Emerald Dress

How To Shop At Thrift Stores

The first time I remember shopping in a thrift store was when I was about fourteen years old.  As the oldest of seven, and the first grandchild, there were no hand-me-downs from older siblings or cousins.  That meant my clothes were usually “new” but rarely were they brand new.  With seven children, there’s not a lot of new clothes shopping done, at least there wasn’t in my family.  Ours was a blended family… my mom had me and my two sisters and my stepfather brought his son into the marriage, and then my parents had three more children together.

That first memory was in a warehouse-style building which was located, if I remember correctly, on Central Avenue near Southern in South Phoenix.  The ceilings were tall, the whole place smelled musty and the lighting was not very good.  The clothing wasn’t all that impressive either, but hey, it was something to wear. At least I had something to wear that didn’t have holes or tears or rips.  Nowadays you would be hard pressed to find a dimly lit, musty smelling thrift store.  Typically they look very much like a “normal” store, brightly lit, low ceilings, clean shiny floors, clothing hung on racks sorted by size and color, with the exception that everything is a fraction of what you would pay at a regular store.

Here are a few helpful tips when shopping at thrift stores for clothing:

  • Make a point to shop on the special sale days
  • Donate clothing of your own for a discount
  • Note if there are colored tags on special the day you are there
  • You will be most successful shopping out of season
  • Be prepared to look at every item on the rack
  • Be on the lookout for stains, missing buttons or rips/tears, make sure shoe heels are not worn
  • Know your brand names
  • Invent your own style

Emerald Dress

Shop On Sale Days

To save even more money, make a point to shop on the sale days.  Goodwill and Savers always have sale days.  They are often around major holidays and usually 50% off.  Goodwill has specials throughout the week and every other Saturday almost everything in the store is 50% off.  Savers has specials on color tags and 50% off around each major holiday.  Even your local mom and pop thrift stores will usually have special sales.  I have found some great finds for amazing prices at mom and pop thrift stores.  They tend to be overstocked so I have found you really need to keep your eyes peeled.

Donate Your Own Clothing for a Discount

Not every thrift store has this option, but I know if you donate at Savers they give you a coupon for a few dollars off on another item.  Before you go shopping take a look through your closet and see if there aren’t a few things you could donate.  Or maybe as you find things that don’t fit or you don’t really like, put them in a bag or box in your car.  Bring in several items to donate every time you shop and you will always get a few dollars off when you shop.

Be Aware of the Discount Color Tag

Almost any day you walk into a thrift store, if they have colored tags sales, they will have one of the colors on clearance.  I believe they must use a rotation of colors for items put out on the floor each week and if the item has been in the store say 8 weeks now that color is on clearance.  Let me just say the store isn’t overrun with the color tag that’s on sale that day/week.  However, I have bought several items that I would not have bought at the regularly marked price because it was 50% off.  You know, like I wouldn’t pay $2.99 for that shirt but how could I pass it up for $1.49?

Shop Out of Season

At Wal-Mart or Target you can always find what you are looking for right now.  In thrift stores, “new” stock arrives after the season is over.  People go through their closets and drawers at the end of summer and donate items they don’t want to keep so you will have a much larger selection of say, shorts and sleeveless tops in the winter than in the summer.  Now granted you will find these items, I’m just saying you will find a bigger and thus better selection off season. This is an especially important rule when you have young children.  Shop for shirts and shorts, swim trunks/suits in winter and long pants, sweatpants, sweaters, etc., during the summer.

Look at Every Item On the Rack

This is how I’ve found some of my favorite articles of clothing.  Find your size and go to the end of the rack.  Push the clothing to one side and quickly start flipping through one by one.  When you see something you like, take it off the rack and place it in your cart. Continue through the rack until you get to the end.  This is especially important if you are shopping on a sale day as there will be many others sorting through the racks just like you.

Examine Each Item Carefully

Now that you have several items that you think are adorable or handsome and want to consider buying, take a close look at the item.  Are there any stains?  Are all the buttons present?  If one button is missing, check to see if there is an extra button sewn into the inner seam.  Check for any tears or rips.  Is the material pilled?  Those are little balls of fabric.  One last thing, I like to make sure the item isn’t dry clean only.  Unless the item is incredibly lovely, super high quality, originally very expensive and priced very moderately I would most likely put it back if I found it were dry clean only.  More and more I’m noticing that when I do buy something brand new, within several washings (and I do not wash every single time I wear and I wash on gentle and allow items to line dry) the material is showing wear.  Sweaters begin to pill, buttons are almost falling off and need to be sewn back on, for example.  But by shopping at thrift stores I’m able to buy higher quality clothing which naturally lasts longer.

From one of my loyal readers, great tips, thank you!

Two tips: Make sure the item is really the size it says (a) on the rack (shoppers are careless about returning things to the right place), and (b) on the price tag.
Also, when shopping for shoes, always turn them over and look at the back of the heels for uneven wear…my mom taught me that; if uneven, don’t buy them! Another thing: if the tag says “as is,” there’s definitely something wrong with the item and you need to find out what it is before purchase.

Know Your Brand Names

It pays to know the big/expensive brand names, because yes, you will find these in thrift stores.  Especially if you shop in neighborhoods that are more affluent.  Now I am not very good at knowing name brands myself, because I’m really not that much into fashion.  However, I do know the brand names of shoes that are comfortable, so I keep an eye out for those.  Yes, I do buy used shoes.  My favorites are Naturalizer and Aerosoles and I have several pair of each that would normally have cost anywhere up to $100 each pair for $3-$5 pair.

Invent Your Own Style

If you are one to keep up with the latest trends, thrift store shopping is going to be a little bit of a challenge for you.  But you will still be able to find brand name classics that never go out of fashion which will save you money.  I have never been one to chase after the latest styles which makes it easier for me to do most of my shopping in thrift stores.  Most recently my “style” has been dark and ankle length pencil skirts which I pair up with either my black or brown boots, and of course I have an assortment of tops to match.  I have a few pieces of jewelry – my favorite is a beaded necklace which I found from the thrift store for $2.99 which has black and gold beads.  It just turns up the style of the outfit and makes it pop.

So tell me, are you a thrift store shopper?  Do you have any tips to share with us?



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6 thoughts on “How To Shop At Thrift Stores

  1. Hi! Shopping at thrift stores, especially Vincent DePaul, is one of my most favorite things to do! I love finding real treasures among the junk! I worked in a thrift store as a pricer for about 3 months, too, and it was one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever had; backbreaking and inhaling lint all day!

    Two tips: Make sure the item is really the size it says (a) on the rack (shopper are careless about returning things to the right place), and (b) on the price tag.
    Also, when shopping for shoes, always turn them over and look at the back of the heels for uneven wear…my mom taught me that; if uneven, don’t buy them! Another thing: if the tag says “as is,” there’s definitely something wrong with the item and you need to find out what it is before purchase.

    Happy hunting, everyone! (Love that green outfit, Mrs. A!)


    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @Deborah Collins, oh! Great tips! I’m going to add them into the post! I never considered what it would be like working at a thrift store, sounds like NO FUN AT ALL! I have even heard that some thrift stores don’t allow employees to buy anything from the store. That would defeat the purpose of working there, in my opinion. 🙂


    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @Deborah Collins, last month I was at Savers and looking at shoes and found a pair of stiletto high heels (whoo! never wore those in my life but was checking them out) and one of the heels was tweaked pretty bad so that is a great tip. Do you think if the heels are uneven that you could get it replaced by a guy who fixes shoes? Or do you think they can’t be fixed because of being worn that way? Also, on your tip about making sure the size is right, that is a good one also. I often find tiny clothing in the large section, I think someone hid the item because they want to come back and get it on 50% off sale day. Did you find that people did that when you worked at the thrift store?


    Deborah Collins Reply:

    @Mrs. Accountability, Did you get that on video…you teetering around in stiletto heels, LOL? If the shoes are worth bothering with, the heels could be replaced, I’m sure. We used to have a shoe repair shop here on “the avenue.” Don’t think it’s still there; mom & pop stores are becoming a thing of the past!

    It never occurred to me that shoppers might be hiding things for sale day; although, I should have done that one time while I was working at the thrift shop! We weren’t allowed to purchase anything after we punched out…only the next morning before punching in. On my last day working there, I asked if I could buy a winter jacket I liked and was told, “NO!”, not even my last day. I called my sister to hurry over and buy it for me but she was too late and someone else bought it while I waited! Later I realized I should’ve kicked it under the men’s coat rack until she got there (although after asking, I was probably being watched! It wasn’t the nicest management!). Ah, well…


    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @Deborah Collins, wow, they were strict at that thrift store you worked at. You probably wouldn’t have felt right kicking the coat under the rack. 🙂 Oh, and I actually didn’t try on the stiletto heels! I was just looking at those. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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