20 Ultimate Thrifting Tips & Tricks
Thrifting and vintage shopping have been a “hobby” (some may say obsession) of mine since I was around 8 years old. Every weekend I used to go to the charity shops in the villages where I lived in England, armed with my pocket money and a determination to find the bargains. Hours later I would return home with a massive smile on my face, clutching big bags of crap in my hands — 75% of which my Mum would promptly return. Charming.
I love thrift stores, I love vintage stores, I love flea markets, I love any sort of shopping experience that falls within this realm. The thrill of working for your bargain is addictive, so much so that I continue to search for the hit when I travel, as well as at home in Los Angeles. I just can’t get enough (as you of course know if you watch my bi-monthly thrift hauls).
I like to think that over the years I have managed to pick up some tips and tricks about how to be the most successful thrifter you can possibly be. To me, the enjoyment of thrifting and vintage shopping comes from the fact that you have no idea what you are going to find, but you do know that whatever you purchase is going to be completely different to what everyone else has. Then there is the fact that it’s environmentally the best way to shop and (on top of all of that) it can be a very affordable way to update your wardrobe. If done correctly, it can give you the tools to define your own personal style.
That is the main reason that I love doing this kind of shopping — the freedom of creativity.
However, I know that a lot of people have negative feelings towards thrifting, or maybe feel overwhelmed when they see how much stuff there is to sort through. It’s understandable, so I wanted to make a checklist of my tips and tricks that you can refer back to if you ever decide to give it a go! (These tips & tricks are also available in video format here!)
Finding Thrift Stores
When it comes to finding thrift stores, whether you are trying to discover ones that are local to you or are traveling and find yourself in a new place with the thrifting bug, Google is your best friend. Simply google “thrift stores”,”op shops”, “charity shops” or whatever they are referred to in that particular locale and Google will pull up everything that is in your area, supplying their reviews, ratings, hours, websites, Instagram profiles, etc. This is how I originally found the ones that are now my favourites. When I am traveling, I will scan through reviews to see if there are any mentions of issues with cleanliness, size or price range, but if all that sounds good I will wander over. I never judge them based off of reviews about stock, remember every day is different in these types of stores!
With Google as your starting point, you can efficiently plot out a plan of action. Oftentimes in one area there will be a clump of thrift stores close to one another. This is your ideal scenario, as it saves the dreaded disappointment of solely going into one thrift store and not finding anything, by reassuring you there is another one around the corner.
In terms of location, suburbs are always cheaper than those in the city centre. People presume that the middle of a downtown area is where it is at and while they may have great offerings, their prices will also reflect their location. Suburban thrift stores are the way to go! That being said, if you find thrift or vintage stores in your city that you like, make sure to like their social media pages and sign up for their newsletters because oftentimes they will have special deals like $1 Friday’s every couple of months or spontaneous 75% off all seasonal ware days. Social media is the best way to keep up-to-date with all these different sales in stores.
Preparing For A Vintage Extravaganza
When it comes to preparing for a vintage extravaganza, the first thing I do is to make sure that my car boot (trunk) is completely empty. You never know what you are going to find in the thrift stores, how big a piece of furniture may be, or how many bags of bangles and flowy dresses you are going to come away with. You don’t want to not be able to bring something you love home because you forgot to take out all of the junk from your trunk. The only thing I make sure to have is some form of material or blanket to put on my back seats and on the bottom of my boot, so that if I do get something that is dusty or dirty I can wrap it up and protect my car. It is also useful to have if you buy any glassware or kitchenware because you can wrap them up in it, ensuring they stay in great condition on the journey home.
Now what to wear? I am really lucky because the majority of my local thrift and vintage stores have fitting rooms, but that is not always the case. You want to make sure that you are wearing something that you can easily try things on with, which basically means no dresses! I recommend wearing a skirt and a neutral-coloured fitted shirt with a loose blouse over the top, so you can mix and match what you want to try things on with. A skirt works really well because you can always pull other bottoms up underneath it, which isn’t the case with your fave butt-enhancing Mom jeans. Definitely pull out your slip-on mules and aim for the whole outfit to be very easy to slip in and out of. This allows you to make your own personal dressing room wherever you are! A hands-free bag is a must (and just a shopping tip in general), as when you are combing through racks and racks and racks you want to make sure your hands are free to quickly snatch up all the goodies.
In terms of when to go, I personally really like to go later on at night when there are a lot less people so I can use the fitting rooms for as long as I want! I see thrifting as a relaxing, solo experience which is why I like the store empty. However, when I am traveling I can’t necessarily plan my whole itinerary around my thrifting time (although sometimes it is quite necessary), so in these cases I try to go early in the morning. This allows me to see everything before too many people arrive, and it gives me a bit more time and space to be looking at things.
That being said, when it comes to flea markets some of my best purchases have happened because I have gone up to the seller as they were packing up and, in the spur of the moment, they have given me a deep discount on pieces as they just want to sell a few more bits before the end of the day. Normally I have seen these things earlier in the day and then have come back later to see what deal we can agree on. Flea markets are different in this way, as thrift stores won’t normally give you a discount just because they are about to close! But, individual sellers at flea markets often will.
When it comes to money, it is really good to just bring a set amount of cash or know in your head before you start exactly how much you are willing to spend (and then you have to stick to it!). I always have an exact, maximum amount that I am willing to spend on any particular day, otherwise I would never say no! Even if things are cheap, they still add up and it can be very, very hard to tell yourself no in the face of something epic.
Inside The Gem-Filled Store
The first thing I do when I go into a thrift shop is to make a note of which colour tags are having a specific sale or discount. Most thrift stores label their items with coloured tags and each day rotate which colours are on offer, so you are almost always guaranteed to find a bargain. If you are unsure, go up to the staff to ask about discounts. This is also a great time to ask them about future sales and if they have a newsletter. Once a week, my favourite thrift store sends out an email with a 50% off everything coupon solely for newsletter subscribers. They don’t mention this coupon in the store on that day, so you have to be in the know!
Another thing you can ask the staff is when new inventory comes out, the big thrift stores (like a Goodwill or a Salvation Army) will be restocking constantly, but the smaller ones will only restock on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day. Knowing when the new inventory comes out means you can be one of the first to see it!
One of the things I have learnt about thrifting is that thrifting really isn’t fun if you are not in the mood for it. And there are some days when I am just really, really not in the mood! Personally, I have to have quite a lot of energy to go and I have to be in a creative, open mindset. As I don’t think thrifting is something that you can just rush through, I like to be able to take my time and have a couple of hours to sort through all the racks. It should be an enjoyable experience and I believe approaching it in this way is when you can really find the gems. Unfortunately, the gems aren’t going to be handed to you on a silver platter, although realistically that would take away all of the fun!
This leads me on to my main philosophy of thrifting, which is have an open mind and get creative! I don’t particularly like to go thrifting with other people (this is me time!), but I know that if I were to, my partner would consistently roll their eyes and scrunch up their noses at some of the things I pull out. But, oftentimes when I buy things I have already envisioned how I want to style and wear the piece in a setting outside of the thrift store. The fun of it is that you can try unfamiliar things, new (to you) shapes and unique ways to style and layer. For this reason, I do not go thrifting hoping to buy specific pieces. Thrifting doesn’t work like that (it’s the opposite of online shopping), you can’t control what you are going to find.
For this reason, don’t limit yourself to one area of the store, sizes have changed over the years, so look at all sizes! A lot of times I find things that have been marked wrong or have been hung up in the wrong part of the store. People hide things (I know this because I have done it to!) and so you may find a whole section of your size squeezed in between a different size! When I first look at things I try to figure out if and how it is going to fit; but, if I really love the pattern or the print, I will still try it on as you can always get it tailored!
Which leads into my next tip, when you are looking at pieces and trying them on you must assess your investment. This means to consider the additional costs that need to be spent on this piece (mainly dry-cleaning and tailoring costs). Whether or not a piece needs to be dry-cleaned often really affects my decision to purchase it, as when you add in the dry-cleaning costs things don’t always retain their “bargain” status. The only times I allow “dry clean only” pieces home is if I think that I want it in my collection for a long time.
I also don’t buy things that have missing buttons/holes in them/rips/stains etc, as past experience shows that I will never get around to fixing them. If you are a crafty person this may not be an issue for you, but I know me and I know that ain’t happening. Also, if things really, really stink — don’t do it.
When you are perusing around the areas of the store, don’t overlook accessories. Belts, necklaces, bangles and neck scarves are some of my absolute favourite things to buy in thrift stores and flea markets because they are often really great quality, completely different to what you see in regular stores and haven’t had taken too much beating. Accessories are also a great way to slip into thrifting if you are not comfortable to dive headfirst into clothes.
Back At Yo Crib
As soon as I get home I make sure to instantly split things up into piles to be washed. I don’t wait, I don’t put it off and do something else – heaven forbid I get any kind of smell coming into my home or closet! Normally things get separated into 3 or 4 piles. One pile for dry-cleaning, one for cold-wash, one for warm-wash and one for whites.
My last step is to try and build some outfits around some of the new pieces so that I can instantly start incorporating them into my complete wardrobe and show the world the beauty of the thrift haul.
Those are my ultimate tips and tricks for successful thrift shopping! If you have any tips or tricks let me know in the comments, it is always great to learn new things from those of you who are rather talented at it as well! If you are looking for my favourite thrift and vintage stores in cities all over the world, I currently have guides for Chicago, Manchester, Berlin and Lisbon & Porto. Happy thrifting!