Although it’s simple in theory, thrift shopping is an art that can take some practice. I’ve been thrift shopping since I was in middle school, and I’m still learning– and getting better at finding the good stuff– all the time.
If you got to the thrift shop and walk away empty handed, wondering how other people score amazing vintage pieces and designer clothes, then read on, because I wrote this guide for you in mind. Here are a few of the things I wish I knew when I first started thrifting.
Thrifting for Beginners
Go at off-peak hours.
The number one best thing you can do when thrift shopping is to go often. But I know not everyone wants to be a semi-professional thrifter, and just wants to have fun occasionally hunting for treasures. If you’re only dropping by the thrift occasionally, your best bet is to have good timing.
A lot of thrifting guides tell you to find out which day of the week stores put out merchandise, but I’ve found that nine times out of ten, thrift stores now put out new stuff every single day. Instead, go on days that are quieter when there’s less competition for the best new items.
If you google the name of your thrift store, you should see a graph like this:
Take a look at the day you want to go to get an idea if merchandise will be picked over, or if the gems will be awaiting your arrival.
I find that when I go to the thrift store looking for one particular thing, I always walk away with better stuff… even if I didn’t come across that one thing I was hoping to find. Being on the hunt for that one prized item helps me focus, and I look more critically and creatively at everything else in the store, rather than just randomly browsing.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider starting a collection of items that are easy thrift finds and will give you something to hunt down on a regular basis. Milk glass, silver plated trays, midcentury wood bowls, and mason jars are popular decor items that I see almost every thrifting trip and that look great displayed in groups. (Check out my silver tray gallery wall for inspiration!)
Ignore sizes and imperfections.
A big reason why people feel like they never find anything is that they’re looking for that perfect vintage/designer/on trend piece that fits them like a glove and looks like new. Most of the time, you’ll find a great like-new item that’s not your size (sad trombone) or an item that fits you perfectly that needs a little TLC. It’s a really rare occasion that you’ll hit the entire trifecta.
But that’s okay, because two out of three is a thrift score in my book. Most imperfections can be mended, stains can be removed, and too-large items can be tailored. Great items that just don’t work for you can be passed on to a friend or saved for a clothing exchange party.
Occasionally, I’ll list items that didn’t work for me in my Poshmark store, then use my profits to support other Poshmark sellers or fund my thrifting habit. (If you want to sign up for Poshmark you can use my referral code BXXPS for a $5 credit!)
Understand regional differences.
Items that are commonly donated in one part of the country can be rare in another. Sometimes the great scores that thrifters share on Instagram and YouTube are those items, so try as you might to find something similar, it might be difficult in your neck of the woods.
This is a great reason to take advantage of travel as an opportunity to thrift! I love finding vintage Derby glasses when I visit my in-laws in Louisville, for example, and I always find great Irish sweaters when I go home to visit my parents in Boston. To really prepare for a trip, you can always look up thrifty bloggers who live in your destination to get an idea of what they tend to find.
This is also a good reason to have a thrifting buddy in another part of the country. Swap shopping lists and see if you can help each other track down those wanted items, especially if they’re easy and inexpensive to ship.
Spend time doing research.
Nowadays with smartphones, it’s easy to take a quick look online to see if something you found in a thrift store is worth buying. It’s always a thrill to see that $2 gem you picked up selling for $75 on Etsy!
But to find the best stuff, put some time into doing research before you step foot in the thrift store. If there’s a category of item that you’ve decided to pursue, like vintage dresses from the 60’s, take some time to learn all you can about them. There are lots of Facebook groups for vintage enthusiasts that can be a great place for this.
Remember, too, that sometimes the best information is still found in books. When I decided our kitchen needed some great vintage Pyrex pieces, I invested in a copy of Pyrex: The Unauthorized Collector’s Guide, and spent some time learning the different styles and patterns. Now when I see a piece in the thrift store, I know immediately its age, relative value, and whether or not it’s worth adding to my collection.
Be diligent & patient.
I almost titled this post “thrift shopping secrets,” but there aren’t really any secrets to scoring big at thrift stores. It just takes some work, patience, and diligence. As with almost anything else in life, time is money. If you want to save money, you’ll have to invest some time — whether that means putting elbow grease into a DIY project, or sometimes leaving the thrift store empty handed before you finally find that score of a lifetime.
Most of all, thrift shopping takes some imagination and vision. Remember that dusted off, cleaned up, fixed, and mended, old items can take on a new life and personality. Keep looking, and you’ll soon be thrift shopping like a pro.
If this guide is helpful to you, please let me know in the comments! If you’ve got your own thrifting tips that I haven’t shared here, I’d love to hear those, too.