rack of clothes

10 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping to Find Amazing Things

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward us a small commission – at no extra cost for you.

I know that shopping at a thrift store is not for everybody. Personally, I’m a frequent thrifter and a big believer in shopping second-hand. Over the years, I’ve heard many comments such as, “I can never find anything good at a thrift store!” or “I can’t believe you got that at a thrift store!” I’ve even got some questionable glances from people wondering if it’s sanitary or not. Whether you love thrifting or hate it, you can’t deny the fact that you can find amazing things for an even more amazing price. From items made in Paris to 99-cent designer finds, I’ve found it all. Here are my top 10 tips for thrift store shopping so you can find those amazing items too!

1. Go In With the Right Mindset

Some days you can’t seem to stop pulling items off the racks and other days it takes you 5 minutes to walk through the whole store. Go in with the mindset that it’s cool if you find something and it’s cool if you don’t too!

If you go in expecting to find a real Louis Vuitton vintage bag (I met someone this happened to), you are going to be very disappointed when it doesn’t happen to you. And when discouragements like this add up, you’ll never want to thrift again, and therefore, you’ll miss out on your own amazing finds!

2. Go Often

The merchandise is constantly changing. Even Goodwill themselves state that they are putting out new merchandise every day, every few hours. Second-hand stores are generally not like Target and other similar retail places where they put out new inventory on their set days, like every Wednesday or Saturday. When it comes to thrifting, go often. Maybe even 2-3 times a week if you’re really hoping to score something cool!

3. Timing is Key

Timing can make a huge difference. First off, you want to start shopping early. I don’t know how many Goodwill dollar days I went to only to find the whole store picked clean by 11 am. When it comes to these special sales, try your best to be there at the opening – or you might as well not even go! But of course, it’s worth a shot whenever you can make it.

When it comes to timing, think about the season you are in. Meaning, if it’s summer and garage sales are in full swing, consider going to a thrift store bright and early on a Monday or Tuesday. Most people are just going to give away what didn’t sell. The same goes for after long holiday weekends too.

To take it even further, think about how you think and act to really get into the mindset of a successful thrifter. For example, after Christmas and around the new year, most people are packing up Christmas decor and ready to get rid of all the presents they didn’t actually want. Come March and April, people are ready for some spring cleaning and they’ll most likely be doing big donating sweeps of their homes as well.

4. Watch the Price

Thrift store shopping and being sustainable have gotten a lot more popular lately. Because of that and depending on where you live, some prices can be outright outrageous for a used item.

Just because you’re at a thrift store doesn’t mean it’s automatically cheaper. To avoid buying something just because it seems cheap, compare it with a store you normally shop at. Ask yourself, “Would I buy this used shirt for $12 when I can get a new one at ____ for the same price or just a little more?”

Of course, if you’re shopping for sustainable reasons, then the price doesn’t matter. But if you are looking to save money, just know that not everything is a good deal!

Related: Step Up Your Style Game: 11 Ways to Wear Your Clothes Unconventionally

5. Shop the Tag

Even though thrift store shops have been steadily raising their prices, most have a different color tag sale each day (or something similar). Sometimes that tag sale can mean items are 50% off!

This can dramatically lower the already pretty low prices. If I’m really trying to challenge myself and save money, some days I will only get something if the tag matches the sale of the day. Either way, this can make really nice items at a super affordable price.

6. Inspect Everything Like it’s Your Job

Look over the clothes many, many times before you buy them. Look for stains, holes, rips, missing buttons, and/or broken zippers. Sometimes you try on the perfect item only to find it has a huge blue stain all across the back (I’ll miss you, ZARA trench coat).

Unless your goal is to take items that have seen better days and reconstruct them, don’t bother. It’s not worth the time and effort to fix an already-used item. The alternative to this is if you found a “like new” item for only a couple of dollars and though it’s missing a button, you know you could put one on in just 2 minutes. Then why not!

7. Try On Everything You’re Interested In

Even if it’s your size and it looks like it would fit – just try it on anyway. You’ll save yourself the disappointment of an item that you thought would look great, but then you hate the way it looks on you when you get home. Guess where it ends back up? Save that poor item a roundtrip and just try it on first.

On the flip side, you might be interested in something but it looks way too small or way too big. Try it on anyway! The sweater that looks too big could be stylishly oversized and the items that look too small could end up being simply fitted.

8. Go Through Each Hanger

In order to get the most out of your thrift store trip, you have to flip through every single hanger. There are a couple of reasons why you should do this.

Firstly, items are in the wrong section all the time. The nice places are more organized and color-coded, but you will always find things in the wrong section. Dresses are in shirts, skirts are in pants, you get it.

Secondly, sometimes the clothes are so jam-packed together that you won’t be able to see everything if you just glance by. I would have missed out on a lot of nice things from hangers hidden allllll the way in the back if I didn’t take the extra time to sift through them.

Oh, and don’t forget to look through the “return” rack by the dressing room. It’s like someone did half the work for you by already picking out the cute stuff! I was at Goodwill once sifting through the racks and there was this stylish girl ahead of me pulling off all the stuff I wanted. How disappointing! But I kept an eye on her and when she got out of the dressing room I looked through her discard pile. Creepy or clever? You decide.

9. Go Through Each Department

Same with items always being in the wrong section, there are always items in the wrong department too. I’ve found cool items in the maternity department and even the boy’s section. You never know what you might find.

Once, I found this gorgeous black beaded dress in the, guess, Halloween department! I could see how it could be a costume, but if someone was looking for a gorgeous, vintage dress for Homecoming or some other formal, they would have struck gold in the Halloween department.

Check out that beautiful cream coat in the photos below. It was only 99 cents and I found it on a random stand-alone rack near dresses and sheets! Can you believe it?

10. Try On Things That Look Different From What You Would Normally Wear

Another way to find something amazing and unique is not to judge it on the hanger. Have some extra time to kill? Go to the thrift store and just start trying random things on! You never know what you’re going to strike gold with. And sometimes it takes trying something on to see it in a new light.

Do you need help styling your thrift store finds? I created a resource for you that will help you build and style your dream wardrobe from scratch!

Now that you have these top tips for thrift store shopping, now it’s time to time to put your wardrobe to good use. Keep reading: 14 Ways to Expand Your Wardrobe on a Tight Budget


Founder and editor of My Chic Obsession, Carolyn is your trusted fashion maven. Carolyn's drive to help others achieve a classic and timeless wardrobe fuels her posts, making mychicobsession.com a go-to resource for style seekers worldwide. Beyond the wardrobe, she resides in the heartland of the Midwest, dreaming up new ideas and raising her two lively boys - her biggest fashion critics.