Thrifting Tips: 10 Ways to Thrift Shop Like a Pro

10 thrift shopping tips - woman stands in aisle of thrift shop looking at clothes on hangers
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Thrifting Tips to Make Your Life Easier

Today I’m sharing easy thrifting tips to improve your secondhand excursions. I know there have got to be tons of thrift shopping guides on the internet, but were they written by a thrift shop professional?

I was the General Manager of a thrift shop for five years, and I still thrift in my spare time. I’ve got a system that helps me scan and shop even the largest shop in under an hour.

Here are my steps. Modify them to suit your needs!

1 | Bring cash just in case.

Some of the best thrift shops don’t have the income to support credit card costs. My thrift shop finally got a card reader 25 years after opening, but we still required purchases to be greater than $10.00 to use it.

You don’t want to abandon your new favorite thing just because you don’t have a few dollars with you.

2 | Grab a cart and dress simply. 

You may think you’re only going to grab a couple things, but it’s always best to go hands-free on a thrift adventure. Bring a small bag and dress casually for maximum comfort.

Having a cart will make it easier to sort items and make your final choices. If the shop doesn’t have carts available, ask an associate where you can stow your goods while you continue shopping.

3 | Start in a section that inspires you. 

I always start in shoes! Even in Goodwills that organize shoes on top of the clothing racks, I prefer to skim shoes first just because I love them.

Finding a few items I love at the very beginning encourages me to keep going and I can make sure I grab up what I want before someone else discovers them.

4 | Spot clothing by pattern or color. 

Clothing racks at thrift shops can be extremely overwhelming, especially if they don’t seem to be organized in any particular way. To get around the panic, I look for hints of patterns, textures, and colors that I love.

The item may be the wrong size or in poor condition, but at least I’ve given myself a system to find the things that are best for me instead of mindlessly going through the entire rack.

5 | If something is cool, but you’re just not sure, put it in your cart anyway. 

This may sound counter intuitive – and it would be if you were at the department store – but thrift shopping offers opportunities to get creative.

If a pattern or style appeals to you, but you don’t know if it’ll fit or flatter you, put it in your cart to try on. Use the try-on to do more discernment about whether it’s a good fit for your life and style. You never know!

6 | Estimate your total along the way. 

Never stop tallying! For some, thrift shopping means spending under $20.00 every time. Since I used to resell, and buy almost everything secondhand, I can easily rack up a total close to $100.00.

I always estimate my total to make sure that I’m staying on budget. This also helps me part with things I don’t really want anyway.

7 | If you’re buying it for yourself, try it on!

Admittedly, I have trouble with this one. I buy a lot of stuff without trying it on first, but there’s a 50/50 chance it won’t work out. Sure, it might be in your size or be your color or be really cheap.

But trust me when I say you really don’t want to make a habit of taking things home that you’ll never wear.

8 | Get a second opinion.

If you can, bring a friend who shares your passion for secondhand or knows your style well. If you can’t, don’t be afraid to ask an associate for her opinion.

My thrift shop was staffed primarily by retired women (and me!) who would love to help you find something you love.

9 | Narrow it down!

Now that your cart is piled high and you’ve tried everything on, begin the purge.

Put back anything that doesn’t fit correctly or is just too funky/boring to suit your needs.

Check and double check for rips, stains, and tears. It’s best to do this by laying the item as flat as you can get it and inspecting it from all angles in direct light.

If you find quality issues, decide whether to tell an associate, put it back (if it’s minor or noted already), or keep it. Keep in mind that some thrift shops will not allow you to purchase an item after you’ve noted a condition issue, so if you really want something with a tiny stain, keep that information to yourself.

10 | If you love the shop, take a business card and get social.

Most thrift shops maintain a facebook page even if they don’t have a website. If you can’t readily find a business card, ask an associate for details. It’s fun (and useful) to stay up to date on shop sales and events and the people who run the shop really appreciate your support.

There are lots of thrift shop chains in the US these days, but the little guys (like the shop I ran) have to work pretty hard to get the word out, so we rely on happy customers to tell others about it and to let us know how we can better serve the community.

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Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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