Hot Pink, High Heels, & Explosions

So I know it’s been a while — but if you follow me on instagram (and shouldn’t you follow me on instagram?) you’ll know that there is a #noshopsummer craze going on.  I decided to try it out for the month of June, and did fairly well with it.  I only bought some items I needed for work.  I had lost a bit of weight last summer in wedding prep mode, and now that I put it back on I had a closet full of items that I could probably only barely get into last summer but certainly couldn’t wear this year.

However this week, after a lovely trip to the gym — I decided to look around on of our local thrift shop’s, and well …I broke #noshopsummer in a HUGE way!  However, as I was filling my cart with finds I had a little remorse but more of a revelation of how cost-effective thrifting can be.  However, I know many women do not thrift shop for many reasons.  They may be worried about not finding their size, not feeling confident about their purchases, wanting to be up to date on trends, or just not having the time to do it.  But thrift shopping is more than finding gems like these two:

Real Thrift Store Finds (Seriously, I love dogs as much as anyone else…but no.  Please no.  Not even if you are over 65.  And the MJ inspired dressy blouse, I so almost bought it….really I did. *sings Smooth Criminal*)

It can be a legitimate way to update and add to your wardrobe, but in a financially responsible way.  Whether you are a size 26, 12, or 6 — no matter if you are trendy, hipster, or classic.   You can successfully thrift shop!   So I thought I would throw up a few tips I’ve learned through my thrifting journey that might help a new thrifter out.  You should note that my rules really apply to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army styled thrift store — not a higher end one (specialty thrift stores can have higher price points and more limited sizing, so can local consignment shops).  So I am going on the idea that I will walk into a store that is not sized, is perhaps only organized by type of garment and color, and nearly every clothing item is under $5 a piece.  So …

Yep, prepare for battle!  This is all about using strategy to get the best deals you can AND to have the most options at your fingertips.  Most of us do not go shopping daily or even weekly — so you want to try to give yourself the best advantage when you do have time to thrift.

Plus thrifting is a hunt, it’s a battle, so you need to go in more prepared than a normal trip to the mall.  When I go to the mall I know that there will probably be my size; if they are out of my size it may be able to be ordered; and that all the items are new, clean, and in season.  When I thrift I know I will pass by tons of things that are too large or too small, that I will have to take the time to examine the quality of the items (e.g. looking for rips, tears, holes, stains, so on), and that where as I can always walk in and buy a pair of size 10 curvy Macy’s INC jeans — I may wear multiple thrifted sizes.  Here are five things that I’ve learned that aren’t always obvious — but that I’ve found to be true over the years:

thrift shop stratgies

(1) Go on a random week day if you can.

If you are lucky enough to work odd shifts like I did when I was a Magistrate, or now that I have job flexibility going to the Goodwill on a random Tuesday at 1pm is a fantastic blessing.  Not only do I normally have the run of the store, but they have replenished from the weekend in two ways.  First, they have tried to fill holes and gaps in the store from the weekend warriors.  Second, they have replenished the store with new donations from the weekend yard sale/house cleaning warriors.  This means there is more stock for you.  Also if you are lucky enough to have a thrift near you that gets bundled and sold items from commercial retail stores (e.g. Target) you can ask the employees what day they get those items and when they restock the floor.   A local Goodwill used to get Target items, and I knew what day to show up there to scoop up some deals.  Now if you MUST shop on the weekend due to your work schedule, I get that.  Try going on Friday after work, or on Sunday if you have differing church times.  You really want to try to go when there isn’t a lot of competition for good finds.

(2) The stores in the wealthy part of town may not have the best deals.

Here in my area there is a Goodwill in a well-to-do area.  I rarely find awesome things there.  I stick to about four stores that are in locations most people wouldn’t think have quality items.  You should know that I thrift things like this:

Thrifting with Tags

Yep — that is a Talbot’s skirt with the tags on it.  Retail price: $109.  My price: $3.75.  This item did not come from that wealthy neighborhood store, but from another one.   My point is that folks always assume that the store in the good neighborhood will be the one with the great items.  However, since EVERYONE thinks that, the store gets picked over.  Going to a store in a more working class neighborhood, or in a more rural location may yield all the Talbot’s, Banana, J. Crew, and Ann Taylor your heart desires.  Sure are there still Faded Glory and Old Navy items in all stores — yep.  But this is all about strategy.  Speaking of…

(3) Know Your Brands

Yep, know your brands.  Know what brands are more high-end — know what came from Wal-mart.  Why?  Well we’re thriving for lots of reasons, right?  We may thrift to save funds, we may thrift to legitimize our buying, we may thrift because we need a new work outfit and only have $15 to spend to get it. My main reason to thrift is that I like clothes, I like fashion, but I’m student-poor.  So as much as I would have loved to walk into the Talbots and plunk down $109 on one wool skirt — I just can’t do it.  So what if I told you that for roughly $140 I got THIRTY-SEVEN items.  Skirts, cardigans, blazers — but not just ONE skirt, or one blazer.  THIRTY-SEVEN.  Yep, that was my last purchase.  And sure it had one Cherokee (K-Mart) and one Old Navy skirt in there (for my mom actually) but it was mainly Talbot’s, Ann Taylor, LOFT, J.Crew, Express …well you get the point.  One Express cardigan was the 100% cashmere kind.  My price point: $3.75.  So knowing which brands are high-end make me not only feel better about my purchase, but also help me to be able to figure out what is the BEST use of my $3.75.  Is it the skirt that normally retailed at $15 or the one that cost $70?  Also which skirt may last me through more than one season?  Can the Wal-Mart skirt hold muster for several winters, or will that one classic Talbots skirt keep its value and hold up longer?  So knowing your brands is not only to pass over some of the less expensive items (if you’re going to spend money, lets spend it well shall we?) but it too is part of the strategy.  I want to leave with good quality pieces, that fit my style and my budget — and I know that through brand hunting.

(4) Touch it.  NO really.  Touch it.

Want to find those good quality brands.  TOUCH the garments.  I’ll admit, when I first started thrifting I had a few moments of OCD panic.  Goodwill stores around here have a very specific smell, it’s not a bad smell but a thrift shop smell.  A mix of sanitized cloth, old garments, so on.  I was concerned about the cleanliness of the items.  I mean you have no idea who had them before you.  I’ll admit — I still can’t do shoes at thrift stores unless they have tags on them and look unworn.  I’ll donate mine, but I just can’t do clearly worn shoes.  Feet creep me out.  So it’s okay to take it slow.  However, you do need to be ready to touch everything.  A good quality fabric will FEEL that way before you even look at the tags and sizes.   I usually pick a section, and then a color to begin in.  So lets say I’m in blue skirts — so I’m going to use my senses to figure out what to even stop at.   I look at the size of the garment and the condition its in, then I feel for thick and rich fabrics over synthetics.  Usually a good fabric feel will yield a higher-end brand.  My mom calls me the name-brand whisper because I can just put my hands on a high-end brand.  It’s really just because I’m being observant to save time.

2014-07-03 09.53.13 So here are some of the skirts I bought.  Many I found just out of sight and touch.  The light patterned one closest to the right is a Talbot skirt. Looked expensive enough to explore. The far left, Talbots.  Again, it looked expensive and then felt expensive (that is the one from above that still has tags on it).  The third from the left (khaki)? Talbots again, and it just looked expensive enough for me to pull off the rack.  Far right (its dark so it blends in) is a Lauren by Ralph Lauren dark denim skirt.  It felt heavier than all the other denim.  The least expensive skirts (retail) are the paisley one (fourth form the left) that is a K-Mart brand (but super cute) and the red one which was part of a set and is unbranded.  Sight and touch can fill in when you don’t know brands or need to shop quickly.

(5) Shop Off Season

Need a woolen skirt — shop in 90 degree weather.  Want shorts, go in rocking a parka.  Folks clean out their closets in the off-season.  You clean out Winter in the Spring, you clean out Summer in the Fall.  So again to get the best opportunity to find the BEST garments you need to be willing to look a little silly.  I totally was trying on a clearly winter skirt this week when it was 90 degrees.  But the racks were full of fall and winter items, a bit lower on spring and summer.  Folks who don’t go into battle shop JUST for what they can wear right now.  However, if you know that thrifting is a battlefield — you go in looking for things you can wear right now (e.g that super floaty Talbots skirt) and things you can’t wear now (e.g. that $109 wool Talbots skirt).  Look for coats in the summer too — I’ve found some great dressy coats during that time-frame.   If you set aside some of your budget for this, you’ll thank yourself the next season when you can slide on a nice new winter coat that cost you say $7 over trying to hunt one down in the mall for $100.

I have a few more tips, but I hope this helps out a bit when you’re overwhelmed at the thought of going thirifting.  Just make a plan, remember the tips above, set aside an hour or two and just go to war with your cart!   Have fun, and let me know how your trips are going!


— Ash


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