail value, that thrift price might the cheapest you’ll ever get that item.

If you have any other questions about thrifting or thrifting-themed content you’d like to see from me, let me know in the comments!