Thrifting is one of my favorite activities on the planet. Finding a rare gem for an amazing price is such a great feeling! It can be hard to know what to look for when at a thrift shop, though, and it can easily get overwhelming and discouraging. The key is to go in with an open mind, and WITHOUT anything specific you’re looking for. If you have your heart set on finding the perfect pleated midi skirt, you will definitely not find that skirt on your thrift store outing. You might, though, find a nice pair of jeans in your size or a perfect cashmere sweater.
Here are some tips to get the most out your thrifting experience.
1. Look for material and style, not brand
It’s hard to scan each piece on a rack for the brand tag, so a better way to go about it is to feel the material and check the style. Unless you’re specifically thrifting to resell (a post for another day…), you should be looking for items that will fit in your wardrobe rather than just a brand name. When scanning the racks, check for:
- Is it something you’ll wear?
- Does the material feel nice?
- Is it in good condition? Hanging threads, a warped collar, significant pilling, or other signs of deterioration mean you should probably pass.
It can be tempting to buy something way outside your typical wardrobe because it seems like a great deal, but even $20 on a piece of clothing that will sit in the back of your closet is $20 that you could have saved or used on a nice lunch instead.
Material and quality is another big one. Something in a natural fiber with sturdy stitching is going to hold up better than a shoddy polyester piece from H&M. Check the materials tag, and look for things like whether it has a lining, how good the stitching looks, whether the pattern matches at the seams, and the general attention to detail on the piece.
2. Know your brands
This may sound counterintuitive to my above point, but it’s good to have a sense of what your favorite brands look like so you can easily spot them in a thrift store. Neutral colors and intricate draping, often with a mix of materials? Probably Rick Owens. Elaborate embroidery and shiny, colorful patterns? Might be Dries van Noten.
It’s rare that thrift stores organize by designer, so having an idea of what your favorite designers’ aesthetics are is useful so that you can pick pieces out easily. One of my biggest wins at a thrift store was finding a Rick Owens skirt for $40. It’s an unassuming gray skirt with draping in the front and an elastic waistband, and I zeroed in on it at the store because it looked like the short version of a longer Rick skirt I had bought earlier in the year.
Going back to my first point, though, don’t buy something just because it’s a famous designer. Ask yourself if it’s in good condition, if it’s priced fairly, and if you’ll actually wear it.
2. Know your thrift stores
It’s good to know what kind of thrift store you’re in so you can manage your expectations accordingly. Are you looking for gently used high end pieces? Check a luxury consignment store. Looking for something trendy, or are willing to wade through racks of cheap fast fashion to find the diamond in the rough? Go to your local Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads. Just want something cheap, vintage, or weird? Check out Goodwill.
Some of my favorite consignment and thrift shops here in NYC are:
- Tokio 7: Great for avant-garde, rare, and Japanese fashion. Lots of Rick Owens, Comme des Garcons, Junya Watanabe. Be careful, though – the buyers aren’t authentication experts, so you may come across a fake. (We should have known it was too good to be true when there was a pair of Boris Bidjan Saberi orange Bambas for like $200. Luckily, they gave my boyfriend a full refund no questions asked after he had it confirmed a fake at the Boris store in Tribeca.)
- Tokyo Joe: Very small, but you can score some great deals here. I got a 100% cashmere Vince sweater for $30, and a Zadig & Voltaire burnout tee for $20.
- INA: 3 locations, each with a slightly different selection. I found an amazing pair of Dries van Noten platform sandals for $130 at the SoHo location, and scored a pair of 100% wool dropped-crotch button-fly Comme des Garcons pants at the Chelsea location for $100. My boyfriend found his holy grail of leather jackets at the Union Square location.
The RealReal also has a physical location in SoHo, and it can be fun to browse there even though I rarely find anything worth purchasing. It’s a great place if you’re ready to drop some dough on a high-end handbag but don’t want to pay full retail.
3. Come alone or with someone equally dedicated
It takes time to sift through rack upon rack looking for steals. If you just come in for a quick browse, chances are high nothing will catch your eye right away. If you’re actually looking to find something good, you need to budget the time to sift, sift, sift.
Shopping with friends is fun, but only if everyone is on the same page. If one person doesn’t feel like seriously diving in, they’ll just be bored as you examine each rack and try things on. On the other hand, if you come with someone who’s equally invested, they may spot things you passed by.
I was in Buffalo Exchange in Deep Ellum, TX with my boyfriend one time, and somehow I completely failed to notice a pair of iridescent blue sneakers on the size 7 rack. My boyfriend grabbed them and brought them over to me as I was trying on a pair of deep red Hudson jeans. He had recognized them immediately as mainline Maison Martin Margiela, and knew that blue is my favorite color and I live for shiny and metallic things. For $50, how could I not buy them??
Thrifting can be a great way to get great deals and expand your wardrobe without paying retail, but you need to have patience and a well trained eye to really make the most of it. Know your favorite brands, recognize well made pieces, and know the value of what you’re buying.