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How to shop in thrift stores for bargains
Thrift Shop Shopping
How to shop in thrift stores for bargains - photo by Metro Creative Graphics

Thrift shopping can be a rewarding and cheap way to get unique, stylish items on a budget.

Myles Lawrence is a longtime vintage and thrift store shopper. His experience with buying and selling thrift store goods gave Lawrence some background knowledge in the sometimes tricky world of vintage shopping. He runs Blue House Vintage, an outdoor market on the front lawn of his blue house.

“I usually have to go out of state to get my stock,” Lawrence said. “I plan it around vacations, tours with my band, and visiting family to cut down on travel expense and visit small-town thrift stores and estate sales; I hand-pick every item I sell. It can be a lot of work, but for me it is mostly just fun.”

But don’t think you have to travel the world for vintage gems. Here are some tips to get started on your own unique and gently used wardrobe.

1. Go regularly. Don’t expect to hit a thrift store once and stock your closet. The art of thrift shopping demands patience and persistence. Make it a hobby.

2. Have something in mind. Looking for specific items will hone your focus and make the whole experience less overwhelming. Are you in the mood for some worn-in flannel? A floral scarf? Make and take a list. Then, even if a gem catches your eye, you will be pleasantly surprised instead of going shopping on purpose to find a unique piece.

3. Be thorough. Giving each piece a good once-over will prevent buyer’s remorse. Look for holes, loose threads, missing tags and stains. Give them a whiff, too. If it’s a fabric that will be hard to wash, and it smells funny, it’s probably not worth it. Going shopping with some idea of the value of a piece will help you too.

4. Try before you buy. Some thrift stores don’t have dressing rooms, so prepare to slip things on over your clothes while standing in the aisles. But do try them on!

“Always try a vintage item on if you like it. Sizing has changed dramatically in the last 50 years,” Lawrence said.
Another good tip is to carefully consider if it’s your style, if you’re really going to wear a piece when you get it home.
5. Think of the region. The clothes in thrift stores come from the neighborhoods nearby, so consider the area — if you want chic and upscale, or hip and funky.

“Estate sales seem underused by this generation of thrift store junkies and can be a treasure trove,” Lawrence said. “Sign up for local estate sale company mailing lists.”

He added, “Just have fun with it. Try things on, take pictures, design crazy and unique outfits, and take the time to visit the knick knack and art sections."