Successful thrift store shopping doesn’t have to be fully a game of luck. Thrifting helps your wallet, your community, and your planet…but my favorite part is the search itself: I feel like I’m on a sort of adventure, looking for a gem in a messy jungle of fabric. The normal dopamine rush that I get from shopping is doubled when I’m thrifting: after taking time to explore, finding the piece that matches your style and size perfectly is incredibly gratifying.

How to Shop at Thrift Stores

Right now, I’m wearing Dansko clogs, Patagonia shorts, an Urban Outfitters shirt, Victoria’s Secret underwear and bra, and I spent less than $8.00 for the entire outfit.

As a self-proclaimed thrifting connoisseur, playing the “how much did I pay for this outfit” game is one of my favorite pastimes. I’m in college, and only have a part-time job during the school year–I don’t exactly have a large margin of disposable income. But thankfully, my hours spent in consignment shops has taught me that you don’t need to spend big bucks to look great!

Even if you do have enough money to buy name-brand clothing regularly, there are so many reasons to go thrifting instead! For one, it supports your local economy: buying an Old Navy dress at a consignment shop downtown supports a local business, instead of zooming directly up to a giant company. And many thrift stores are charity-based organizations that will use their profits to support local causes–I’ve been to stores that support hospitals, churches, after school programs, community centers, and more.

Shopping second-hand is also worlds more environmentally friendly. Imagine this: A woman goes into an expensive retailer and buys a blouse. Her money is supporting the production of A synthetic-blend textile, the pollutive process of dying the fabric, the factory assembly of the garment, and the shipping from overseas to the checkout counter. For one reason or another, it eventually is tossed in a trash bag labeled “donate,” and taken to Goodwill.

Fingering your way down a rack of tops, you find the blouse and take it home. It’s still cute, still high-quality material, and still a recognizable brand. But you pay a fraction of the price, and none of your money supports processes that exploit people or the land!

Thrift Store Shopping Tips

After getting my clothes almost exclusively second-hand for years, I have a few tips for finding the hidden treasures of consignment shops without wasting time. It doesn’t need to be a struggle or a 3-hour commitment!

1) Research where the good spots are to go.

Ask around about where people recommend shopping second-hand. It’s hard for people to accurately review thrift stores online, so word-of-mouth is valuable here. Some general advice from me is to go to the wealthier neighborhoods’ consignment shops; people who live and work in more affluent parts of town will typically drop off their donations close to home, and these spots tend to have a higher concentration of expensive brand names. (A side note for my friends down in the Southeast–Unclaimed Baggage in Alabama is by far the greatest spot to shop, with high-end clothes that can be over 80% off! Definitely worth a couple of hours in the car.)

2) Go early in the week, in the early afternoon.

As you start shopping at new thrift stores, ask the employees when they sort through new donations–Most places will sort through donations early in the week, and bring it out on the floor in the mornings. But always double check! Schedules vary, and you want to be one of the first people to look through their new clothing.

3) For a quick trip, know what you need.

If you just want a rapid, in-and-out trip, you need to shop with intention. Know what you need, run in and flit through the rack or two the store has. If you find what you wanted, great! But the more specific your expectations, the harder it’ll be to find, and you may have to go to a few different shops.

4) Save discernment for the dressing room.

Something about pre-loved garments make it difficult to tell if they’ll look good on or not; half the time I absolutely fall in love with something that I only mildly liked on the rack, or end up hating I thought was really cute at a glance. It’s hard to tell! So if I have the time to delve more into a store, I keep some flexible ideas of what I want in terms of fabric type, color, and brand, but give most clothes a shot. And as soon as I step into the dressing room, I kick my judgmental side into high gear to make sure I only walk away with clothes that I love and will wear regularly. It can be deceivingly easy to leave lugging armloads of stuff that you don’t really need, and the place to prevent that is in the dressing room.

5) Always check the non-clothing sections.

A quick walkabout through the kitchen section and a glance through the purses can yield incredible results, and it’s always the fastest part of my trip! I would never have found my black leather Coach handbag if I hadn’t left the clothing section. And although I only fantasize at this point about my one-day kitchen, I am positive that it will be composed of mostly second-hand goods. I’ve found mason jars, cobalt glasses, complete fondue sets, pressure cookers, and more just by quickly walking past and glancing at the shelves. Incredibly easy, and incredibly worth it.

I hope that these tips will help you explore the exciting thrifting world! Second-hand shopping is a great way to vote with your dollar against fast-fashion, prevent textile waste, and save money. Best of luck, and happy hunting! 🙂

– Vanessa Moss, 2018 Summer Intern 

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