tips for thrifting

SONY DSCThrifting has become one of my favorite hobbies.

Some of my best, recent finds include: a strapless cotton J.Crew dress, a silk robe for mornings and evenings, perfectly scuffed overalls, gorgeous pottery platters and bowls for serving and for holding plants, cut-glass whiskey tumblers, Parcheesi, a wooden-bead necklace, a stationery set, swingtop jars for storage, records, old canvases to use for new projects, a wooden table for our porch, gifts for friends and family members, side tables for our living room, camping stools and plenty more.

In my pursuit of simplicity, I’ve been trying to have more of a conscience about what I buy and from whom. I try to stay away from big-box retailers in favor of small artisans, fair-trade items or, my personal favorite, secondhand stores. Thrifting is like a big game of hide-and-seek. You search through the dusty corners and staggering piles to find what you’re looking for, not knowing even if it exists but hoping all the while. Sometimes I get extremely lucky and find amazing stuff, and other days I walk away empty-handed — but this, my friends, is all part of the game.

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I’ve been thrifting for about ten years now. What began as an occasional and timid foray into my local Salvation Army has become one of my favorite pastimes, and along the way I’ve collected some tips to help others who are just starting out.

Have patience and take your time — If you don’t find what you’re looking for (or even something purchase-worthy, for that matter) on your first few trips, don’t give up. Learning where to look and  how often to shop is part of the rhythm of thrifting, and it takes a little practice. Additionally, make sure you have plenty of time to wander when you take a thrifting trip.

Be willing to dig — Don’t be put off by crammed clothing racks or piles of dishes, but be willing to go through piles and really search for something good. You may find something within plain sight, sure, but then again you may have to rummage under a thousand other objects at the bottom of the box. It’s all about taking the chance and hoping for the best, plus a little extra elbow grease thrown in for good measure.

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Think outside the box — We are in the age of repurposing, in which old rake heads hold wine glasses and suitcases get mounted on walls as shelves. Be imaginative with what you find at the thrift store and reuse old objects for a new purpose. I recently scored two sweet little yellow juice glasses for a few cents each, and now they hold my makeup brushes and our toothbrushes, respectively. A little vintage baking pan I found for 99 cents will also make a nice drawer organizer for my jewelry.

Look for brand and fabric — When you’re rifling through the racks, look first for colors and patterns that catch your eye and then check the label. If it’s a recognizable, quality brand, you may have found a good thing. If it isn’t recognizable, there’s a possibility you’ve stumbled upon something vintage…but it also may be from Walmart. That’s where fabric comes into play. Choose leather over PVC, silk over polyester, cashmere over cotton, and you’re guaranteed to have made a good choice.

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Take a chance on tailoring — If you find a piece of clothing that is from a good brand or has quality fabric, but doesn’t fit as well as you’d like, take it to a tailor. You can take in a dress, hem a pair of slacks, cut off a pair of jeans or do any manner of things to make a thrifted item fit your body and your style. I recently found a Nanette Lepore dress for less than $10 that had a great silhouette but was about a size and a half too big. I bought it and have high hopes for it after a good tailoring.

Go with a list and with an open mind — I find it helpful to keep a running list of what I’m looking for at a thrift store. It keeps me focused in an sensory-overload situation. But don’t put on blinders to the rest of what’s out there; make sure you have the freedom to look beyond your list, because you never know what you’re going to find.

Please feel free share any of your favorite thrifting tips in the comments. Or, leave me a note telling me about what good secondhand finds you’ve snagged lately!

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7 thoughts on “tips for thrifting

  1. Oh my gosh. Yes. Thrifting is my favorite! When Lindi and I travel, one of the first things we do is look up recommendations for thrift stores and flea markets wherever we’re headed, and we go regularly here at home. At least half of our books are from thrifting, as is more than half my closet at this point. Some favorite things lately: A purple silk dress for $5, a beautiful little pyrex baking dish (the pattern suggests 70s) for $1, two antique mahogany dressers for $40 each, and a small metal box full of handwritten recipes for $5. I love it! It does take more work than just popping into the mall and getting the thing you’re looking for brand new and right away, but I think the ‘digging’ is part of what makes it wonderful. Plus, we so often find things of better quality for so much less money, and I love that we’re making the culturally conscious choice to buy secondhand.

    • What amazing finds! I bet you and Lindi are total pros and make such a good thrifting team together. I selfishly enjoy going by myself, but it’s always fun to have another set of eyes scoping out the goods. I’d love to see those antique dressers — score!!

  2. I love thrift shopping! My mom and I used to go to some of her favorite shops on early Saturday mornings and we’ve found some fabulous things over the years (she is a blue glass collector and has amassed a HUGE collection). I tend to look for interesting bakeware and glassware! I just moved to a new town a couple months ago and have yet to find any good shops…hopefully soon!

  3. I’m a big thrifter too – the goodwill bins are a great place to go! You really have to get your hands dirty, as everything is just thrown into huge bins for you to ruffle through, but everything is sold by the pound instead of marked prices. I have found a pair of Guess jeans in mint condition and got them for less than $1.00!!!
    But your right – sometimes thrift stores prices items higher than they would be new if its from Walmart or Forever 21 or something. Know your brands 😉

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