7 Tips for Navigating Thrift Shops

by Eliza Florendo

I was first introduced to thrift shopping while I was in college in Boston. My friends took me to the local Goodwill in Cambridge just over the bridge to do some halloween shopping on the cheap. And while I must admit I was afraid at first (I saw a man clipping his toenails in the vestibule), I found some pretty cool things as I kept digging, like a lamé zip-up sweatshirt and a cool vintage tee that I would later use for my '90s-inspired costume. But I consider that trip beginner's luck, because I quickly realized I needed a how-to on shopping at thrift shops.

Over time, thrifting turned into antiquing and became one of my favorite hobbies. The best places to visit were the dozens of antique stores in New Hampshire, where I actually scored a pair of vintage cowboy boots in my size (!!!!). But a trip to the thrift store doesn't always mean leaving with an incredible find and a few less dollars. Most times, they're unsuccessful. But here are a few tricks and trades to thrifting that I've learned and will hopefully make for a more pleasant and successful experience for you.

1. Know your timing

If you've got a local thrift shop you frequent like I do, it's good to figure out when the best day to shop is. A little tip: At Goodwill, they'll announce the color of the tag that will be on sale on Sunday. This applies seasonally, too. Just last week when I stumbled into the Salvation Army, they were selling their sweaters for $1.50 a piece. The best time to score a deal is right after the season ends. It's a good idea to ask the employees when new merchandise will come in, too.

2. Check out the men's section

This is where I get all of my flannels. If you're like me and like an oversize look for sweaters and flannels, this is your mecca. From '80s-printed sweaters to faded chambray shirts and worn-in flannels, all the gems are hidden in the men's section. Plus, oversize is super chic, you guys.

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3. Check out the kid's section, too

Two words: Vintage crewnecks. Since the cropped trend is so in right now, the kids section is pretty much a gold mine for cool T-shirts.

4. Bring that cash money

Some places will usually have a minimum for cards. And if you're only picking up one or two items, these might not even make the minimum. I always like to shop with cash anyway, so I can physically see how much I'm actually spending. Plus, setting a budget with cash beforehand gives me a plan and (hopefully) will keep me from feeling guilty later on.

5. Think of ways you can repurpose

My favorite pair of jean shorts came from Goodwill. They were hideous as pants, but cut into shorts that I frayed and distressed later at home, they made for the coolest pair of shorts ever. Also, since an unfinished hem is all the rage right now, I've cropped sweaters on my own that are perfect for layering. Also, vintage silk scarves make for the best ascots. Pro tip.

6. Dress appropriately

I usually wear layers in case I get hot. Hey, shopping is my cardio, like Carrie Bradshaw once said. A tight top and leggings is a good uniform, so you can try things on over them. Hashtag #readyforanything.

7. Explore beyond clothing

One of my favorite sections in a thrift shop is the jewelry section. Since I'm pretty petite, it can be difficult to find rings that fit my child-size fingers, and luckily, most antique jewelry tends to be smaller. But there are other cool things you can find, from brooches and cameo rings to repurposed spoons as bracelets. Also, the furniture section has some seriously incredible finds, too, like the vintage picnic basket I use as a bookshelf and trinket holder in my apartment.

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There's nothing like the thrill I get from leaving the thrift store and knowing I got something truly, truly special. In a world where about three other people on the subway are wearing some sort of variation of my jacket, it's nice to know I've got something that's one-of-a-kind.

Images: Getty (2), Giphy (2)