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10 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping to Find Amazing Things!

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Shopping at a thrift store is not for everybody. Personally, I’m a frequent thrifter and big promoter of 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!” to even some questionable glances on if it’s sanitary or not. Though it’s not for everyone, 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!

10 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

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 but 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. Speaking from experience! 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. Wow! 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, for example. When it comes to thrifting, go often. Maybe even 2-3 times a week if you’re really looking 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 opening or you might as well not even go! 😉 Dollar days or not, it’s always best to try to get there as early as you can- especially on the weekends.

Also, 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. As you can see, timing is key!

Related: 6 Best Thrift Stores in Madison, WI

4. Watch the price
Thrift store shopping and being sustainable has 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 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!

5. Shop the tag
Even though thrift store shops have steadily been 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 be 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 front (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. Though I guess this could have its flip side, such as 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! Oh, and it might go without saying, but always wash your stuff before you wear it!

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 from 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 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
I hope you set some time aside for this trip because it is NOT for the faint of heart. In order to get the most out of your thrift store trip, you have to put a lot into it. You have to flip through every single hanger. There are a couple of reasons why you should do this.

One, 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, etc.

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 all 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
To echo #8 with items always being in the wrong section, there is always stuff 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. Only 99 cents and found on a random stand-alone rack near dresses and sheets! Say what?

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.

Sometimes it takes trying something on to see it in a new light. But most of all, have fun! You don’t have to do it alone either, bring someone that enjoys it just as much as you do and it may be your new favorite thing to do on the weekends!

I find that the majority of the people that say they hate thrift store shopping is because they can’t find anything, so I’m very hopeful that with these thrift store shopping tips you’ll be on your way to scoring some amazing finds!

Want more thrifting content? Read the posts below!
Thrifting Haul | Classic Outerwear Pieces
Chic On A Budget: Thrift Store Haul

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Carolyn Arentson
Carolyn is the founder and creator behind My Chic Obsession. When she's not dreaming up new content, you can find her watching a funny tv show with her husband, raising her two boys, or planning her next trip to Paris.