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15 Tips and Tricks for Thrift Store Clothes Shopping

Thrift shopping can be really fun. You never know what gems you’ll uncover — vintage designer finds, deadstock (never worn) clothing, unique accessories, wardrobe staples you need in your closet — the possibilities are endless! The added bonus is that you get these discoveries at a major discount.

But, like with anything in life, thrift shopping will be much easier if you have a plan. The last thing you want is to waste too much money and/or time in a store and feel like you really didn’t get what you needed for your closet. So, we put together 15 tips that will make your thrift store trip more efficient, productive, and stress-free. Pretty soon, you’ll feel like a total professional thrifter, and will buy exactly what you need and at the best prices.

Bring Cash

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The first thrift store shopping tip we have for you is to always bring cash. It will make for a much faster and easier transaction, since some stores won’t take anything but cash, or will require a minimum total in order to run your credit or debit card.

Wear the Right Clothes

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When thrift shopping, you always want to wear comfortable clothes, preferably slim-fitting clothing with shoes you can take on and off easily. This is for two reasons. First, you want to be comfortable, since you’ll be walking around the store quite a bit (especially if you make a day of it and hit up more than one thrift or vintage store). Two, you may want to try on clothing over what you’re wearing (remember, some places don’t have a fitting room!), and this will make the process much easier.

Go With A Wish List

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Even if you love going to thrift stores and do so often, you want to be prepared. It can be overwhelming to walk in and literally see thousands of items of clothing and accessories staring back at you. There’s a good chance you will be distracted from what you really need to buy, and may end up with something you don’t really need. This is why it’s always good to do a survey of your wardrobe, find out what you’re missing, and make a list of what you’d like to find at the thrift store. This will save you both time and money!

Check For Quality

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Yes, it is a thrift store, but that doesn’t mean you have to walk out with anything that is subpar in quality. Just as there are tons of cheap pieces of clothing, and rinky-dink accessories at a thrift store, you will also find your fair share of high-quality, solidly-made garments, and top-notch accessories. You just have to inspect the garment inside and out for any flaws, feel the fabric, check the labels, and try it on if you have to (this is a good idea, as the same size doesn’t fit the same across different brands, especially vintage ones).

Only Buy It if You Absolutely Love It

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It may be really tempting to buy a bunch of stuff at a thrift store, especially when you see how inexpensive everything is. But, a good rule of thumb when buying anything really — that will keep more money in your pocket — is to only buy something when you really, really love it. That way, you won’t have a closet bursting with clothes and accessories you don’t actually wear.

Shop Off-Season

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This is a smart shopping tip across the board: shop off-season. This means buying summer clothes, like shorts and tanks during the winter, and stuff like coats and chunky sweaters during the summer. These items will be more discounted than everything else; you’ll need them eventually anyway, so why not save the money by getting them now?!

Only Buy It If You Know What It Will Go With

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You’re not saving money if you buy something at a thrift shop that you aren’t going to wear. That’s why you should shop with intent. Take a list of what you’re looking for and buy things that will automatically go with stuff you already have in your wardrobe. Think in terms of outfits, instead of impulsively grabbing something just because it’s cute. Your closet — and your wallet — will thank you.

Take Your Time

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Thrift stores have so many items and sifting through everything is almost like mining for gold. Looking through it all should be part of the fun! That’s not to say you have to spend your entire day in a thrift shop, but make sure to really take your time to make sure the trip was worth it.

Know About Sales, Discounts, and Coupons

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In addition to their already low prices, many thrift stores also have discount days, sales, and offer coupons. Make sure to ask about these with a sales associate. Who doesn’t want savings on top of already great savings?!

Shop in the Middle of the Week

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When you go to the thrift store, you should aim to go in the middle of the week. This is for three reasons. One, the stores won’t be crowded, like they would be during the weekends, so you have a better chance of getting something good, without feeling overwhelmed in the process. Two, stores often get their new shipments in on days like Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday (and drop-offs from weekend garage sale leftovers). And three, great sales often happen in the middle of the week to entice shoppers to visit the store.

Don’t Buy These Things

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Of course, you are free to buy anything you want, but there are some clothing items that are best to avoid when shopping at thrift stores. Used underwear and bathing suits are best to say no to, although many people buy slips and camisoles to wear as tops and slip dresses. It’s much safer and easier — and yet still inexpensive — to buy your unmentionables and swimwear at stores like TJMaxx, Ross, Marshalls, Walmart, and Target.

Use a Seamstress/Tailor

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If you shop for thrift and/or vintage, you know you will find some amazing finds that you totally want to buy, but the fit is off or the item is too large or small. This is where a trusty seamstress or tailor will work wonders. She or he can let out seams, take clothing in, crop pants, change buttons, and more. Added bonus? The fit will be completely custom to you!

Use Label Resource

Part of the fun of shopping thrift stores is finding clothing with labels you rarely see, or even know about. This is where a cool resource can help you decipher what gem you are holding. The Vintage Fashion Guild has put together a comprehensive Label Resource, where you can search from a ton of different vintage labels (all in alphabetical order), see photos, and learn more about the brand and designer. They also have guides on vintage fabrics, vintage hats, exotic skins, and more.

Shop Early in the Day

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When it comes to shopping at thrift stores, the early bird gets the worm. You should try to shop as early in the day as possible when thrifting. It will give you first dibs on shipments, donations, sale items, discounts, and more.

Look in the Guy’s Section

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Don’t forget to check out the guy’s section when you go to the thrift store. This is where all the cool flannels, oversized shirts, vintage rock tees, and cozy sweaters will be.