The Do’s and Don’ts of Thrift Store Buying

by Kacey Bradley in Comment — Updated December 12, 2023

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You might not spend a lot of time in thrift stores, except when you’re donating your unused clothing and knickknacks. But secondhand stores can provide serious shoppers with rare jackets, one-of-a-kind handbags and excellent accessories — it only takes an hour or two of exploration to find a steal.

Rather than buying another piece of clothing brand-new for the full price, why not pick up a gently used one for a fraction of the cost? Once you begin hunting for thrift store deals, you’ll get hooked. But shopping in a thrift store takes a different approach than you’d take dropping by the mall.

Because thrift stores operate differently from what you might expect, you need some pointers to get the most out of your trip. Here are seven do’s and don’ts to thrift store buying you can put into practice.

1. Don’t Walk in Without a Plan

Due to the seemingly endless racks of sweaters and jeans, you can easily waste a day when you stroll into a thrift store without a plan. Especially for sizeable stores, looking through lines of clothes isn’t the best use of your time.

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Before you go shopping, make a list of the items you’re looking for. What’s on your wish list that a thrift store might have? Proper planning can ensure you’re buying with a purpose, instead of taking home unnecessary items.

2. Do Think Practically

While you can spot trendy styles in many thrift stores, they’re typically mixed in with outdated ones. You might be able to pull off a shoulder-padded blazer from 30 years ago, but you also might regret purchasing an irredeemable style.

Consider your day-to-day style before you branch out into vintage merchandise. Determine your look to steer your fashion choices. A practical perspective can guide your purchasing decisions and keep you content with your finds.

3. Don’t Miss the Deals

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Some secondhand stores have special sales on a particular day of the week or during specific seasons. Your already inexpensive finds can drop even more in price with these deals.

Other stores may have a designated area for markdowns. You might be able to respectfully negotiate a better price if you talk to an employee, too.

4. Do Look for High-Quality Material

As you skim through the goods, keep an eye out for premium materials that are long-lasting and valuable. Brands and styles aren’t as crucial as the substance it’s made from. You can find cashmere or silk clothing with a little inspection, or you can stumble across genuine leather. When you find varieties of suede and hide, check for stains or damages to determine its worth.

If you find an item in good shape, you can get several more years out of a piece. But without proper care, many fabrics aren’t worth purchasing. Pass on fabrics that have aged beyond repair, too.

5. Do Hit the Fitting Room

As you’re looking through styles from a range of eras, it’s difficult to imagine how an item can fit you. Gather options as you go, then visit the fitting room to test out your finds.

Be flexible in sizes, too, because standard clothing sizes can vary based on the manufacturer. Look around in sizes similar to yours to get a broader selection that can still complement your body.

6. Don’t Neglect Accessories

You might be scouring thrift shops for a new skirt while overlooking the available accessories. But a small accenting piece can transform your regular outfits. Racks of hats, jewelry and scarves can hold just as many hidden gems as the clothing sections.

Stop by the jewelry section to sift through the bracelets, earrings and necklaces. You can uncover timeless pieces to enhance your look. Or, try a distinctive fedora to add character to any outfit.

7. Do Practice Patience

The mixture of merchandise in thrift stores means you don’t always find what you’re looking for. It can be discouraging to spend time in a store, only to walk out empty-handed.

Go in with a patient mindset for a positive thrifting experience. You can come away with several exciting finds one weekend and nothing the next. Steadily visiting thrift stores until you find what you want is the key to a successful buy.

Take Advantage of Your Local Thrift Stores

Your community’s thrift stores feature many options, and a little effort can unearth worthwhile purchases. Take time to explore these secondhand stores and buy wisely. Visit your nearby Goodwill, Salvation Army or locally operated thrift store to start shopping.

1 thought on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Thrift Store Buying”

  1. Very helpful tips thank you! I just want to comment about the leather, silk, suede, hide, etc. I know society views these “fabrics” as premium and luxury but let’s not forget the animals they were stripped from. These “products” contain the misery, pain and suffering of sentient beings for fashion, it doesn’t need to be this way. We can shop with compassion and still be fashionable. I’ve not worn leather, silk, wool, etc in over 25 years and get on just fine. To each their own just something to ponder.


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