Thrift and consignment stores are becoming more and more popular as people begin to understand the importance of reuse and recycling....and the creativity of upcycling and repurposing!
But how do you know when you've found something worth buying? What should you look for, and what should you avoid? What are the joys and pitfalls of thrifting?
A recent trip to a local thrift chain scored me two dresses, a sweater (NWT), a blouse, two pairs of pants, a pair of Sketchers mary janes (also NWT), a sheer curtain panel, 10 yards of lace, and 3 bundles of fabric.....all for $30. I am not exaggerating.
So, here are some of my tips for Successful Thrifting.....
Step 1: Learn Your Territory
If you can, take a day or two and visit each of the thrift stores in your area. My metro area is fairly big, so I have a lot of options. I know which stores carry fewer clothes in my size, which have the best furniture/housewares/books/etc. And they all might be different stores. Also, certain thrift stores get more traffic than others, and get picked over pretty quickly. Don't be afraid to ask the store manager when they receive new shipments; many stores put out new items daily.
Step 2: To List, or Not to List?
This is probably not what you want to hear, but I always have the most success thrifting when I go shopping without a list. I might have a general idea of things I need, but the less specific you are, the more open you are to whatever is in front of you.
Step 3: Don't Be a Brand Slave
If you love your Lucky Brand, BCBG, Coach, whatever....that's great, but thrifting is probably not for you. You might have better luck finding bargains on designer items at an upscale consignment store. On very rare occasions have I found a steal on designer clothes and accessories, but it's the condition of the item that matters to me, not the label.
Step 4: For the Clothes Horse
*Anything with stains
*Anything with holes, tears, broken zippers that cannot be repaired
*Anything that would cost more to repair than it's worth
*Anything with really bad pilling or looks extremely worn out, especially at cuffs, underarms or points
*Classically-styled (think timeless chic) clothes
*Nice coats, even if a button is missing (those can be replaced)
*Suits, both men and women, especially if beautifully tailored
*Special occasion dresses, but again look for flaws like stains and missing beads, etc
*Clothes that need to be disposable (Mardi Gras, anyone?)
*Clothes that are in a trendy style but for which you don't want to pay regular retail prices
Step 5: For the Shoe Addict
Some people absolutely refuse to buy used shoes. I am not one of them. Some spray disinfectant and a sunny day and I'm good to go. I do have a few rules for shoes, though:
1- Condition is everything. Are the soles worn out, stitching coming apart, buckles missing, anything that would cause you to take them to the repair shop? 99% of the time, I wouldn't buy that pair.
2- What do I want the shoes for? To match a certain outfit, or simply because they're too cool to resist? Yes, I'm guilty of that- see the boots in the picture! Thrift store shoes are best when not worn daily, unless they're in perfect condition when purchased.
3- Same rules apply to handbags, purses, luggage and such.
Step 6: For the Interior Decorator
Let's start with curtains and tapestries. Check for stains, runs, rips etc. Check the manufacturer's tag (if intact) to make sure you can wash the material. If it is in good condition, and can be washed and dried, it might be a good deal!
Rugs....those are a bit different. I do not buy bath rugs at thrift stores because brand new ones are often just as inexpensive as used, and in better condition. If I find a nice wool rug that I'd like to put in my home, I spray it down with disinfectant and let it sit in the sun on my deck for a day or two.
For bedding, I generally eschew comforters, as they're not often in good shape. However, you can find steals on duvet covers and sheets; follow the guidelines for curtains above.
Furniture is really hit-or-miss, depending on the store. Look for solid wood or metal furniture that just needs a little sprucing up. Knobs and drawer handles are easy to replace, and a fresh coat of paint or polyurethane goes a long way. Many people look at thrift stores for couches; if you simply must bring home an upholstered piece, check the back and underside of the sofa for holes and tears, as that could be a sign of animal infestation.
Step 7: For the Craftster
Thrift stores are one of my favorite places to buy craft supplies. I use curtains and sheets for sewing projects, tins and boxes for decoupage. Picture frames are cheap and can be decorated in so many ways. One of these days I will get around to serging myself a sweater coat. Not only do I repurpose items, but often I find cuts of fabric and trim at really low prices.
Step 8: For the Bookworm
If you like old National Geographic magazines, I believe all thrift stores are required to have at least one huge stack. Most also have cookbooks, novels, religious texts, encyclopedia sets, the works. Do NOT go through the book stacks looking for a particular title. You'll get less frustrated, and maybe find something else that's interesting.
Step 9: For the Tchotchke Collector
Things I see a lot of at thrift stores: random ceramics, including souvenir cups and saucers (must think of something cool to do with those someday), single candleholders, pottery experiments, coffee mugs of every imaginable variety, odd flatware, obsolete electronics, handpainted wood items, tin boxes of all shapes and sizes. Look at what speaks to you. And don't forget to check out the glass cases for antiques and jewelry.
Step 10: Did Someone Say "SALE"?
Even thrift stores have sales. In my area, most stores offer a discount on certain items each day (for example, all red tags 50% off). That's wonderful, but what you're really looking for is Everything In The Store Is 50% Off. That's when I do my big thrift shopping. Some stores do that once a week, others once a month. Check websites, flyers, local papers for sale ads and coupons. Word of mouth is great too!
Now.....go out there and renew, reuse, and recycle! Happy treasure hunting!