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Friday, July 13, 2012

Thrift Shopping 101

Hey guys! Today's post is about thrift shopping! It's one of my favorite things to do besides napping and crafting. I was going through my closet the other day to look for things to donate and I realized that about 70% of my clothes and over half of my shoes were from some form of thrift store. 

I'm not a professional at thrifting, but I believe I've gotten pretty good at it. I wasn't always such a big fan of thrift stores, believe it or not. Don't get me wrong, I've always been cheap and I try to buy everything on sale. Before my mom passed away in 2004, she taught me that thrift stores were places where only poor people shopped and even said, "Why would you want to buy that stuff? Someone's died in it." So, before ever setting foot into a thrift store, that was my general belief of them. It's not like she taught us to blow money or spend extravagantly. My mother taught my siblings and I to be frugal and buy EVERYTHING on sale (or try very hard to). After my mom passed, my family and I went through and donated a lot of her clothes to the local Salvation Army. That was the first time I had actually ever set foot into a thrift store and took interest in buying anything. I was enthralled at the mix of interesting and weird things. While some stuff was icky and old, some was pretty fashionable.

My thrifting habits didn't really kick in until I got into college in 2006 when my friends and I got into a reconing clothes phase. Since then, I rather shop at thrift stores than retail! My husband is still iffy about thrift clothing but he enjoys looking for interesting thrift furniture and books. On our honeymoon to Flagstaff, AZ (big hipster city), instead of going shopping at the retail stores, we went thrift store shopping!

Some of my thrifted goodies! Many name brands like Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Anne Taylor Loft, J. Jill, Patagonia, Fossil, Coach, Ellemeno, Anne Klein, H&;M... to name a few. Even the frame for that dry erase calendar was thrifted!

Okay, enough about me! I'm going to give you a rundown on the general beliefs, pros/cons, and then end with thrifting tips with links to sources and good blogs on thrifting! If you're a veteran at thrifting, you may already know most of these tips. These are mainly for those starting up in thrifting and beginners. Get ready to READ!

Common Beliefs of Thrifting

  • "Only poor people go to thrift stores." - WRONG! Our culture has us so ingrained with buying ONLY new stuff that we think that used items are for those that can't afford the new things. Personally, I have seen soccer moms, business owners, and even well-to-do housewives in thrift stores. These people have the money to buy new things, but they may have a frugal mindset or just enjoy thrift shopping. So, get that mentality out of your head! EVERYONE can shop at thrift stores! With the downturn in the economy nowadays, thrift stores are the way to go! 
  • "Everything there is used and/or broken." - NO. Let me tell you, I have found BRAND NEW items at thrift stores with the tags intact! Name brand stuff like Limited, Express, Old Navy, etc. Despite most people's beliefs that all the items are donated at thrift stores, this is not true. Sometimes when retailers or boutiques (or even furniture stores) are going out of business, they tend to sell their items for a wholesale or bulk price at a loss. My local thrift store has BRAND NEW furniture they buy for cheap and sell at an extremely discounted price. I got an AWESOME brand new LEATHER couch and loveseat set for $700 just last month that normally sold for $1500 at stores. 
  • "Why buy used, when you can have NEW stuff?" - This is the main belief most Americans have about buying ANYTHING. The retailers and commercials love to bombard us with the belief that we MUST have the newest and BEST name brands in order to look good. With the ridiculous changes in fashion nearly every season, the normal consumer feels the need to keep up and buy the latest in silly fashion trends. While thrift stores get used clothing that's "out of style," a lot of today's fashion trends are "revamped" old trends like midi skirts, chambray shirts, and 80's neon so there's a big chance that you'll find these at thrift stores. 

Pros and Cons of Thrifting


  • "Thrifting is eco-friendly and green!" - This is true! You're helping the environment when you thrift shop. Think about it. New items at retail stores are a result of LOTS of waste. They're most likely made in a sweat shop in another country with lower environmental standards which means lots of waste dumped into the surrounding environment; and shipped via airplane or boat (which creates lots of carbon dioxide that causes global warming). So, this means that the more you buy new, the higher the demand for more to be made thus the endless cycle of destroying the environment. With thrift shopping, the items are secondhand and already created. The only thing expended is the gas you use driving from your house to the thrift store. Also, this keeps secondhand/used clothing and items from ending up in landfills! Score!

  • "You're helping charities." - Many thrift stores are connected to nonprofit organizations and charities such as Goodwill and Salvation Army where the proceeds go towards helping the poor and needy. There are 2 thrift stores in my town that are connected to charities: Palmer Home and Salvation Army. As most of you know, Salvation is connected nationally. Palmer Home is a local charity in my area that helps the Palmer Home for Children orphanage. So, feel good about buying used!

  • "Everything's cheap!" - YES! I LOVE cheap! Who doesn't like saving money on clothes, shoes, and home decor items? I don't know anyone! Since items are secondhand, they're priced cheaper. But remember, some stuff is new, never been used, and in GREAT CONDITION!

  • "There are sales!" - Crazy, right?! Even thrift stores have sales! You wouldn't think it since they're already dirt cheap, but sometimes they have these sales to clear out old inventory and make room for new stuff. A lot of times they have holiday or end-of-season sales where clothing are marked to $1/piece or less. My local Salvation Army has $1 Tuesdays where ALL clothing and shoes are only $1! My sister tells me that a local thrift store in her town has "fill-a-bag" days where you bring your own bags and fill them with whatever and pay a flat rate (i.e. $5 or less!). So, ask the clerk when these days are so you can snag some awesome deals!

  • "It's fun!" - Of course! Shopping is fun no matter what! With thrifting, it's even more fun since you know you're saving money! Unlike retail stores where they have multiples of everything, lots of the stuff you find at thrift stores are ONE OF A KIND! It's like a treasure hunt! One of my personal examples is my Moroccan themed living room. Upon lots of researching, I saw that the hexagon shape was a popular trend in Moroccan decor and I was not about to spend an upwards of $400 for a hexagon shaped coffee table. So, I set out in search. I came up empty handed in all the stores, even in another town 30 minutes down the road, until I found a thrift consignment store in my town that specializes in used furniture. I found a $30 REAL WOOD hexagon end table AND matching $30 hexagon coffee table! SCORE! The next day I found ANOTHER real wood hexagon end table (almost matched the other end table!) at another thrift store down the road. I had redecorated my living room with an entire table set for $90! 


  • "Thrift stores are smelly." - This is true sometimes due to the fact that many stores are unkempt and rarely cleaned. A lot of these places are low profit or nonprofit so they tend to be in rundown buildings or old warehouses that are in disrepair or with no A/C. Don't let this get you down though! The smell tends to be a mix of old, musty grandma's attic and dirt, but a lot of stores aren't like this! Thrift stores are now gaining popularity and stepping up their standards so they're quite comfortable to shop in. 

  • "Items are broken/damaged." - Yes, this is true since they are secondhand. But there are lots of stuff that is in very good condition if you take the time to look around. Lots of clothing may have minor tears or missing buttons that can be easily mended if you have the skill or know someone that is good with a thread and needle or sewing machine. Electronics are always a hit or miss so ask for the nearest electrical outlet to plug in and check if it works. Furniture can have some water damage or broken, so it's always good to check before buying. Some damage to furniture (scuffs, scratches, etc.) is superficial and doesn't affect the structure integrity of the item. If a couch is missing a feet, this can be easily repaired by replacing the feet with new ones. They sell unpainted, wood furniture feet at local hardware stores (i.e. Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.). 

  • "They don't have my size." - This tends to be the case for new thrift shoppers. They're used to retail stores carrying all the sizes you need. This can be a problem if you've found that perfect dress or pair of shoes at the thrift store but it's the wrong size. For clothing, you can always re-size by taking in seams or hems if you know how to sew or know someone that can do it for you or have a seamstress do it for you. As for shoes, it is unfortunate, but always keep an eye out! Patience is key!

  • "Everything's 'out of date'/unfashionable." - While some of the items are from the 1970s or older and should probably NEVER be worn out in public ever again, lots of the old "vintage" styles are coming back as popular fashion trends! Just look at them with a different eye and be creative! Look at it this way: Instead of buying new, "vintage-inspired" clothes, you can have REAL vintage clothes!

  • "It's so unorganized." - Lots of thrift stores don't have much semblance of organization so trying to find something is quite difficult. This is a turn off for OCD shoppers who really like to shop in a store where items  are organized by size, color, and type. Some stores do pretty well by organizing by gender, size, type of clothes and even color. To me, it's part of the fun to dig through stuff!

  • "I couldn't find anything." - Don't be discouraged! I've had this problem many times going into thrift stores and coming out empty handed. The thrift store in my old hometown was like this. I lived in a small, low income town where not many items were donated so the stock in the store tended to be old and rarely stocked. This can be a bummer for those living in small towns. 

Tips for Thrift Shopping


- Ask about sale/promotion days/restocking days - Ask the salesperson if their store has any special sale days or times of the year where they tend to lower prices dirt cheap. Some stores have $1 all clothing days or "fill-a-bag" days where you bring your own bags with clothes for a low price. Also, find out when they restock so you can snag nice deals before others find them. The best time to shop on restocking days are in the mornings since the early bird gets the worm or the little old lady gets that nice set of Noritake dishes.

- Set a budget and goal - Set a budget so you don't end up spending too much and have a list of projects or types of clothing you're looking. This is to keep you from becoming too distracted and buying stuff you don't need.

- Try on clothes/shoes before buying - Some stores may not have fitting rooms so please use discretion before buying to see if it fits. Also, bring some spare socks (if you're not wearing any) in your purse so you can try on shoes. Personally, I don't do this, but some people are iffy about trying on used shoes before cleaning.

- Try out electronics before buying - Find the nearest electrical outlet and test! Ask the clerk if you can borrow a light bulb to test lamps. Carefully check for missing parts as well. 

- Wash clothes/housewares/toys before wearing/using - Yes, wash clothing and housewares (dishes, pots, pans, appliances, utensils, vases, etc.) from thrift stores because they are used, but I do this anyway for brand new items I buy from retail stores since they're covered in chemicals and new dyes (people have also touched "new" stuff!). Also, air out or Lysol/clean shoes before wearing them. Here is a good link for washing different fabrics: [How to Wash Your Fabrics]. Here is a good tip from FourFourtyNine on how to clean thrifted shoes:
"Wipe the inside of the shoe down with rubbing alcohol. Some people also use bleach. Mix 1/4 cup of bleach and water and using a spray bottle, spritz the solution on the inside of the shoe, but be sure the liquid doesn’t come in contact with the outside of the shoe, the bleach can ruin the material. Air the shoes out over night. If there are insoles, you definitely want to replace them."
- Baby clothes and items - Yes! Those children grow out of everything so quickly! Thrifting is the way to go with children's clothes and shoes. Lots of them are in near perfect condition since they're worn for such a short period of time before they're outgrown.

- Shop around the dressing room rack - People tend to have pretty good taste so look on the dressing room return rack for items you may have missed while browsing.

- Bring cash - Some thrift stores cannot afford the fees to keep a credit card machine so they only accept cash, so always carry some cash with you. I usually bring about $50 in cash when I go, but the amount depends on your budget.

- Have an open mind - If you're into redecorating on a budget, check Pinterest, Craftsy, or Craftster for inspiration and projects for redoing items for home decor. Be creative!

- Look for quality - A lot of the items are vintage which means that they've been around for YEARS. To tell you the truth, I rather buy vintage clothing because they tend to be constructed with better fabric and workmanship than the sweatshop clothing of today. My veteran thrift shopping friend, Lauren J., gave a good tip: "I always feel the fabric with my fingers to make sure it's quality." Always check for pilling, snags, fraying, tears, and worn areas before buying clothing or shoes since this will affect the structural integrity of the piece. Notable areas are underarms, elbow areas, necklines of shirts, soles and footbed of shoes, and cuffs of coats.

"Quality" coats I've thrifted. From left to right: leather "Express" bomber, "Anne Klein" wool blazer, "Old Navy" wool trench, vintage wool "Handmacher" suit jacket, "Liz Lange" wool trench, vintage plaid wool trench. Also, those are vintage thrifted curtains!

- Shop with a friend/family - It's more fun AND they can provide you with insight on things such as fit, creative ideas, and maybe helping you NOT buy something that you may regret later.


- Designer goods - If you happen about something designer, you DON'T always have to buy it! Don't fall into that trap! I admit, I've fallen for it a few times myself. I found an Alexander McQueen blazer (originally $300!) for $6 BRAND NEW with tags and bought it without even trying it on to find that it was ill fitting and only ended up wearing it once to the Welty Gala. Ask yourself these questions before buying:
  • Does it fit? Where and when will I wear it? Is it versatile with the clothing already in my clothing? Does it make more than 2 outfits? Is it ugly?
Just because it's designer doesn't mean it's good. It may be ugly as sin and that's why it was donated in the first place. 

- "Future" projects - Sometimes you run into clothing or furniture that you may want to re-style. After buying it, you realize that that same item you bought has sat in the back of your closet or garage for almost a year untouched because it's too difficult to redo. Remember, know the limits of your skill and find out if it's worth your time and extra money to re-size or redo.

- Underwear/undergarments - Okay. There are somethings I DO NOT thrift. One of them is underwear. I would only buy if they are brand new, CLEAN, with tags still attached. Even then, I would wash them before wearing. 
  • Bras - I have thrifted bras before, but I carefully check for weird stains and smells. Always check the straps for good elasticity/stretch and for any structural damage. 
  • Socks - I also DO NOT thrift these. I would advise ONLY if they look NEW and are VERY CLEAN.
  • Scrubs - I actually do thrift scrub uniforms since I'm a nurse. Some are against this since you never know if people's body fluids get on it or not. I tend to look for scrubs that look nearly new with no fading.
  • Another tip, look for pit/deodorant stains. You may think you can wash these out but beware. You don't know if these items have been previously ironed or dried in a dryer. The heat from an iron or dryer can set pit stains and make it nearly impossible to remove. Also, the longer deodorant stains sit unwashed in fabric, the higher risk of fabric breaking down and wearing down.

Scrub tops I've thrifted.

- Food - NO. PLEASE DO NOT BUY FOOD FROM A THRIFT STORE. I am highly against this. Even if the expiration date on it has not passed yet, you never know what temperature shifts the food has gone through before arriving to the store.

Phew! That's a lot of information! I do hope you find this information helpful for your future thrifting adventures! While I'm not embarrassed to tell people I buy from a thrift store, my sister has some good advice for those that are:
"If you're ever asked where you got your clothes, tell them it's from a boutique."

And that's it for today's post! If you have any advice, opinions, or questions, feel free to post in the comments!!!! Thanks for reading!

Sources and good blogs posts to read:
- - "Junking 101"
- Juniper James - "Thrift Is Green"
- - "23 Must Know Tips for Thrift Store Shopping"
- The Simple Dollar - "Six Reasons Why People Don’t Thrift"
- Am I The Only One Dancing? - "What to Do with Thrift Store Finds"
- Small Notebook - "Thrifting for Quality Clothes"
- FourFourtyNine - "How To Clean Thrifted Shoes"
- Looking Fly On A Dime - "How To Clean Thrift Store Clothing"


  1. Awesome article! I've been thrifting forever. I started as a kid because my parents never had enough money to buy new clothes, but I'm now a college student and still do it because I just love to save money on great articles of clothing! I'd say 2/3 or more of my stuff comes for a thrift store. Some of my favorite things to thrift are t-shirts and bras (I will never, ever buy a bra full price, what a waste).

    Personally, I don't worry about body fluids and stuff like that. Once it's washed with soap, that's all gone. And I always remember that deodorant stains can be taken off with white vinegar and a cycle in the washing machine. :)

    Regarding thrift store food, wow, I never saw that before. The thrift stores around here would never sell it, and I'd definitely never buy it. :O

  2. Thanks for the tip on getting rid of deodorant stains! I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I see something I really like but has pit stains.

    There's a strange thrift-type store in my area that tends to sell all kinds of goods that major retailers can't sell such as broken/returned items, out of season decor and clothes, and yes, food. I have bought spices and some cooking oil but I've seen people buy cookies and tuna and odd things I would never buy from a thrift store.

  3. Only poor people go to thrift stores, noticed this in your blog, one thing you left out is there is one other type of person that loves thrift shops, whether they are poor or rich, It is the unique person who is looking for something different, unique that sets them apart from the others. Finding treasures you do not see in the dept stores or chains. Something that makes you not part of the usual crowd, unique.