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Thrifting 101: Life-Changing Tips For Beginners And Pros

I’m a huge fan of thrifting. Not only is it the best way to shop for the planet, but I also find it deeply calming, relaxing, and fun.

I’ve been thrifting hardcore for a year, and I’ve gone from reluctant to addict to reseller to mindful consumer. With so many beautiful treasures to be found, and wallet-friendly prices, it’s hard not to develop a mild addiction. Today, I’ve finally hit a sweet spot in my thrifting and have learned a lot along the way.

In this Thrifting 101 guide, you’ll find:

  • Which types of thrift stores exist, and how to find them
  • A secret spot to score the best thrifting deals
  • What to expect when you go thrifting for the first time
  • My 16 killer thrifting tips for pros and newbies alike
  • How to score designer items like Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, or Rag & Bone
  • My 5 pro tips for building a reselling business

I hope your enjoy this guide!

Where To Go Thrifting

First things first: What types of thrift stores are there? How do I find them? Google is your friend, but keep reading to know exactly what to look for.

Local Thrifting

Local thrift stores: Some thirft stores are small and local, meaning there’s only one of them. Unlike national chains (listed below), these stores might have less foot traffic and better prices. To find them, do a google map search of your local area or look for a thrifting map somebody else created.

Vintage shops: These stores are usually local, and contain hand-curated items that are vintage (typically from the 90s or older). These stores source their garments from mutiple places, including other thrift stores and national chains. Basically, they do the sorting and picking for you, so you can cut time. Since the “gems” are already curated, the prices are of course higher than other thrift stores.

Rummage sales: The best-kept thrifting secret. Churches sometimes hold a “rummage sale”, where church-goers bring second-hand goods to sell. The prices are typically lower than your average thrift store, but you’ll have to show up early and potentially stand in line for early access. To find rummage sales in your area, look on Craigslist, Kijiji, or google.

Big Thrift Store Chains

Below are national chain thrift stores available in North America. Some are for-profit businesses, while some are non-profit charities.

Salvation Army (USA, Canada): Non-profit associated with the Salvation Army church. Store front reads “thirft store” in white on blue. Locations are usually medium-sized, some small. Good selection of home decor and clothing. Books, toys, games, DVDs, music, and furniture are also found.

Savers (USA) or Value Village (Canada): For-profit where everything from clothes to home goods, furniture, and toys can be found. Their prices are typically above-average. Locations are typically big. The same company operates under Savers in the USA and Value Village (or Village des Valeurs) in Canada.

Talize (Canada): For-profit with a focus on clothing and fashion. Some locations are big and have a ton of clothing inventory, with small selections of home decor, books, toys, and other small sections.

Goodwill (USA, Canada): Non-profit that helps local communities and also has several thrift stores. They vary in size but are typically larger stores, similar to Savers. Prices are usually lower and they focus on clothing and home goods.

Mission (Canada): Non-profit that identifies itself as a “Christian organization”. Their thrift stores are similar to other national chains, but their prices are generally lower. Emphasis on furniture and home goods over clothing.

Online Thrifting

You can also thrift from home. Websites like thredUP or Poshmark make it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Their items are curated, so you won’t be paying local thrift store prices but it’s well worth it for the convenience.

For Beginners: What To Expect When You Enter The Thrift Store

I can’t overlook this: some thrift stores smell a bit musty. Personally it took me a while to get over the unpleasant smell, and maybe it’s something that stands between you and thrifting right now. In the smell bothers you, remember why you’re thrifting, and the positive environmental impact thrifting has. More selfishly, also think of the vintage gems, quality garments, and other sick finds that you’re about to uncover.

Layout-wise, thrift stores are typically divided by type of merchandise. Clothing and accessories, home goods, media, and toys are the big sections. Each of these sections is further divided. Clothing is categorized by sweaters, pants, jeans, lingerie, hats and scarves, shows, handbags, and so on. Media consists of books, vinyl, DVDs, board games and so on.

Many thrift stores are large and intimidating, so you’ll need to know exactly what you’re there for. Don’t make it a goal to look through everything from sweaters to jeans to books to dinnerware, because you’ll be there all day.

Remember, thrifting takes time because you have to look at every single item, one at a time. Especially then it comes to clothes.

So instead, plan ahead. Will you be looking at clothing today, and if so, which specific types of clothes? Will you be looking for books and home goods?

If you’re looking through clothes, you’ll most likely see:

  • Lots of budget fast fashion brands (H&M, Forever 21, American Eagle…)
  • A good amount of mid-range fast fashion brands (Banana Republic, Club Monaco, LOFT…)
  • A small handful of designer brands (Vince, Rag & Bone, Dolce & Gabbana — all of which I’ve found)
  • A small handful of dope vintage clothes (80s, 90s, or even older)
  • Some tacky vintage clothes that you probably don’t want to wear
  • A small handful of unworn clothes with original tags on
  • Clothes whose owner cut off the label before donating, so the brand remains a mystery (if you know why they do this, let me know — I assume it’s to prevent reselling)

My plan of attack when thrifting is as follows: I start with the home goods section (always, it’s my favorite section), bypass all media, quickly look at the furniture (if available), and end with any clothing sections I’m interested in that day.

Killer Thrifting Tips

Mood: If you want to get inspired and get into the thrifting spirit, watch a few thrifting videos. I love watching Tasha Leelyn (here’s a thrifting video focused on clothing) and Anna of There She Goes (here’s one of her latest thrifting videos).

Seasons: I have the most luck when I shop out of season. By this, I mean looking for coats in the summer, or for shorts and T-shirts in the winter. If you’re looking for coats in the winter, you’re competing with everyone else who’s looking for that perfect coat, and there’s way less selection.

Frequency: Go thrifting often. Thrift stores stock the shelves daily, and the good stuff goes quickly. You can’t go thrifting once in a blue moon and expect to score all the goodies. Increase your chances by going frequently.

Timing: Here’s my rule: I never go thrifting past 4pm, or on weekends. More often than not, all the good stuff is gone past that point, and weekends are too crowded. The earlier in the day, the better.

The Carts: Throughout the morning and early afternoon, employees bring big carts of new items to stock the shelves. It’s okay to look and grab what you want, as long as you’re not getting in the way. Look at it this way: Grabbing an item from the cart means they don’t have to stock it.

Overbuying: Don’t buy anything just because it’s inexpensive, as tempting as it might be. Only purchase items that you truly love. You won’t always find all the treasures. Some days, you’ll leave empty handed. That’s okay. When I first started thrifting, I’ve bought a ton of items on impulse and I ended up with an overflowing pile I now regret. Don’t make the same mistake and be picky from the get-go!

Colors: Some thrift stores, most notably Salvation Army, organize their clothes and home goods by color. It might not sound like much, but trust me: it makes shopping for clothes a million times easier, to the point where I avoid clothes-thrifting at places that don’t color-code, such as Savers. Take advantage of the color-coding when you see it, and skip any colors you dislike. Huge time-saver!

Try It On: Some will advise not to try on thrifted clothes before washing them. However, if you want the clothes to fit, you’ll need to try them on. Especially when it comes to vintage clothes, it’s hard to tell exactly how something will fit. Make sure they’re clean.

Sniff Test: Smell everything before you buy it. Everything. In my experience, most clothes at the thrift store actually smell of detergent, since people tend to clean them before they donate. However, if something smells like cigarette smoke or distinctly unpleasant, it might be a good idea to leave it behind. Baskets can also harbour smells that won’t go away.

Discounts: Some stores such as Goodwill and Mission have discounts (50% to sometimes 75% off) certain items based on the color of the tags. For example, 50% off all items with red tags. The items on sale are older items that nobody picked up, but you can find sweet deals with the discounts. Other stores (Salvation Army, Savers, Value Village) have discounts on select products. For example, 50% off all pants on Friday. Sign up for their emails to stay in touch, or ask staff.

Enjoy: I like to use thrifting as a way to relax and unwind. When I’m thrifting, I forget about the world and focus on the garments. It’s a calming and peaceful activity. Enjoy the experience. You can even listen to music while you browse. Don’t go if you’re in a rush.

Inspect: More than once, I’ve brought home a defective garment. I’ve learned my lesson now, and I carefully inspect each item for holes, stains, or any imperfections. Some holes can be sewn, but holes in sweaters, for example, can’t be fixed so easily. If you’re reselling the items, any damage is a no-no.

Watch Out: Don’t leave your cart unattended, or someone might help themselves to your finds. Also, some stores are strict with unattended carts and might take yours away as soon as you take your eyes off of it. I’ve had this happen to me at Mission and Salvation Army.

Decide Later: Unsure whether or not you want an item? Put it in your cart and decide later. I usually throw in anything I’m interested in, and go through my cart at the very end. Often, I end up putting a few items back on the shelf.

Try-On Rack: You know that rack near dressing rooms, where people leave clothes they tried on and didn’t fit? Give it a browse. Those are essentially curated clothes by other shoppers, so you might find some gold.

Ignore Size: Since many items are older or even vintage, the sizing on the tag is often unreliable. If you’re typically a medium, look for everything from small to large. If you’re typically a small, you might even look for larger sizes for an oversize fit. Judge the item based on what you see, not its size tag.

How To Score Designer Items

Luck plays a major role in finding designer clothes. But there are ways to maximize your chances.

First, it goes without saying: Visit the thrift shops closest to the boujee neighbourhoods. That’s where “the economically advantaged” will most likely discard of their clothes.

Second, thrift often. The more frequently you visit the thrift store, the more likely you are to be the first to see an item and snatch it. Designer items are most likely to be snatched fast.

Third tip: Look for the less obvious. Don’t just look for bags. Designer bags are too obvious, and they most likely get recognized by staff and moved behind the glass, where you can purchase them at a hefty price. Instead, look for the less obvious sections such as men’s and lingerie. For instance, I found a Burberry polo in mint condition in the men’s section, and a beautiful Diane Von Furstenberg camisole in the lingerie section.

Fourth tip: Know your high-end brands. Some “expensive” or high-end brands are lesser known, meaning that less people will recognize them and snag them. If the average person sees an authentic Chanel or Gucci item at the thrift store, you can be sure they’re grabbing it. But not as many people know about Balmain, Comme des Garcons, or even Stella McCartney.

Lastly, beware of fakes. Inspect the items for signs of high-quality craftsmanship. That plasticky-looking “Louis” handbag is not real. You’ll definitely find some fakes at the thrift store, so be sure not to bring them home.

Thrifting Tips For Resellers

The tips above also apply to resellers. In this section however, I’m going to share my best tips for thrifting and reselling as a side hustle or business.

First of all, niche down. Don’t just resell everything and anything. Find your niche and figure out your ideal customer. Are you selling boho home goods? Quirky vintage decor? Natural fibers? 90s clothing? 60s? Mid-century modern? Thrift stores are full of so many different items and styles, so find what you’re personally drawn to or passionate about.

In addition to this, build a brand, and not just a reselling business. Brands have a “vibe” and are recognizable. They stand out among the noise. To build a brand, define your brand values, visuals, and personality. Choose a name that’s brandable (think “Desert Babe” as opposed to “Bohemian Vintage Clothing” — not that it’s particularly good, but you get the idea).

Third tip: Use Instagram to grow your brand and customer base. Resellers typically stick to Etsy, Poshmark, or eBay. There’s a huge world of resellers on Instagram, in every possible niche. Clothing resellers typically do better than home goods, but there’s something for everyone. Create an account for your business, follow like-minded resellers, and start posting.

Fourth tip: If you’re a reseller, venture out of your home town or usual stores. Visit nearby cities and hit up as many thrift stores as possible as part of a day trip. I’ve found so many goodies this way. Since it’s your first time at those thrift stores, everything is new and fresh to you.

Fifth tip: If you’re a reseller, it’s crucial that you keep up with trends. Whether it’s colors, materials, patterns, or themes. What’s trendy is what’s selling, and it’s also what people will specifically look for. The thrift store is full of items that fit the themes or colors of current trends, and you’ll be ahead of the game if you know what to look for.

I created Cruelty-Free Kitty because animal testing has no place in the 21st century. My mission is to tackle ethical issues in the beauty industry one by one and find solutions for a better future.

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