The Ways of the Thrift

Last week I received a message on my tumblr suggesting I show my favorite thrift finds and share some of my tips. My mother first showed me the ways of second-hand shopping years and years ago, taking me along to her favorite thrift stores and rummage sales. I'm by no means an expert and I still have days when I return home empty handed, but I have picked up some tips over the years, and so I'd be glad to contribute.

But before you go...

There are several kinds of second-hand shops, the most common being consignment shops, stores run by a charitable organization, privately owned thrift stores, and resale chains. Consignment shops take unwanted goods from an individual seller, and that seller is assigned a number or tag to place on all of their items being sold. The seller receives payment for whatever is sold over a certain period of time with a percentage going to the store, which is how the store makes profit. Stores run by charitable organizations include the Salvation Army and Goodwill, who accept donated goods and put proceeds towards funding public service projects. Privately owned thrift stores are often free standing mom-and-pop shops, and it's here that I tend to find the lowest prices. Resale chains, like Plato's Closet and Buffalo Exchange, look to purchase name brand or on-trend merchandise. I find these stores the least appealing, only because they tend to stock mall brands, which are inexpensive to begin with and are frankly not worth purchasing used.

I often notice recurring themes when I'm getting dressed; if I find that I'm looking for a certain piece to complete my outfit over and over again then I know for sure that it's worth purchasing. Clip outfits or items out of magazines, taking notes of styles that really catch your eye. Everyone knows that styles come back around, so chances are you'll find a vintage gem that could pass as a new purchase from a high-street store (90's floral rompers anyone??) Reblog outfits and photos to your hearts desire, fill inspiration folders or make Picasa collages full of inspiring photos. This will all help give you direction while shopping and make even the biggest mess of a store less overwhelming. Always shop with a goal in mind.

Most stores have specials almost every day of the week. The Salvation Army nearest me has a half-off sale on all color tags every Wednesday, which is my favorite time to shop. Stop in and ask the staff when they usually have sales and put a note next to your calendar as a reminder. It's also fun to make a day of thrifting, so know your store locations and try to plan out the most efficient route.

Also, bring cash and lots of small bills, maybe even a reusable shopping tote to carrying everything.

I actually picked up the first part of this tip from another blogger, who noted that she found the best items in stores that were located near wealthier neighborhoods. If you have an idea of where the most well-to-do citizens in your town live, locate the nearest thrift store. The idea behind this is that your fancy-pants neighbors have the means to discard all of the past season's designer duds and replace them with the newest and the best. I've also found that shops located in suburban or rural areas are far less than any store you'll find in the city. This is due to the fact that there is a higher cost of living in any metropolitan area as compared to suburbia. Even the CVS in Center City is more expensive that at home! Stores that are off the map also tend to have less traffic, while those in the middle of the city have stock that is heavily picked-through.

Vintage sizes are completely different from today's standard sizes. A 10 from the 70's probably fits a 6 of today. Don't rely on the tag to tell you how the item is going to fit. Try everything on, because depending on the style you might want something to have a looser or tighter fit. You'll have to wait a bit as fitting room space is often limited, but it's worth it seeing as second-hand stores don't accept returns.  I also like to look in the children's sections. I find that boys' blazers and button-down shirts fit me well, and they're usually a lower price than adult clothing. Oversized men's shirts are great projects too. You can always take in something that's too big, whereas there's nothing to do with an item that's too small. Which leads to my next tip...

I love altering thrift store clothing because it's totally cheap and it flexes my creative muscles. A huge, shapeless, albeit adorably printed muumuu can become the most flattering of frocks if you just raise the hem, take in the side seams, and add some well-placed darts. If the sleeves on a blouse are too short or just hideous, cut them off! Can't find shorts that are the right length? Hem a pair of pants that fit well. Dresses become skirts, shorts become skirts, even blouses become skirts with a few artful snips and seams. Be resourceful! If your project doesn't turn out to be wearable, only a few dollars were lost and you now have scrap fabric for that pennant banner I know you've been dying to make. 

It helps to know what fabrics are by either just look or feel. This skill is based off of experience, but the most obvious materials seem to be silk, wool, cotton or cotton blends, fur, leather, faux fur and faux leather. It doesn't hurt to look at the tags to double check, especially if a piece is dry-clean only or if you're irritated by certain fabrics.

Yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, and antique malls are all great places to find unique jewelry or housewares. Keep an eye out for inserts that advertise sales in your area, invite a friend or two and make an outing of it. I like to thrift with friends because they'll often bring to my attention pieces I would have missed. Take your time when searching through piles and racks. Go often, vary your route, but don't be discouraged if you can't find anything. Don't bully yourself into purchasing something you're doubtful about; "maybe" or "kind of" automatically mean NO. Also, when you sort through your closet, consider donating to your favorite shops to help keep them up and running. 

I hope this was helpful! I actually spent all day today thrifting and found some of the greatest stuff, I'll share it in a post later this week. If you have any tips of you own, don't keep them to yourself! Please share you thrifting wisdom!

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