Off The Cuff: Can You Help Me Get Excited About Thrift Shopping?

Thrifting: Not always gross!

Thrifting: Not always gross!

Dear Winona,

Due to some unforeseen financial circumstances, my clothing budget for fall has been slashed from a few hundred dollars to...not much. For the first time in my life, I’m in a position where I basically NEED to shop at thrift stores, and I’m not thrilled about it. To be honest, digging through stuff that used to be other people’s stuff kind of grosses me out. Any pointers for someone who’s new to thrifting and not jazzed about it?


Secondhand Scaredy Cat

Welcome to the Proud Coven of Secondhand Shoppers, my dear! I’m sorry your entry into our well-dressed, eco-friendly, budget-abiding coven wasn’t a happy or voluntary one, but now that you’re here, let me assure you that thrifting is not scary or gross, and in fact can be super-fun. Getting acclimated to thrifting requires a paradigm shift about your definition of shopping, what it looks like, and how much time it takes.

Depending on your thrifting attitude, this can indeed be a tough transition. There won’t be endless racks of pre-assembled outfits merchandised beautifully and available in every size. Will you need to dig? Yes. Will you come up empty-handed sometimes? Yes. Will you discover some amazing new-to-you clothes that you will love dearly? Absolutely. Will your thrifting scores be accompanied by a newfound sense of pride, because you know how hard you worked to find them? Most definitely.

Here are some of my go-to tips for people who are new to thrifting and not exactly raring to dive into the racks at Goodwill:

Shop around. The quality of thrift store merchandise varies dramatically day to day, store to store, neighborhood to neighborhood, season to season. Thrift shopping requires some extra work to scout out the best stores with the best stuff, but if you’re thoughtful and methodical about it, that hard work will pay off. My favorite shortcut to finding the best stores in your area? Ask a friend who’s into thrifting. Chances are she can give you an instant detailed rundown (“the downtown Salvation Army has awesome work clothes and 50% off on Tuesdays, the best Goodwill for dresses is out in the suburbs, but the one on the east side has great jackets and accessories” etc, etc, etc). Ask to go shopping with her if possible. Become the Luke to her Yoda. But whatever you do, don’t go to one crappy thrift store and think it represents all thrift stores.

Have a mission and prioritize. When thrift shopping, it’s good to have some general goals in mind but remain open to unexpected finds along the way. In your case, I’d advise you to take a look at your wardrobe and figure out what you really NEED for fall. Maybe a nice chunky sweater, a pair of jeans, boots, and a mid-weight jacket. Let that list be your guide when you walk in the thrift store. Go straight to each of those sections first. Once you’ve checked for your priority items, then you can do a quick general browsing to see if anything else catches your eye.

Be strategic about timing. I have a few hardcore thrifting friends who have figured out what days and times their favorite stores put out new stuff and plan their visits accordingly, but for me, being strategic about timing means shopping at off hours so I can take my time and avoid crowds. Go shopping about an hour before closing on a weeknight, or right when the stores open on the weekends for a more chill, less stressful thrifting experience.

Try consignment stores. Consignment stores are considerably more expensive than thrift stores, but if the “digging around” part of thrifting is your least favorite part of the whole venture, the tradeoff can be worth it. Consignment stores are much more well edited (not to mention cleaner and better organized) than thrift shops. Keep an eye out for sales at your local consignment shops, which can bring prices down almost as low as thrift store prices.

Respect your limits. Even when you get used to thrift shopping, there still might be certain items you’d rather buy new, which is totally fine and understandable. For some reason, I don’t mind thrifting for shoes, but thrifted purses totally skeeve me out (why? I have no idea). Don’t force yourself to thrift for secondhand items that you really, really don’t want to buy secondhand. Know your limits when it comes to energy and mood, too. If you get exhausted and grumpy after 30 minutes of digging through the racks, then give yourself 30 minutes to do a good scouring and be done. Thrifting can be a really fun way to shop, but you have to figure out what will make it fun for YOU personally.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this thrifting talk has reminded me that I am in dire need of a faux fur vest, and my local Goodwill just opened. See you there?

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