Thrift Store Finds: Scoring the Best and Making the Most of Them

Buying clothes at the thrift store is good for your closet, your pocketbook, and even the planet. In today's world of "fast fashion," people buy new clothing in enormous amounts when compared to the past and discard it before it's worn out. There aren't enough needy people in the world to absorb all the cast-off clothing of first-world nations. Much of today's clothing ends up in landfills, where it doesn't biodegrade quickly due to the synthetic content. So those thrift store finds to make you more than just a savvy shopper, they make you a responsible citizen.

But unlike a lot of other things that are good for the planet, thrift store shopping is easy, fun, and inexpensive. So let's get started focusing on the benefits to you!

What Should I Look for in a Thrift Store?

High quality, for one. If you've never been thrift store shopping, you may be surprised at the expensive items people give away that are in perfectly good, sometimes new condition. You can find the same brand-name clothing in the thrift store that other people are paying ten times as much for in the mall. Whether your taste runs to Abercrombie & Fitch or Outkast, you'll likely find your favorite brands showing up. The key to searching for many items at the thrift store is to check back often, because if you're looking for something in particular, you may not find it on the first try. Making frequent visits is key to scoring great thrift store finds. 

Back to Basics

Having said that, there are certain things you can always count on finding at the thrift store. Have a job interview and just realized your black pants are too small? No need to rush out and buy a new pair. Need to wear a red shirt for an event your organization is participating in, but don't have one? No problem. Secondhand stores are great for replacing items like that favorite gray cardigan that you wore so much, it got holes in the elbows. 

Score the Specialty Items

Sooner or later, most specialty items will turn up in a thrift store. Sports clothing is a perfect example. There's no need to pay $75 for a pair of hiking pants made out of ripstop fabric. Be patient, and you will find it secondhand. Other items that might not be available all year round, like rain gear and winter coats, can be found for a song at the thrift store, with a wider variety of options. 

Optimize your Options

Have you ever gone into a retail clothing store and thought, "Ugh, if someone gave me a gift card to this store, I could not find a single thing I wanted"? Regular stores are limited to what New York says is fashionable that year, and the colors that Pantone says are this season's hot shades. Sometimes you can go for years without seeing your favorite shades of blue or green in the stores. At thrift stores, you can always find a wider variety of styles and colors than you will find in regular retail stores, allowing more people's tastes to be satisfied. 

Help for the Harder-to-Fit Groups

There was a time when plus-sized people couldn't get much at a thrift store, but times have changed. Considering how expensive plus-sized clothing can be, and how few stores carry it, the thrift store is a great option for saving money and offering more choices. For the same reasons, a man who is looking for a suit jacket or dressier pants should check a thrift store first. While it's possible to find inexpensive kids' clothes in stores, with the speed that they outgrow them, it makes far more sense to look for them secondhand. You'll also be able to get those brand names that kids prefer. 

Venture out with Vintage

What some consider vintage, others will look at and say, "Hey, I wore that in high school!" There's been a huge resurgence in 80s fashion lately, and before checking a pricey specialty thrift store, check your local everyday thrift store where the same clothing items will turn up at a fraction of the price. Leather trench coats from the 70s flared wool skirts from the fifties -- all these and much more find their way to thrift stores. If you love vintage, make it a regular habit to look for these gems. Though expensive consignment stores may have a wider selection, people often clean out a relative's house and give away the same quality items because they simply don't have the time to deal with a consignment store.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Thrift store purchases allow a person to experiment with a new clothing style. Always wanted to try a skater skirt or a tighter top, but not sure it's you? How about bolder colors than what you normally wear? Thrift stores will allow you to stretch yourself a little or a lot. You can try out a completely different style for while, and if it doesn't feel comfortable in the end, you don't have to be uncomfortable looking at your bank statement. 

Altering Your Thrift Store Finds

Your thrift store finds will go even further if you learn a little about sewing. Don't immediately throw up your hands in despair and cry, "I could never do that!" With the amount of information available today at your fingertips, like YouTube and WikiHow, there's no excuse for not being able to learn something basic. A few things can be done by hand, like repairing a rip on the seam. But if you can borrow a machine from someone you know (and someone you know has one) and learn to thread it, sewing a straight stitch is pretty easy and can do a lot for you. Now, if you see those cute capri pants but wish they were a little narrower at the leg opening, you can fix that. That shirt is great, but it's just kind of shapeless - you can fix that too, with a simple curved side seam on each side. There are plenty of people posting videos every day about how to do things to fix garments, that would have never even occurred to you could be fixed. Once you get into it, a whole new world of possibilities will open up. 


The next step after learning basic repairs and alterations is refashioning, and for anyone who loves fashion and has a creative side, you'll be astounded at what you can do. There's a large online community of talented refashioners who have blogs and post pictures and videos of what they've made, often from thrift store finds. A man's polo shirt can become a woman's dress. A long, plaid wool skirt can become a fall cape. Two items can be combined together to create something completely new. Go online and search for inspiration. You'll be amazed.

By now you should have a brain that's brimming full of ideas for what you can find at a thrift store, and what to do with your thrift store finds. Remember the key pieces of advice: check back at the store often, be patient, learn a few skills, and open your mind to the possibilities.