How To Thrift The Best Clothes Ever

Want to thrift the best clothes? Of course you do! Thrifting helps you save money and it's better for the environment. Click through for my best thrifting tips!

Thrifting is lovely, isn’t it? Finding all sorts of treasures for a pittance, stumbling onto a copy of your favorite book from Elementary school, imagining the former lives of all these things.

However, there’s a big difference between thrifting for fun and thrifting as your primary mode of shopping. Though it can be a bit trying, but I highly recommend it. My wardrobe contains the likes of BCBG, Banana Republic, and Anne Klein … and let me assure you, that has very little to do with my salary of $2.

8 ways to thrift the best clothes

Wear your best Thrifting Outfit

Some thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms. Some only have one fitting room for a jillion customers and if you’re shopping on a holiday or a discount day, you might have to wait 20 minutes to access a changing space.

Make it easier by dressing for thrifting. I like to wear knit leggings, slip on boots, and a camisole under a big, belted cardigan. That way I can take off my cardigan and try on clothes in some quiet corner of the store.

Know that size labels are a suggestion, not a rule

Learn to eyeball sizes and don’t get too hung up on what the tag says. I have second-hand pants sizes 4 – 13!

But I’d also add that – unless you’re an extremely experienced and productive tailor – you should stay away from cute things that don’t fit. Every thrifter I know has a pile of “this will be cute once I take it in”  and “this will be cute once I lose 10 pounds” clothes. You deserve to have a closet full of clothes that look and feel good today.

Learn how to spot stuff worth buying

Sure, you can buy a Target dress for $8 at Goodwill but it probably cost $25 new and someone else has already worn it. Fast fashion clothes pill, stretch, and wear out quickly. If you like them and they look good on you, by all means buy them! Give them a new lease on life and keep them out of the landfill! (Here’s how to make cheap clothes look fancier and nicer.)

It’s a personal preference, but I prefer to thrift items that will last forever.

Here’s what I’m always on the look out for
* Wool and cashmere anything
* Real leather anything
* Furniture made before 1965 (so much sturdier and longer lasting!)
* Almost anything that’s lined. It’s warmer and more flattering!

Keep an on-going list of things you are looking for

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of cheap clothes and buy a bunch of stuff you already have or don’t need. I find that shopping at thrift stores can actually be easier than shopping in normal stores because they are often organized by color and type of clothing (sweaters, and then divided by color) so you can pretty quickly see if they have the pink, long sleeved button-up that you’re coveting.

Keep a list in your phone of what you’re looking for and in which size. This will also prevent you from buying yet another cute thing that doesn’t really fit or go with anything in your closet.

Know what you can change/alter/repair

Can you hem things? Do you know how to dye things with RIT? And – more importantly – are you really interested in doing those things?

These days, the only ‘alteration’ I’m willing to make is removing pills from an otherwise PHENOMENAL item. I literally shave off the pills with a disposable razor!

Shop in the fancy neighborhoods

Or shop in the very non-rich neighborhoods. Stay away from the hip neighborhoods! I do almost all of my thrifting in the neighborhood where I work – a neighborhood which is almost patently un-hip.

But! This means that all the cute vintage dresses, 1960 purses, and vegetarian cookbooks are still there, because it’s not overrun with hipsters. Rich neighborhoods are good for fancy ‘work clothes’ and nice furniture.

Don’t limit yourself to the women’s section

The men’s section is full of cutely over-sized sweaters and the kid’s section has large boys’ blazers that will fit a petite woman. I’ve also found tons of amazing things in the Halloween section. One woman’s Halloween costume is another woman’s Date Night outfit.

Think about how you can re-purpose things

Love the print on that tiny skirt? Make it into a throw pillow. Mismatched cups become vases or votives, vintage records or books can go on your wall, an old children’s school desk can be your new end table, and that pretty patterned sheet could be your new curtains … or pillow cases … or dish towels!

Bonus tip! Before you look at the price tag, consider how much you’d be willing to pay

When something’s cheap it’s very, very easy to convince ourselves we need it. It’s very easy to consider something a bargain when it costs less than $15. But if you never use it, it’s a waste of $15! There are many times when I’ve thought “$7” and turned over a price tag that read “$35.”  But occasionally you’ll find things you’d pay hundreds of dollars for that only cost twenty bucks!

If you’re an experienced thrifter, pleeeeease leave your best tips in the comments so we can benefit from your knowledge!

P.S. How to make cheap clothes look fancy + How to wear any style (even if you’re broke, intimidated, or work in an office) 

P.P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

photos by crew // cc

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  1. Panda Mime

    I have given you an award my dear. Thanks for the sweet reads.

  2. Freya

    Oh, my fiance found an (we think) authentic WWII era great coat with the original buttons still attached for $4 this weekend! We always shop at a Thrift on the South Side of Chicago. They almost always have great books, and every now and again awesome clothes. I bought a bright yellow band jacket there for $5 a few months ago.

  3. Miss_Corrine

    Awesome tips 🙂 I LOVE thrifting, so many of my favourite pieces of clothing are second-hand buys!

  4. Sarah Von Bargen

    Panda! Thanks so much! I´ll be sure to stop by (and pass on the love) once I find a better internet cafe. Peruvian internet cafes were not built for internetz addicts of my caliber 🙂

  5. Annie

    I know this post was from 2009, but your blog says you live in the Twin Cities…any suggestions for a fellow Minnesotan for great thrift shops to try?

  6. Nicole

    I 2nd Annie's comment – I recently moved to Uptown (I swear I'm not a hipster), and if I take your advice I'll stay well away from the thrift stores in the area. Any suggestions on where to go for the good stuff?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Pretty much every thrift store in St. Paul has a waaaaay better selection than anything in Minneapolis. I have one specific Salvation Army that I frequent, but its location is a secret 😉

  7. Hannah at The Lemon Hive

    Perfect! I went charity shopping (as it's called in the uk) and found Anne Klein trousers for a grand total of $12. I then found a levi jeans that fit like a glove for $8. I love thrift shopping, I just wish it wouldn't take up my whole day!

  8. Michelle

    Great tips! We grew up thrifting out of necessity and I’m so happy that my daughter has also developed a love of the pre-loved. The best tip I would offer is to wear something like leggings, body suit or cami under your clothes so you can maintain your dignity while trying things on. A lot of the places we shop either do not have a changing room or their bathroom doubles as the changing room…ICK.

  9. Carol

    Definitely go to towns that might have folks with the same style but more money. Aspen area, etc. Also: church thrift stores in wealthy towns. You want places where people who have good stuff to give away are going to just give it away—not put it on eBay, etc.
    Too many thrift stores have too much Old Navy, etc. these days. The good stuff is getting harder to find.

  10. Anonymous

    Most of the clothes has an “old” odor to it, so take it home and wash it with a vinegar and baking soda rinse. I usually give it an additional plain water finishing rinse as well. Since i buy mostly linen, cotton and silk i give my items an ironing and then hang and enjoy my fresh like new items.

  11. Karhryn

    As an experienced thrifter and having had been employed at a Goodwill Boutique, invest in a battery operated sweater shaver! Its normal for some fabrics to pill. The sweater shaver gives a sweater or knits new look and life. Also hit the specials. Senior discount, colir of the week, 50 % off, cleance centers. Most clothing can be remade or altered.

  12. Linda Nicholson

    When shopping for clothes don’t forget to look for accessories. A good brand belt retail can cost $ 50 or more. At Goodwill less than $3. That simple dress will dress up with a silk scarf and leather belt.
    Also make sure you check the care tag. It will not be a good deal if you will have an expensive dry cleaning bill.

  13. Ashley

    Sorry if someone already wrote this, I’m on an old small cellphone, the site works great I just need new glasses to see the comments.
    A TIP THAT HAS HOOKED ME UP MUTIPLE TIMES! EYES TO THE SKIES! things are often stocked up basically on the ceiling. I’m 4’11 so it was a while before I realized this. I was furnishing a new home–found the perfect antique mirror, it was heavy as hell, the maintenance crew had to get it down, when I saw it wasnt a full circle just a half circle I showed some doubt. they immediately went from $80 to $20 bc they were about to close and it was going to be a wild hassle getting it back up there, they wanted to get that mirror into my trunk heehee. It wasnt connected to the gray metal shelves system, it was it’s own ledge. Since then I’ve noticed that great items of all kinds hang out in the rafters. Happy Thrifting! Love Ash!

  14. Kris

    Try idye (IDYE?), available online. It’s pricier than Rit or Tintex, but there’s an astounding array of great colours (and they’re very true to the packaging image), AND there are two lines: one for synthetics, and one for natural fabrics. I’ve used many of them and have always been extremely happy with results: even, strong, contemporary.

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