How to Thrift Without Stress

blue chambray jumpsuit and multicolor sandals on light wood background - How to Thrift Without Stress

How to Thrift Without Stress

This post was written by Betty Kary for StyleWise. As a way of creating a more robust resource, I’ve added my own “notes from a (former) thrift shop manager” under Betty’s tips (with her permission).

As a young student with a life-long and growing passion for fashion and a deep concern for the well-being of our planet, I fell quite naturally into thrift shopping.

I just love the idea of creating unique and inexpensive outfits all the while consuming in a responsible and ethical manner. And if I may say so myself, I pull it off quite well. I guess you can say it’s because passion, motivation, and a little creativity pay off!

I try to use my successes to inspire others to get into thrift shopping as well, and even though I may succeed in sparking interest, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told:

“Damn Betty, I love that sweater! You have to take me thrift shopping with you, I tried to go once but I never find anything nice like that. I just don’t know where to start.”

So for all those of you who feel the same, or even those of you who had never paid mind to it before, I put together a little “how to” guide to get you started!

1. Research local thrift stores. 

Get to know the options you have in your neighborhood, and be sure to read any available reviews. If a store is unclean or if people have had bad experiences, needless to say how important it is to know ahead of time in order to avoid any problems. 

Also, you can look into what sales some stores may be having soon, ‘cause yep, even if their prices are already super cheap, thrift stores like any other store often need to make room for “new” items coming in and therefore offer sales.

For example, once every few weeks, the Value Village hosts 50% off sales, and may I just say, its damn worth it! I once got 12 great pieces for only 35 bucks.

Notes from Leah:

Don’t be afraid to try a hole-in-the-wall at least once. Smaller, local shops can get passed over in favor of larger corporate stores that get more traffic if you only pay attention to Yelp reviews.

When you find a shop you like, ask if they have an email newsletter or another communications method. That way sales will be delivered to you digitally!

2. Get to know the store layout. 

Once you’ve picked out a shop to check out, get to know its layout. Some stores are organized differently.

On top of being divided by gender, some spots organize by type of garment, color, size, etc. If the store you’re visiting has no system of organization whatsoever (which I doubt), I suggest you turn around and walk out of there. It’s likely not worth your time! 

Notes from Leah:

There’s no perfect way to organize a thrift store, so don’t get discouraged if you enter a shop that’s organized in a way that isn’t preferable to you.

Use it as an opportunity to explore a wider range of sizes and styles. If you leave unhappy, at least you’ve gotten to know your taste a bit better!

wardrobe tidy hang neat
Photo by Pixabay on

3. Scan the racks. 

I imagine you’ve all been to TJ Maxx or Marshalls. You know the drill: you pick a rack and pass your hand through the hangers, visually scanning for attractive colors, patterns, fabrics – anything that might tickle your fancy.

I wouldn’t bother looking at every garment one by one or you’ll lose interest too quickly or end up spending hours wasting your time.

4. Check for size and imperfections. 

Once a little treasure catches your eye and you pull it off the rack, make sure you check it all up and down. You want to check if the size is appropriate for you, and to look out for imperfections. 

You’re checking for things like missing buttons, busted zippers, stains, or damaged fabric. Most of the time whatever a shop will put on the rack is in decent condition. But a few times I’ve fallen in love with a piece only to have my heart broken having to put it back because of wrong sizing or a flaw of some sort.

In some cases though, if I really love the piece, I’ll try to see if I can fix it myself. Sometimes all it takes is a little stitch-up and its good as “new”!

Notes from Leah:

If you’re looking for things like food and sweat stains, try to take the item to a window to view it in natural light. Additionally, I often find that viewing an item on a flat surface versus vertically helps illuminate condition issues better.

5. Try it on. 

You’re all adults here, you’ve been shopping before! You know it’s always safer to try on a garment before buying it, just to be sure. 

Notes from Leah:

I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. Always try things on, even if it costs $2. There’s no sense buying something that’s a poor fit.

6. Keep an open mind. 

I can’t stress this enough! In thrift shops, it’s always best to separate your mind from all the preconceived trends you’ve been force-fed by multinational corporations.

When you open your mind to what you like, you’ll be able to unleash your creativity and perhaps acquaint yourself with a whole new style you had no idea you had resting within you! 

If you really do love the trends and street style going on around you, it’s also a lot of fun to pair old treasures with new items, and build trendy outfits with reused or upcycled goodies. 

Notes from Leah:

If you’re having trouble honing your personal style, I suggest reading A Life Less Throwaway.

close up photo of folded clothes
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

7. Don’t get discouraged. 

If you don’t find anything you like within 20 minutes or even on your first trip, don’t just give up! I’ve had shopping trips where I walked out with nothing, and others where I walked out with an overflowing basket, and trust me, the latter happens much more often!

Notes from Leah:

Sometimes we shop to ease boredom or anxiety, and that makes it easier to impulse buy things we don’t really want. But it’s a good idea to get comfortable with leaving a store empty-handed. Set a loose shopping list in your head (ex. black knit tee, wool cardigan) to help focus your shopping.

8. Wash thoroughly. 

This is an obvious one. Anything you buy from any store needs to be properly washed before you wear it, and even more so when it comes from a thrift store.

These garments have been worn and tried on by who knows how many, and who knows where they come from. It’s therefore always important to check them for bugs of any kind (in my countless experiences I have never had this problem), and to wash your new finds thoroughly as prescribed on the care label. 

Notes from Leah:

Nine times out of ten, the donor has washed their clothing before donating it, so you’re not likely to get an infection from a thrifted clothing item.

Still, as Betty suggests, some items were improperly stored in damp environments or are musty from years tucked away in a closet. It’s always nice to freshen things before wearing them. If you notice moth holes, avoid the item unless you’re prepared to treat the garment and wash it effectively.

There you go, that’s it! Now you got pretty much everything you need to know to get out there and start diggin’ for treasure! Feel free to snap a cute pic of yourself and DM to my Instagram blog. I’d be happy to feature your thrifted outfits!

Keep on keepin’ on!

Betty Kary


pinterest graphic on yellow background that reads "How to Thrift Without Stress" with photo of chambray jumpsuit and sandals in lower half

More on Thrifting:

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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