Thrift store shopping is like a competitive sports game for the most professional of savvy shoppers. And like any competitive athlete would, a professional shopper knows that to make game-winning thrift scores they’ve gotta research, prepare, plan and buy smart to keep their records and muscles strong.
Whether you’re already a thrift pro or an aspiring one, performing pre-shopping research is crucial for the know-how you need to stuff your closet full of fabulous finds without having to empty your wallet or sacrifice precious thrift time, too. Researching to determine where to travel, what to thrift and how to use a few helpful tech tools will make every shopping experience a successful one for strong stats and style!
Keep reading after the jump to read four helpful tips on what to research before you thrift: Part one in a six-part series on thrift store shopping like a pro!
What are your top tips for thrift store shopping research? Do you have a special secret I missed here that you’d like to share?
Let me know by leaving a comment below the post, or by saying hello on Twitter or Facebook!
Don’t forget to check out my 34 Tips on: How to Thrift Store Shop
Thrift Store Mapping
DO IT BECAUSE: You’ll maximize your shopping day to the fullest so that you can visit multiple stores in a day’s worth of travel and know how much time to spend at each.
Plus thanks to the high cost of gas these days, knowing how to get to multiple locations without driving extra miles is definitely in a thrifty lady’s best interest, since $10 worth of gas money saved means you can buy two more dresses at the thrift store!
WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: Professional thrifters always shop more than one store in a day and they’re not shopping the same store each time, either.
Top thrifters visit the same stores weekly to see what’s new in stock along with regularly visiting new-to-them locations that other thrifters may not have discovered yet. “Hidden spots” don’t stay secret for long so to avoid wasting time at a stale location, thrifting pros designate equal time between visiting old haunts and the discovery of new sources.
Pros map their routes every thrift trip since they’re scouting new locations and want to cut as many corners as possible to lessen their travel time. Be like a pro and print out your map before hitting the road so that you can have a handy sheet for reference.
MY SECRET: I use the Thrift Shopper Store Directory, Goodwill and Salvation Army websites to create my list of wish-list stores. I’ll decide on stores A, B, C, D, E (like mapped above) and I plug each store’s address in Google Maps to determine my best route and how long it takes to travel between each store. I’ll visit store E (the farthest) first so that I can visit D, C, B, A on my return trip home.
This mapping strategy also helps me to estimate how long I have to shop each store so that I can pack 5+ stores into a full day’s of shopping with enough time for a lunch break, too. I know that if I go over my time limit at one store, I’ll have to cut back at the next to stay on track in order to visit all the stores on my list.
Thrift What You Need
DO IT BECAUSE: You may think you know your closet, but chances are you only wear a small percentage of what you own anyway.
Refresh your memory and review 100 percent of your wardrobe so that you don’t buy something at the thrift store you already own.Plus, you’ll be inspired with ideas of what to buy to complement pre-existing pieces in your wardrobe.
WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: Professional thrifters don’t casually comb the racks and they certainly don’t shop without a mission in mind. Shopping your closet first inspires your thrift mission will keep you focused on the steps of your shopping plan.
The casual thrifter turns pro when they become 100 percent comfortable leaving a thrift store empty-handed. This means they have a discerning taste because what they found didn’t fulfill their shopping standards. Knowing your closet is a way to affirm the attitude that you won’t settle for anything less than the best!
MY SECRET: Before thrifting, I examine my closet to determine what pieces I haven’t worn yet that season. When I comb out the clothing that I’ve ignored, I’ll grab a photo with my iPhone to refer to when shopping the thrift store.
These photos of what I own but don’t wear reminds me that a.) I’m not liking these styles for whatever reason right now and b.) I may want to look for an accessory or another piece of clothing to pair with it so that I can finally wear what’s been collecting dust in my closet.
Or, instead of snapping photos of my unworn clothing, I can pack a few of the pieces into a bag to donate to the first store I visit for good thrift karma!
Thrift the Trends
DO IT BECAUSE: It helps to avoid the ultimate thrift fail: Buying something and then wearing it publicly, only to learn that those ’80s vintage harem pants were really only hot for one season (as in last), and for good reason!
WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: The pros want to avoid a thrift fail at all costs, because it’s like the equivalent of your pass being intercepted in football or striking out with all men on bases in a ballgame.
Thrift pros usually buy to resell online, whether it be vintage style or one-of-a-kind designer pieces. So staying in the-know when it comes to trendy cuts, colors, styles, materials and patterns helps to determine what’s worth buying and what’s not, since trends will sell faster and for greater financial gain.
MY SECRET: By subscribing to fashion magazines and style sites, I stay in touch with the trends and know what’s hot and what’s not season by season.
I also regularly shop the sites of popular high fashion knock-off brands like Forever 21, H&M and Zara. Without having to spend hours researching Fashion Week runway shows, I can quickly browse what these fast fashion chains are selling to give me an idea of what trends to look for when I’m in the thrift store.
Thrifting Mobile Apps
DO IT BECAUSE: Using an iPhone app to research while you’re in the thrift store is like having a life line to double check your answer on an episode of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The second opinion will either confirm your gut or prevent you from making a bad investment and losing out on true thrift treasure.
Two of my favorite applications to use when thrifting is the Etsy app and the Thrift Buddy app. You can search the Etsy app as if you were using Etsy.com on your home computer, while Thrift Buddy recommends nearby thrift stores that you may not have uncovered in your own research.
WHY IT’S FOR THE PROS: A professional thrifter follows their instincts but is open to second opinions.
While you may think you know every thrift store in a 30-mile radius, Thrift Buddy’s 10,000+ store database might just prove you wrong. And when it comes to vintage finds, I still use Etsy to double check the resale value of a similar piece I’ve found even if I’m confident I’m going to buy it anyway.
Knowledge is power, and the more power we have the more potential we have to stay on top of our thrift games. Plus, it’s the willingness to learn and be a better shopper that separates the thrift players from the thrift MVPs!
MY SECRET: When thrifting, I prioritize shopping for trendy, high-quality vintage pieces. When I find a vintage brand that I don’t recognize, I’ll use the Etsy iPhone app to plug in the name and see what other sellers have in stock.
I recently discovered an Anne Fogarty dress for $4.99 at my local Salvation Army and my Etsy app revealed that her pieces were selling for a pretty penny. That was evidence enough for me to buy the piece and to do more research on the designer when I arrived home.
Using the Etsy app to check the fashion value of your finds is the fastest way to see whether you’ve got a vintage score or a vintage dud on your hands!
MORE THRIFT STORE SHOPPING ADVICE
34 Tips on: How to Thrift Store Shop
ADVICE: 10 Things Not to Buy at a Thrift Store
TIPS: 23 Tips for Buying Used Clothes
RISK: Avoiding Bed Bugs at the Thrift Store
VIDEO: Thrift Shopping the Goodwill Outlet
PLUS: The Complete Thrift Shopping Dictionary
Hey Sammy! This post is so helpful! I’m going to start mapping out my destinations : ) I also posted about a ‘thrift stores making a come back’ video that I found. It’s nice to see that thrift stores are making a huge impression in fashion these days. Check it out: http://www.mrschong.com/2012/03/thrift-stores-compete-with-retail.html
Btw, let me know if you still want to swap links! You know where to email me : D
hi Danielle! Yes, I do have your email and thank you for reminding me about swapping links. Stay tuned ;-) As for the Today Show segment how great was that! I did see it! I loved how they shopped Housing Works on their $5-stuff-a-bag day, which is an experience I actually HAVEN’T had and must mark off my to-do list soon. Are you on Twitter still, we haven’t chatted in a bit? sending love xx
Suzanne aka Punk Glam Queen says
We’re on the same wavelength — I just wrote a post on how to shop consignment that will go live in a little while! Great post, love the ThriftBuddy app!
Suzanne, thank you so much for letting me know about our THRIFT CONNECTION! I’m checking out your site now to read your advice on consignment shopping. Need some tips! XO
What a lovely post!! Thanks ^^
We don’t have many thriftstore around my place, here in Belgium, sadly :(
I’m going to New York in 2 weeks, do you perhaps have a few addresses with lovely vintage clothing?
Sammy Davis Vintage says
hey there! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment ;-) As for amazing vintage stores in NYC, I run one called A Little Wicked on 279 East Houston Street in the Lower East Side. Also, here is a list of my top 10 favorite vintage stores in NYC: http://sammydvintage.com/vintage-style/new-york-vintage-shops/
Let me know if you have any questions! Happy visit to the Big Apple! XO
Sass' n Curlz says
These are all great tips! Definitely going to share with my readers and friends :-)
Hey Miss Sass! Thanks so much for sharing with your fellow thrifters! I appreciate the shout out so much. Where do you live and where do you thrift? xx
Hi Sammy, Great tips! When I lived in Philly, I found that the best thrifting was way outside of the city, like Lancaster, PA, because it’s less picked over and cheaper. Now that I’m in NY that’s a bit far. Any suggestions on thrifting outside of the city? Thanks!!
UGH Diana you speak the truth sister you speak the truth! But here’s the thing, I just learned of some great spots in BROOKLYN. Have you been to the Unique Thrift Store in Brooklyn? It’s supposed to be a great spot in the Carroll Gardens area. http://www.yelp.com/biz/unique-thrift-brooklyn <--- shhh! secret for you!
One of my most powerful tools is the Ebay app!
I sell a mix of vintage and current fashion, and it can be a lifesaver!
For those of you who have the ebay app, when you find an item in the thrift store that you’re not sure of, search it on the app, then select ‘advanced’ search options, then check ‘completed listings’. it will show several listings for your search terms, and it can show you at a glance whether an item has been selling- and if so for how much!:) it’s saved me from buying designer duds that aren’t selling- and I’ve found surprising money makers:)
THIS IS AN AMAZING TIP! I am going to download the Ebay app RIGHT NOW! Thank you Madeline, and happy vintage selling!
This is really the third blog, of yours I read.
Although I personally enjoy this particular 1, “Thrift Store Shopping Like a Pro – Research