SparkNotes Blog

How to Become a Pro-Status Thrifter

Thrifting is all about the thrill of the hunt. It’s finding the vintage slips and the weird shoes from the 60’s that fit you like a glove and that you won’t see anyone else wearing. It’s way more difficult than shopping at the mall, but also completely worth it. Treasure is supposed to be hard to find, after all. Get ready to casually toss out the words “thrift store” when someone starts gushing over your fabulous outfit and asking you where you got it.

Here’s how to master thrifting:

1. Know your environment.
Thrift stores are places like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Arc, i.e., loosely organized train wrecks with overstuffed racks and boxes strewn randomly about. Most thrift stores have no recognizable order aside from a number of different colored tags on the clothing (occasionally stores will call a 50% off sale on a specific colored tag). The smell of a thrift store is pretty consistent: stale B.O. mixed with the mustiness of your grandmother’s attic. Clothes sold come directly from bags and boxes people drop off for donation. Everything goes onto the racks, stains, rips and all. Overall you’ll be digging through a chaotic, messy, and gross-smelling place. This is okay, though, because the environment scares away less intrepid shoppers leaving the good stuff for you.

2. Good/fast/cheap
When you go shopping, you’re guaranteed only two of these three elements: Good. Fast. Cheap. Shopping is about sacrifice. Depending on your priorities, you’ll have to drop at least one of these three things. Here’s how they combine:
Good + fast: Typically Good-Fast shopping happens in a mall. You’ll find an organized environment with lots of help and should be able to get in and out quickly. But for the sake of this convenience, you’ll have to drop some real cash.
Fast + cheap: If you want to sacrifice quality, you can go with fast and cheap. Shopping this way is probably a question of picking up clothes for the express purpose of ruining them, which is very easy to do in a thrift store, or Forever 21.
Good + cheap: The hallmarks of great thrift store finds are both a ridiculously low price and an impressively high quality. Finding thrift store gems might take lots of time, but it will pay off in money saved and quality of clothes found.

(Occasionally, when the planets are aligned and the gods are feeling particularly benevolent, you can shop and get high quality items quickly and for a low price, but don’t count on it.)

3. Never thrift while hungry or tired
You’ll likely thrift for hours at a time. Your senses will be assaulted, and the sheer volume of useless crap you’ll see will give you a headache. To avoid going insane while shopping, eat a large meal before venturing out. You need to be perfectly satiated, but not so full that you feel sleepy or ill. Follow a similar rule of thumb with caffeine. You don’t want to be vibrating, but you definitely want the rush associated with pounding coffee. Your shopping powers will be honed and it will be easier to focus and quickly flip through racks and shuffle though boxes when your heart is thudding faster than normal.

4. Wear the right outfit
There are no dressing rooms in the average thrift store. Instead you will probably have to fight for space in front of a large communal mirror and try things on over your clothes. Therefore, the best thrifting outfits are composed of slim cut, simple clothes like skinny jeans, t-shirts, leggings, tunics, and dresses, and shoes you can easily slip on and off.

5. Choose shopping partners wisely
I honestly prefer to shop alone. I like to spend hours and hours petting sweaters and mentally debating the merits of a twirly skirt versus a fitted one. My shopping stamina and interest far outstrips most people’s. When it comes to thrifting, you definitely want to go with a friend who has equal endurance and interest. That way no one gets cranky, because ideally you’ll want to leave at the same time or mess about even longer together. Another thing to keep in mind is that you want your shopping partner to be a different size. It’s no fun battling to the death when you both eye the same fabulous item.

6. Stay focused
Thrift stores are overwhelming. It’s all too easy to walk in, take one look, and end up aimlessly gliding over all of the clothes because you don’t know where to start. Instead of going off the deep end, grab a cart and get right to work. Do not let yourself get distracted from your mission. If you’re looking for a dress, aim straight for the dress section and start looking. Work strictly by instinct. Hit the rack, shove all of the hangers over, and quickly flip through all of the pieces. If you see something you like and it seems vaguely your size, toss it in the cart and keep going. After you’ve finished scouring the racks, pull your cart to the side and inspect what you’ve picked up. If anything has missing buttons, a tear, or a suspicious stain you don’t want to deal with, don’t bother trying it on.

7. Visit ALL of the departments
Thrift stores, while good for clothes, are also great for outfitting college dorms and apartments on a budget. Books, cookware, furniture and random knickknacks can all be found for trifling prices. The really good stuff will usually be hidden, either purposefully by other shoppers planning to come back or by an employee stocking the shelves. I once found a really cool globe for seven dollars. It now sits in my room.

8. Follow your instincts.
When considering what to buy, make rapid-fire decisions. Waffling will only cause you to spend more money and get things you don’t love. It’s awfully tempting to pick up items that need to be fixed up, but if you’re not going to rehab and actually wear them, don’t bother purchasing. Remember: It’s not a bargain if the thing you bought just wallows in the back of your closet.

9. Don’t go overboard
It’s easy to overshop in a thrift store. Prices are low, clothes are abundant, and sometimes everything seems cute. Don’t fall prey to temptation, or you’ll end up with a ridiculous number of muumuus and fisherman sweaters you’ll never wear.

Those are the basics of being a baller status thrifter. Now go forth, my swans, and shop.

Do you thrift?