When the going gets tough, the tough go thrifting. Growing up in the Midwest, I wanted a designer look but couldn’t afford the designer prices. So I did the next best thing—found one-of-a-kind items at thrift stores and pieced together my looks with little more than the change in my pocket. Times are tough again for many of us and getting more for your money is the cool way to shop. Thrift store shopping takes a little more time and a lot more digging, but you can find classic, high-quality pieces as well as more outré ones. Armed with this strategy guide—a thifter’s dozen of tips—I guarantee you can score a new spring wardrobe for the price of last year’s little black dress.
1. Choose wisely
Try to avoid thrift stores in neighborhoods filled with college kids and hipsters—they will most likely be picked over, and the quality of the inventory may not be the best. Wealthy communities with older residents usually have the top shops and stores.
2. Shop frequently
Good merchandise moves quickly through thrift stores, so plan to hit your favorite shops once a week. Better yet, find out when “re-stocking” day is, and plan to go then.
3. Dress the part
Wear comfortable clothes when you thrift. An outfit that’s snug lets you things on over your clothes if there isn’t a fitting room. Wear thin socks for trying on shoes.
4. Prepare to leave empty-handed
Remember to ask yourself the 3 F’s about any piece of clothing: Does it Fit, Flatter and Function? It doesn’t matter if it only costs $3; if you don’t wear it, that’s $3 thrown away and unnecessary junk cluttering up your closet.
5. Do the dirty work
Be ready to dig, sort, make decisions and deal with the cluttered racks and screaming kids. Bring your iPod and play your favorite music while you shop to make the experience more fun.
6. Stick with quality
Know your standards and never settle for less than great quality. A novelty acrylic sweater may seem cool, but it’s always best to stick with the best. Premium fabrics, flawless stitching, good lining, and designer labels are all features to look for.
Thrifting is an inexpensive way to play with your look. Try on some looks you normally wouldn’t, to see if you can expand your sense of style…for cheap!
8. Shop off-season
The best deals to be found are usually on off-season merchandise, so think ahead. Buying a winter coat in August and summer dresses in February may seem counterintuitive, but the savings will have you smiling all year long.
9. Be creative
Items can be altered and tailored, sleeves reworked and adjustments made so that you can have a one-of-a-kind piece that fits you to perfection. A rule of thumb: The more altering a garment requires, the more special it should be. Having a tailor rework a vintage sharkskin suit might cost a little, but will still be much cheaper than buying brand new, and it will look custom made.
10. Be nice
If you find a store you like, become a conscientious shopper and make friends with the owner. Insider deals and extra discounts may result.
11. Carry a measuring tape
Know your measurements so if you can’t try something on, you can judge whether it will fit. If you are looking for furniture or household items this will come in handy as well.
12. Be clever
Check out the clothes rack outside of the dressing room. Items that have been tried on usually have the most appeal.
13. Bring reusable bags
Instead of relying on the store’s plastic bags, save the environment while save pennies.
Julie Greene is an independent fashion stylist, wardrobe consultant and writer. She lives in New York City. Read more of her columns here.
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