Part 1 of a Thriftista series: Thrift shopping & selling
Years ago, I found thrift shops to be rather grotesque ‚Äî just the thought of someone else’s clothes [or shudder to think, their shoes!] made me itchy. Still, I’ve friends who love to frequent them, so I paid attention. Forget some of the vintage stuff ‚Äî that’s not for me. But look, here’s a Kenneth Cole shirt in great condition, for $4! And over there, a Chanel bag that needed a little stitching on its interior for $7!
Move over, Michigan Ave.!
Over time I’ve come to appreciate the racks of goods that just might contain a gem. By finding the better shops to suit my tastes, I’ve come to appreciate finding amazing designer clothes with small price tags. After all, it’s just another form of recycling!¬†And just like that, a better wardrobe is created.
But like any true Thriftista knows, it’s not just like that. It’s anything but!
Now, there are dirty, out-of-date thrift shops. Overpriced and just overwhelmed with racks and racks of stuff. The crowds sometimes don’t have the best shopping manners. Stores can be messy and no, no one will ask if you need help anytime soon.
However, I’ve found [as I mentioned in my bio] Chanel, Prada, Coach, BCBG, bebe, Banana Republic, you name it ‚Äî all at thrift shops many overlook. And that is a shame!
As part of this series, I’m going to discuss:
- thrift shopping dos and don’ts [that’s this one]
- selling pointers
- my favorite places [and yours]
- all culminating in our new directory of thrift & vintage shops and their details and reviews.
Thrift shopping is an art, just like sales shopping. You’re often confronted with those ubiquitous racks crammed with goods. Most stores are getting better about separating by color and/or size, and as ever, it’s important to have your sizes in mind when you visit [this includes your men’s pants sizing, ladies!]. Contrary to popular belief, there are good deals to be found outside of size 2s, including plus sizes. Viva La Femme is a great plus-size boutique, and I’ve found that Salvation Army often has larger sizes ‚Äî you just have to look.
Many shops [like SA and Goodwill] will have “new item” racks ‚Äî hit these first. They haven’t been sorted into the various categories, so they’re not goods that have been around forever. And, if you find something you like [especially in those hard-to-find sizes] you’ve a great chance of hitting the motherlode with more from the same person.
Look for labels. No one wants to come off as a brand whore, but generally, big brand and designer names hold up better and are better taken care of than Old Navy and H&M wares. It may be a deal at $2, but the cheapies don’t last too long in the wash.
Plan to look for a while. If you find a great shop, plan to be there for a couple hours. And wear something you can easily toss something on over such as a tank top ‚Äî if they don’t have a dressing room or the line is long, you’ll be done faster.
Be sure you want what you have. Look your items over for holes, stains, anything that may need to be fixed. Check that it’s even fixable ‚Äî and if not, could you modify it in any way to make it work? Tim Gunn would be impressed if so. If you’re not handy with a needle and thread, figure a tailor’s cost into the item’s price. Most stores won’t make deals for damaged items, and not everyone does returns.
A smartphone is great for thrift stores [and flea markets] ‚Äî if you’re unsure of a brand’s pedigree, you can look it up online. I’ve found some obscure yet pricey Italian designer bags at SA in great condition. It takes a critical eye [or you simply fall in love with it anyway] but these items can be found for less and no one is the wiser [unless they read this post].
If you’re looking to sell something you’ve found, the barcode apps downloadable to most smart phones are a must ‚Äî you can quickly see if something is salable on Amazon or ebay.
And probably most important, realize that all shops are not created equal. Some specialize in vintage [read: of a particular era], some only keep current seasons [and hence often a higher price tag], some are a mish-mash of everything [so you have to look harder to find that gem]. If one shop doesn’t appeal, don’t write them all off. I’ve found amazing deals at low-rent shops [like Unique Thrift Store]¬†and junk at some high-end shops. The key is to find what you like, at prices you can justify. Some shops also offer more services [esp. the boutique-y ones], like the shop manager who keeps your style and sizes in mind for future shops. This is just called great customer service!
If you don’t want clothing, many have shoes [including those unworn but discarded by fashionistas ‚Äî I found Calvin Klein flats for $10 at Crossroads Trading Co. with the original tags still on and no wear], kitchen items, bedding and various sundries, toys, books, camera equipment… yeah, you name it!
And also, pay attention to your stores’ merchandise. Neighborhood does matter! The SA off of Clybourn is their hub and generally has the best of the lot, whereas I’ve not had luck in their suburban counterparts. SA also takes Target’s donations ‚Äî so if it’s out-of-season, it’ll end up at one of their shops. I’ve found the one off of Grand Ave. usually marks everything as 50% off the retail price [decidedly not a deal] while the others are more liberal. And the tags are usually still attached, so this means still-new shoes, belts, clothes, homegoods.
What tips do you have? Leave a comment! We’ll post more of the best from readers and thrift shops alike as we continue this series. Post your notes to me too ‚Äî my email box is always open!
UPDATE: Goodwill shared this article [opens in a PDF] on local finds. A bit more of the same info., but it gives me even more reason to check it out!