I arrived in New York City for spring break with a few items on my to-do list: thrifting, thrifting, and more thrifting.
Of course, I did make sure to see some plays, eat some pizza, and go to some museums, but I also took advantage of New York’s second-hand scene. And it’s your lucky day, because I’m going to pass my thrifting knowledge on to you in this article
I’ve shopped more at thrift stores over the past few years than I have most of my life, and it’s not only been kinder to my wallet but also enhanced my wardrobe dramatically. After a period of experimentation with unusual fabrics, wild patterns, and throwback trends, I’ve developed my own strategies for successful thrifts.
1. Come with a wishlist and a batch of patience.
I’ve made the mistake of going to a second-hand shop on a whim, not looking for anything in particular, and ended up buying a dozen items I didn’t end up wearing. Shopping without a guide makes you susceptible to impulse buys, and even if they’re thrift-store prices, it’s a waste of your time, money, and energy.
Of course, be open to the possibilities of the thrift store. Serendipity that may present you with a lovely piece you didn’t know you needed. But having something to focus on keeps you from buying things you don’t really like or need just for the sake of leaving the store with something new.
So before you embark, take a look through your closet and see what holes you’d like to fill. Are you lacking a classic white button-down, for instance? Or have you always dreamt of owning an elegant trench coat? If you don’t find the right one on your first thrift trip, be patient. It’s worth waiting for the perfect piece rather than paying for a sub-par version you’ll only want to replace soon after.
2. Try, try, and try again.
When I went to the Buffalo Exchange in Manhattan a few days ago, I took four trips to the dressing room and tried on probably thirty items. It was a process. But it’s well worth it, because you really never know what’s going to work until you try it on. Even things you assume will work for you may turn out to fit weird. It took about six blazers for me to find the perfect one. And as soon as I put it on, I knew it fit me perfectly. That’s one of my rules for shopping: you should love it the second you put it on. If you don’t get that magical feeling (that spark of joy, as Marie Kondo would say), you probably won’t wear it enough to make it worthy of a purchase.
I don’t try on everything on the racks, though. Thrifting is like a treasure hunt: you do have to sift through a lot of junk (which will be gems to other shoppers) to find your bounty. My strategy is to look at every single hanger, not just the ones with fabrics that catch my eye, because the most subtle gray or black color could turn out to have an amazing silhouette or something unique you can’t see until you push the hanger in front of it out of the way.
When something looks interesting, I pull it off the rack and check it out front and back. I imagine it on myself, how I would style it, and whether I have those pairings in my closet already. I always make sure to examine a piece for any flaws: stains, holes, general wear and tear. I consider color, silhouette, fabric, and brand. The more you shop, the better an idea you’ll get of what looks good on you and what you feel good in. In terms of brand, I don’t exclude non-name brands; but sometimes, brand can indicate a certain degree of quality or fit a certain vibe you’re attracted to and trying to embody. There’s no way I’m buying a secondhand H & M shirt, for example. Even a brand-new one will pill and have seams come undone after a few washes; it’s just not worth it.
But it’s the thrift store! I try to pick some wild cards to try on, too--things that aren’t exactly a safe bet, but do stand out and might end up being a statement piece in my wardrobe. The worst thing that happens is I don’t get it.
3. What to wear.
When you’re heading to a Goodwill or Buffalo Exchange, make sure you wear something you can easily try clothes on over. Flip-flops or shoes you can easily take off and put on, leggings, and a close-fitting shirt are good options. Some stores have a limited amount of dressing rooms, and it saves time to be able to find a mirror and slip on things like outerwear or looser tops. Some things are worth double-checking in the fitting room when you can snag one, and certain things, like snugger pieces and tight pants, you just need to try on in private.
4. Take your time and go solo.
It can be a ton of fun to thrift with friends, but if you’re on a serious mission, going alone reduces your distractions. And in a way, you’re competing against the other shoppers in the store to find the best stuff. Obviously not everyone will share your tastes, but still.
And set aside a few hours, so you have time to try things on and make informed decisions. I’ve tried to squeeze in brief thrift trips before and it’s always been a stressful experience in which I rush to choose something and typically regret it after.
5. Be on the lookout for sales.
Most thrift stores have regular or occasional sales, so see if you can get on an email list or find their website. It’s best to go as early in the day as you can before the good stuff is gone, but do expect the place to be a bit crowded, because there are lots of other dedicated thrifters who will know about the sales as well.
May your thrift shopping be fun and fruitful!
Julia DiFiori is a twenty-year-old from Los Angeles. She studies Cinema Studies and Creative Writing at Oberlin College. In five years, expect to find Julia writing for a TV show or fashion magazine while also fronting an innovative indie rock band. Julia steps up for intersectional feminism and the importance of art in the human experience. Her favorite podcast is WTF with Marc Maron.