Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thrift Store Shopping Secrets

I have heard from my friends that I have what they fondly call "thrift fu." I walk into thrift stores and charity shops like I own the place, canvas the racks rapidly, and find the diamonds-in-the-rough that they wouldn't have ever looked at. I can find a brand new trench coat or classic pair of pumps faster than most people can get their bearings. I've often been asked how I manage to find what I find.

Here's the truth of the matter: it's not a superpower. It's just a few tips that happen to be very useful.

And so, my dear readers, if you've not frequented thrift stores before and want to start saving money like a thrifting diva, here are my shopping secrets for buying secondhand.

Don't go in with a distinct plan. I know this is kind of counter-intuitive, but hear me out: if you walk into the store with a distinct target in mind, you will find nothing. Have a thought in mind, certainly. Have a general idea of what will and will not work on you. But don't limit yourself. You'll only end up missing something fantastic.

Know your skills. Know the limitations of your sewing abilities and know what you can do.  If you have the skills, wonderful. You'll have a wider variety of options available to you if you can fit, alter, refashion, or hem the items you find. If you don't sew or know someone willing and able to sew for you, don't rely on wishful thinking. You'll have to take the items you find as-is.

Make a fast first sweep. Orient yourself in terms of where to find your size. Look for colors, shapes, or fabrics that catch your eye. Run your hand along the racks of clothing for tactile responses. Don't get bogged down with the items that don't work; look for the items that will work.

Check the labels before you even try the thing on. You'll want to make sure that everything you buy can be washed.

Check for stains. If you think you can get it out or hide it with a re-hemming or tailoring, go ahead. If not, walk on.

Check the seams. Look at every seam and hem to check for loose threads or threadbare patches. If there is wear-and-tear, consider whether you can fix it. If you can't, leave it. You want this item to last for a good long time.

Check the soles of the shoes, especially the heels. You can always tell how worn a shoe is by how scuffed the sole is, and the heel is even more concentrated. If the tread on the heel is still flawless, you've found a shoe that's barely been warn; congratulations! If the heel is broken down but the rest of the shoe is in good condition, is there a place nearby where you can get it re-heeled?

After you've checked those things, always try it on. I don't care if it's cheap and might work. Try it on. Yeah, sure, it's one dollar now, but those dollars add up. Make sure it works.

Make sure you love it. Don't buy it just because it's cheap. Yes, this will diminish your ability to come out of the store with something, but it'll keep you from having to clean out your wardrobe because you came home with everything.

Feel free to get creative. That little picnic basket or roller skate case you see might make an adorable purse. That skinny scarf might make a fun belt or headband. Just like combining and recombining outfits, the items you find are what you make of them.

Shop early, shop often. Selection is limited and you've got competition. The good items often move fast, and you want to get there first.

Remember the high-volume seasons. The end of the summer is big. People donate or sell almost all of their unsold garage sale items and you never know what rainy day sales may have held some real gems. After Christmas, too, is a great time to shop. That's when people are cleaning out their wardrobes or donating items that they didn't get a gift receipt for. You can find a lot of brand new garments lurking on the shelves as long as you know when to look.

Once you've found an item, wash it right away. As soon as you get your clothes home, throw them in the washer. Just in case.

And, most importantly, don't get discouraged! You might not find anything in the thrift store on a given day. It happens. If you haven't found anything, that just means that nobody has brought in your dream item yet.

Happy thrifting!

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