Even for the seasoned thrift shopper, it’s hard to sift quickly through the huge amount of items available at the thrift store. A couple people have asked me how I hone in on the things I buy, and how I decide whether or not to pass on something that looks promising. I touched on some this in my post on how to edit when you find too much at the thrift store, but I thought it was time for a comprehensive post on what I look for and what constitutes a great thrift score for me.
A lot of this is geared towards clothing, where I’m pickier about quality, but it also often holds true for housewares and furniture as well.
Look for high quality materials
This is the first thing I look for, because it’s also the easiest — usually you can find the fabric content right on the tag. I generally try to pass on anything that’s made of polyester, and actively search for garments made of silk, cotton, linen and other natural fibers. Vintage dresses made of Rayon are also highly collectable and desirable.
When it comes to furniture, I try to steer clear of flat-packed furniture like Ikea and search for solid wood.
Look for high-end brand names:
This one is fairly obvious — nothing beats a great designer thrifting find — but it’s one of the easiest ways to sort through the mountains of fast-fashion castoffs that flood thrift stores nowadays. In addition to designer names, I often look for good-quality mid-range brand names, especially older pieces where I know thequality is high. Staples from brands like LL Beanand older JCrew won’t look out of fashion after many seasons and will wear forever.
Especially if you’re not a typical high-end shopper, don’t be afraid to gravitate towards an obviously well-made piece that looks high-quality. A quick google might reveal a designer name you didn’t know. Likewise, spending some time browsing high-end department stores can be a great education for future thrifting expeditions.
My #1 rule of thumb: If I could buy it for the same price on sale brand new, I pass on the item.
Look for signs of high quality construction:
This one takes a little bit of learning, but it’s worth studying up. Learn to recognize high-end construction details, and you’ll be able to recognize quality regardless of the brand name. This is helpful when you’re hunting for vintage clothing, where brands may be unfamiliar. It also helps sort out better-made handmade items from their lower-quality counterparts.
This blog post at Dress Well, Do Good has some good examples of what high-quality seam constructions and other details look like. Another good resource is this post at Recovering Shopaholic, which goes into depth about high-quality construction. (These rules hold true when shopping in retail stores, too!)
For furniture, quality details are even easier to spot, like dovetailed construction and high-quality drawer pulls.
Look at the region of manufacture:
This doesn’t always hold true for clothing — high-end pieces canbe made in China just as well as fast fashion — but it’s something I often look for in housewares and other items. I love finding glass made in the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia!), Staffordshire pottery from England, and china from China.
I collect Polish pottery, and I always keep an eye out for it at thrift stores. Polish pottery is sold in the United States at about a 3x markup from what it’s sold for in Poland, but it can be found for a couple dollars a piece at thrift stores.
These English teacups are one of my all-time favorite thrift finds.
Look for subtle signs of wear:
This might be counterintuitive, but it’s a tip that’s served me well. Although it’s wonderful finding barely worn and brand new pieces at the thrift store, signs of wear can tip you off to how well the piece will wear in the future.
If you use any of these tips on your next trip to the thrift store, I’d love to know what you find!