How to Tackle a Thrift Store for the First Time!

by Sammy in 3 Comments — Updated October 28, 2022

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

This is the story of … your first thrift store experience!

OK, maybe not your “first.” I know a lot of my readers are regular thrifters … but then, I also know that a  lot of you lovelies out there are NOT regular thrifters! Perhaps you’ve been thrifting a handful of times, perhaps …. NEVER!

This is a how-to post for the “first timer” — but I think that everyone, no matter their thrifting expertise, can benefit. I brainstormed the tips below when producing the Sammy Davis Vintage video “Thrifting for Beginners.”

Click the link above to check it out … or read on below for some seriously sensational suggestions on how to maximize the fun [and frugal finds!] of your thrift store experience, no matter if it’s your first, second, or 100th time!


Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

1.) Find Thrift Stores Near You

Check out Thrift Store Shopper, Goodwill & Salvation Army’s store locater by plugging in your zip code. You can also try Yelp or the Yellowpages to search for “thrift stores” to find independent Ma & Pa stores. Then use a site like Google maps to determine which thrift store is nearby!

2.) Call Ahead!

I’ve shown up at thrift stores that aren’t thrift stores any longer – they’ve gone out of business (especially independent ones). Call ahead and also ask for the hours – independent stores and charity/church thrift stores have unusual hours, especially on weekends.

3.) Evaluate Your Closet

What do you have already? What do you need for the season? Determine what it is that you’re shopping for, so that when you come into the thrift store you’ll have an idea of where to direct your shopping first. Thrift stores are organized by type of clothing, so if you know that you need a new work blazer, head to the work blazers first!

4.) Bring a Loose Grocery Bag

A shopping cart or a hand held basket available. Thrift stores get crowded and I’ve had to fight for these things! The best part about carrying your thrift finds? Without a basket or shopping cart, you have MORE SPACE! These aisles are tiny and you want to be aware of other shoppers around you. Plus, if you leave your cart in the aisle while you go shop, people are known to take things OUT of your cart without your permission!

5.) Plan a Small Tackle

Don’t plan to attack the whole store when you are shopping thrift for the first time – you could potentially be attacking a store the size of a small Wal-Mart! Break it apart, leaving more fun for your second, third, fourth and future visits.


Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

1.) Give the Store a Look Over Before Beginning to Shop

If you want a blazer for fall, scan the store from left to right and front to back. Shoes and purses are usually against a wall. Clothes are situated in one open area, with furniture/electronics and other home décor in a separate room. Sometimes, like this thrift store, women’s will be in one section while mens’ and children’s will be in another.
2.) Decide Where to Shop in the Store First

When you were at home evaluating your closet, did you decide that you needed blazers most? Then tackle the blazer aisles first. That way, you prioritize your thrift shopping experience and can leave thriftingly-satisfied.

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More
3.) Skip the Fitting Rooms & Try On Over Clothes

Blazers, jackets and other light outerwear are easy to try on because you don’t need to take off your pre-existing clothes.

But, if you do want to try on pants, shirts, sweaters and other pieces of clothing without having to wait in line for the changing room – which usually have a limit (here, 4 pieces) and there’s usually only a few of them available – then you need to come to the store prepared to try on in the aisles or in front of a mirror, either hanging on a wall or appended at the end of a clothing rack aisle.

For the optimal “try-on” outfit, wear leggings and a tight fitting tank top so you can easily slip another layer of clothing on top. Comfortable shoes are also a plus so that you can take them on and off easily without having to worry about tying laces or buckling multiple times. No one wants to walk around a thrift store barefoot!

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More
4.) Determine What’s Discounted

Most thrift stores label their clothing with colored tags of some sort. Everyday a different colored tag is a discount tag – usually 50 percent off! So, to make your shopping experience easier [and more fun, because you’re saving EXTRA money while saving money!!] ask a nearby store associate if there are any sales that day. Sometimes thrift stores have a regular “day” where everything is 50 percent – when you call ahead to check a thrift store’s hours, ask if they have designated sale days, too! Many Salvation Army stores have “family days” where EVERYTHING but ONE COLOR tag is 50% off!


Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

1.) Give Yourself a Time Limit

Plan to be in the thrift store on a certain day and for certain amount of time, and whatever you find by your end time is what you evaluate to take home. For a newbie, I would plan to give yourself at least an hour of shopping. Thrift stores aren’t like stop-and-go gas stations ;-)

2.) Slim Down Your Selections

So you’ve reached the end of your time limit and you have a pile of clothes that you love! This ALWAYS happens to me. I go clothing crazy! This is when I decide to judge each piece – not only to determine if I really want it, but if I really truly need it and that it is in the condition that I want. If I entered the thrift store with a goal to find a blazer that was black, and I somehow managed to pick up a yellow and red blazer, then I would evaluate those blazers based on my initial goal and decide then if I REALLY need them.

If I don’t, I put them back on the rack for the thrift Gods to grace them into the hands [and closets!] of a future lucky thrifter.

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More
3.) Evaluate Each Piece

After slimming down your options in #1 above, find a quiet corner where you can push over the clothes and place your TOP selections to purchase on the rack. That way you can look at the clothes piece by piece without having to sort through them on the floor. You can also do this in the changing room, but out of consideration to others I always try to get out of the changing room to keep it open.

4.) Give Your Pieces the 360 Degree Analysis

Let’s return to our blazer example: You have a few black blazers to choose from, each with their own unique style and place in your wardrobe.

But no one — even YOU! — wants to buy 3+ black blazers when you really only need one or two as staples to your thrift store style. Now that you  have a few options, you’re going to give each what I like to call the “360 degree view.”

How do you do this? By checking in its pockets, checking the buttons, the inseam, even smelling the armpits! When I don’t do this, I swear I come home with something that has a hole or a tear, and I’m way too busy to fix. Because you are buying second hand clothing, you want to give the piece a solid look to ensure that’s its in first class style condition for you.

Vintage Tag History: Levi's, Banana Republic, Betsey Johnson, Abercrombie & Fitch and More

1.) Have Patience When Paying

So now you’re ready to buy your favorite pieces! Yippee! Depending upon when you come to the thrift store, there may be a long line – especially weekends. Just have patience and know that this is part of the thrift store experience that makes it fun …. I like talking to people in line about “what they bought” and seeing what great find you may have missed!
2.) Don’t Just Bring Your AmEx!

Some thrift stores only take cash or VISA. I love my American Express, but we all know that AmEx isn’t taken everywhere!

3.) Set a Thrift Spend Limit with Cash

Bringing cash and setting a limit with that amount is also a good idea. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve spent nearly $100 thrifting before! I literally come home with an entirely new wardrobe, but then I can’t go thrifting until NEXT season because I already have enough clothes. I suggest bringing a $20 bill to start. That way, you set a limit and you won’t just “buy to buy,” which is another thrift store trap.

4.) Give Yourself a Taste — Not a Meal — of Thrifting

Look at thrifting as a fun experience that you can do weekly once you get a hang out of it. It’s like a special treat! The beauty of thrifting is that each store is different and you’re ALWAYS going to find something you love! So if you can’t get something this time around, just remember that the thrift gods have something better in store for you next time.

5.) Never Buy to Exchange or Return
Buy to give your thrifted piece a happpy home! Most thrift stores take returns for credit, but only of certain items. Shoes, bathing suits, furniture, bedding/linen, and other products are non returnable to most stores. Always ask your store associate before making your purchase. Even if you aren’t planning on returning your awesome new blazer, at least you know for the future and you can plan accordingly!

3 thoughts on “How to Tackle a Thrift Store for the First Time!”

  1. Great advice! I’m a total thrifter and do everything you’ve listed above plus more! Haha

  2. This is so cool! You are just like me when thrifting, I learned some great tips here. Thanks!

  3. one additional thing – I always get whatever I bought washed or dry cleaned before I wear it. But maybe that’s just me.


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