Enjoying thrifting and finding success while thrifting are two entirely different things. While the former is basically inevitable, the latter sometimes isn't an altogether easy task. In my opinion, the general school of thought on thrift stores falls into two camps. They're either the place where you find '80s shifts that seem to drip like wet gold to the ground, Betty Draper-like gingham dresses, and vintage Coach purses for less money than a cup of coffee. Or they're the place you go to buy sweater vests with kittens on them and broken VCRs. If you're in the second group, then you might be doing it wrong. Unless kitten vests are your thing, in which case, go you.
Sure there are oversized sweaters crowding the racks and too many creepy dolls staring at you from the shelves, but past all that are gems that you wouldn't be able to find in a boutique or department store. Part of the thrill of the thrift is the hunt, and sometimes you need to draft a strategy to make sure you don't go home empty handed. Easier said than done though, right? As a woman whose closet is half curated by thrifted items, I'm here to tell you it's not so hard. Below are five ways to find success while thrifting, both before you actually enter the store and during the rifling.
1. Go Right After The Weekend
Sometimes you don't find anything worthwhile because everything has already been picked through. To see the logic behind this, think of it this way: When do you usually clean out your closet? On a Wednesday night after you're exhausted from work? No. It's going to happen on a weekend afternoon, where you have enough optimism that cleaning out your closet doesn't seem like a terrible idea. This happens to mean that most of the donations are going to happen over the weekend, so Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are prime gem-hunting times.
Since those are slower shopping days, thrift stores usually add sales to sweeten the deal. I always like going early in the morning before the little old ladies pick things over and the college kids are still sleeping. And since red tag sales are most popular during the weekdays, I tend to score $2 Etsy-worthy finds for half the price. So I often buy clothes for a dollar. I'm just going to let that sink in for a minute before we move on.
2. Don't Look At The Size Tag
There are no rules at the thrift store, and that extends to the sizes. Since you're looking at a medley of clothes spanning anywhere from the '50s to last season, you're going to have a lot of different eras of sizes. What a size 8 is today is not what a size 8 was 40 years ago. According to fashion blogger and thrift enthusiast Julie from Orchid Grey, "Because women's (and men's) sizing has changed so drastically over the years, sticking to your sizing section alone is pretty pointless. I have thrifted items that span a range of sizes — from size 1 to size 16 — and each one fits differently. Look beyond your size and you'll most likely find things you would normally pass right over. "
So if you're a medium, branch out to the smalls and larges. And even if something is really baggy on you, that doesn't mean it's a lost cause — that right there is the reason belt exists. Tent-like dresses turn sleek with just a cinch at the waist, and baggy skirts get cute paperbag waists with some leather looped through.
3. Cross To The Other Side Of The Train Tracks
Go to the nicer side of town. Go where the houses are sprawling and there are more Whole Foods in a per-block radius than fire hydrants. Those thrift stores will be holding your discarded designer gems.
For example, my parents live five minutes away from a suburb that's been dubbed as the place with the most golf courses in the world. (For real.) When I pop into their thrift stores I'm surrounded by volunteers wearing Chanel No. 5 perfume while they straighten up Prada bags and refold sweaters with Nordstrom tags. I might find my occasional kitschy sweater, but I'll find Calvin Klein shifts more often than not.
But if it's authentic vintage you're after, try driving to the more rural towns by your area, where you have tight knit church communities and an older generation population. You'll be able to score Doris Day skirts and glamorous dresses because of the contributions from estate sales and grandmothers' attics. The location matters — go where you think you'll find your style.
4. Remember That Tailors Exist
The obvious negative of thrifting is if you find something you like, you're stuck with making that size work. And while there isn't much you can do if it's too small, you can still work wonders if it's too big. Just keep in mind that tailors exist, and their clever fingers can transform most any piece into your vision, whether it's shortening, lengthening, or changing a silhouette completely.
For example, I'm crazy for high-waisted dress pants. Think Kiera Knightley in Begin Again. But I'm not crazy about the prices boutiques discreetly pen onto the tags attached to said dress pants. You would think I was out of luck, but do you know who else really likes high waist slacks? Little old grannies. And do you know who donates a ton to charity shops? Little old grannies. So you can only imagine how deep to the elbows I am in pleated slacks. But to make them look more chic and less organ-player-at-mass, I take them to the tailor and get the inseams taken in so they have a more youthful silhouette. Which means I usually pay a dollar for the pants, 15 dollars for the tailor, and have still saved myself some money.
5. Look At Items With An Open Mind
Sometimes to truly realize you're holding a gem, you have to see it with some vision. Maybe on the rack alone it looks kitschy, but when it's paired with your higher-end pieces and creative style, it could totally work. Leather vests might look like they belong on Clint Eastwood characters, or they can look very Fall Lookbook 2015 when paired with crisp collared shirts and snug jeans. Denim skirts can feel schoolmarm-y when tucked into a dollar rack, but they're also popping up all over Topshop and Forever 21 this season. An extra-large striped top can seem overwhelming, but not if you hem it into a flowing crop top. All it takes is some vision, and a lot of seemingly questionable pieces can turn into on-trend, inspired gems.
As someone who has thrifted through the good, the bad, and the ugly and still managed to find some pieces that truly speak to my personal style, I can honestly say that anything is possible while thrifting — and the more you keep these tips in mind, the more positive your outcome will probably be.