I was 14 years old the first time I went thrifting. I remember being intensely intimidated by the shop, a vast never-ending warehouse filled with aging pantsuits and stained sweatshirts. The air smelled like soot. I stood in the doorway, paralyzed by discomfort. As I looked around, my eyes caught on a stylish couple in the back of the store. They were in their early twenties and seemed to be the epitome of effortless cool. The boy wore a fedora with a retro-looking vest, tight high-water jeans, and a pair of beat up tennis shoes. The girl had curly hair in a messy pile on top of her head. She wore a tattered studded denim jacket with a printed sundress and cowboy boots. I watched entranced as they pulled treasures out of the racks, carefully adding garment after garment onto the mountains of clothing they carried in their arms. Inspired and with new resolve, I took a deep breath and dove in to the rack closest to me, sifting through every piece, determined to find out why all of the best-dressed kids hung out at the thrift store.
It’s been 10 years since that day, and I’ve long since discovered the reason why the thrift store is the hippest shopping destination in town. Who wouldn’t be addicted to eco-friendly unique pieces at affordable prices? With a decade of experience under my (probably vintage) belt, I’ve picked up on the best tips for making the most out of your thrifting experience. These tricks are sure to have you shopping like a seasoned pro in no time.
1. Know Where to Go
You may think that the best thrift stores are in the coolest parts of town, but nothing could be further from the truth! Thrift stores in dense urban areas tend to be over-picked. Remember: the hipper the neighborhood, the more competition you have from fashion-savvy young ladies and gents. I have found that the worst areas to thrift are The Mission in San Francisco, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and Silverlake in Los Angeles. Stick to suburban areas if you want to find the best items. If you live in a metropolitan area, set aside a day just for thrifting and drive to a small town at least 30 miles away. Do your research first and make a list of shops to visit while you are in the area. In addition to having the most hidden gems, suburban thrift stores tend to have even lower prices.
2. Plan Your Purchases
Thrifting can be overwhelming at time, even for us old pros. Try making a mental roadmap of the things for which you are on the hunt. That way, you’ll have a starting point when you walk in the door. Remember to be realistic about what types of styles you can expect to find. You probably won’t find a buttery leather motorcycle jacket, but you’ll definitely find some killer maxi skirts, blazers, and high-waisted jeans that you can cut into shorts.
3. Use a Little Imagination
Often times, thrift stores will have items that are almost perfect. Use your imagination to see the potential of almost-there items. We all know that those ‘80s high-waisted jeans can be cut off into shorts, but remember that printed pants can be, as well. If you don’t want to sew a hem but still want a clean look, pick sturdy fabrics that you can easily cuff or roll to conceal frayed ends. Similarly, jackets can be turned into vests. Most blazers will come with shoulder pads, which can easily be removed. Buttons can always be swapped. Oversized dresses and skirts can be cinched at the waist with a tiny belt, and too-big tees and sweaters can be worn as dresses over patterned tights. If you aren’t the crafty type, tailoring at a local seamstress is much less than you would think, with pant hems often costing just $5. Just be careful not to go overboard — be realistic about what modifications you think you will actually make, otherwise you may end up with a pile of unwearable clothes that permanently live in a “to be altered” bin.
4. Think Outside of the (Gender) Box
A world of opportunity awaits you on the opposite end of the store. The women’s section holds blazers and brilliantly patterned shirts that will often work for men. The men’s section usually has the best tee shirts in the store, as well as cozy flannels and oversized grungy cardigans for girls. Be sure to check the children’s sections, too! As a petite gal, many of my favorite jackets have actually come from the little boys’ section of my local thrift stores. You can usually find some amazing denim jackets in the kids’ areas!
5. Be a Bit Bold
Thrifting is your opportunity to try out trends in an affordable way. If you aren’t quite sure how to wear a midi, pick one up at a thrift store so that you can play around with it at home. If you think that you might be a denim-vest kinda person, grab a denim jacket for $5 at a thrift store, hack the sleeves off, and find out! Once you are comfortable enough with a trend, you can splurge on a higher-priced version that may have a better fit or fabrication. I usually buy the wackiest thing I can find at the thrift store, because on the off chance that I can work it into a look, I know it will be a unique statement piece that helps define my distinct style.
By following these tricks, you are sure to make the most of your thrifting experience. There’s a whole world of exciting, one-of-a-kind vintage pieces out there, just waiting for you to find them. So don’t be shy — rally up your pals, cram into the car, and take a little day trip out to the stores in your area! If you happen to find yourself addicted, don’t say I didn’t warn you!