Growing up, it took a long time for my personal style to evolve. This meant I would often buy clothes at full price I didn’t really love, which inevitably led to becoming bored of what was hanging in my closet. When I discovered thrifting, I realized what an amazing tool it is for young people still discovering their unique taste. It opened my eyes to styles beyond just the latest trends available in traditional retail stores.  Thrifting allowed me to build a wardrobe I loved and saved me serious money. Here are my tips to becoming an expert thrifter:

Have a Plan

Ever walked into a thrift store and been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of stuff? It’s important to have a general idea of what items you’re hoping to pick up before you browse. If you go in knowing you’re looking for a pair of vases, it’s less likely you’ll walk out with a giraffe lamp. This is especially important when browsing for wardrobe. Are you looking for sweaters? Shorts? Button-up tops? A thrift store may not have exactly what you’re looking for, but going in with an idea of colors, fits, and textures cuts down on the I-don’t-know-where-to-begin panic when you confront the never-ending racks of clothes.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Thrift stores are a treasure trove, but because of their haphazard selection, it’s more difficult to figure out what you really want. Since thrift stores don’t exclusively carry the latest brands, it’s sometimes necessary to flip through each individual piece. Remedy this by giving yourself a nice block of time, especially when starting out. It’s okay to go slow and really search, even if it takes a solid 40 minutes to make your way through one section. Finding the right pieces amidst the junk will take time, but when you have a pile of unique items at bargain prices, it’s worth it.

Reach for Texture and Color First

That being said, there are ways to speed up the process. When searching for clothes, reach only for pieces in a color and texture you like. After all, you won’t be buying pieces if you don’t like how they look or feel. This way, you’re only pulling out clothes that have some promise, and you’re cutting down on time spent mindlessly flipping through hangers. This is especially helpful if you already have a color palette in mind or at least know which colors look best on you.

Size Is Relative

Don’t only shop in your department store size. Older brands tend to be sized differently than the sizes we see today. The golden rule of thrifting is: The number on the tag means nothing, but fit is everything. Obviously, you’re more likely to find clothes that fit in your typical size, but a lower size will have pieces that run large, and a higher size will have pieces that run small. A sweater that’s one size too big may be perfectly oversized. A too-small shirt may be the right fit for a crop top. Pieces like flannels and button ups are good for layering, so they may not need to fit perfectly on their own.

Try Everything On

Because you’re being flexible with sizing, it is vital to try everything on before you buy it. Even if a piece looks like it will fit perfectly, even if it’s already your size, it may cling or sag in strange places, and you’ll never know until it’s fully on. Most thrift stores don’t allow returns, and you don’t want to spend money on clothes you’ll never wear.

Try on More Than You’ll Buy

No matter how perfect a piece looks on the hanger, there’s no guarantee it will fit. Even on the best day, not everything you choose will be suitable to buy. And that’s okay! Some days half the pieces you choose work, and some days, out of an entire cart, nothing works. Thrifting is a gamble. Because of this, don’t be afraid to try on more than you think you’ll buy. As long as you’re careful about only buying pieces that truly work, you’ll walk out happy. It’s better to try on three shirts and only buy one than try on one, get frustrated it doesn’t work, and leave with nothing.

Check for Damage

Clothes end up in thrift stores at varying levels of worn. Some clothes still have the tags on while others have been worn for years before being donated. Because you’re already trying everything on, always inspect a piece for damage! Run your hands all over the garment and feel for rips, loose threads, or missing buttons. Examine it in different lighting for stains that aren’t immediately visible. This is also a good time to check the washing instructions. If you know you’ll never take an item to a dry cleaner, don’t pick up a garment that’s dry clean only.

Consider What You Already Own

Ideally, you’ll have your pre-existing wardrobe in mind when buying new pieces. Once you’ve found pieces, tried them on, and checked for damage, make sure that when you head home, they’ll fit seamlessly with what you already own. A good way to do this is to visualize three distinct outfits you can create with the new piece. If you have trouble doing that, it may be a sign that it’s not worth it to buy the new item.

Building a top-notch, perfectly expressive wardrobe doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Hopefully these tips will inspire you to feel less daunted and more inspired to find beautiful pieces while saving money. Happy thrifting!


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