Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Principles of Thrifting

The element I find most incredible about thrifting is the mind-blowing array of things that I come across. Not that I would buy everything I see, but being able to sift through decades of fashion is fascinating to me. Scavenging through the fads of the past makes me nostalgic for eras that came far before my time. My rummaging leaves me feeling enriched with the culture and beauty of the past; something I recommend that all should experience.

With all that said, there are certainly some guidelines to follow when immersing yourself in thrifting. Because of the vast assortment of things you will find, I've developed the following list of principles that I feel are crucial to finding both enjoyment and success in the hunt.

Keep an open mind.

Thrifting is not for everyone. If you aren't willing to open your mind, get your hands dirty and venture through uncharted territory, you will not find any pleasure in the sport (yes, I am considering thrifting a sport!). Unfortunately, our consumerist society has cast a negative light on thrifting for the lack of glitz and glamour that surrounds the hunt for what I consider true "gems." Misconceived as being a mecca for old people's clothes, a place for "poor" people to shop, and a breeding ground for insects and germs, thrift stores suffer a bad reputation amongst the majority of people in our nation. It is my goal through the series of these posts to shatter any idea that you may have about the nature of thrifting. I won't reach everyone but I hope that I can encourage at least one thrift-virgin to give it a whirl! Thrifting attracts all sorts of people; you will most definitely encounter a huge diversity in these stores and that can make some people uncomfortable. Young, old, poor, rich, clean, dirty, sane, crazy; you will see it all. Personally, this is just another facet of thrifting that attracts me; it is not just that I never know what I will find, but it is also that I never know who I will see! Sometimes thrift stores are located in "shady" parts of towns; if that scares you then you probably won't find enjoyment in this type of adventure. Refrain from making judgements about the merchandise in the store by assessing the neighborhood it is in, the condition of the building, or who is hanging outside of it. I find some of my best stuff in the roughest looking stores. I challenge you to try this out; walk into a thrift store without judging and you will hopefully find yourself in a culturally enriching experience (keyword: hopefully!).

Set an intention.


Any of my fellow yogis will recognize the "set an intention" part of this; most people set an intention for their practice before the start of each yoga session, helping them focus their energy toward a goal. Before you go out on a thrift adventure, set an intention for what you want to do with your trip. Do you want to hunt for true vintage pieces? Maybe you want to go in with the intention of finding things you can 'refashion' or items you could use to create unique, one-of-a-kind gifts. Are you are looking for things you can 'flip' and make a few bucks? Trying to build your professional wardrobe on a budget? Or are you just looking to have a few laughs with a friend while you try on the most ridiculous things you can find? It doesn't matter what your intentions are, just make sure you have them in mind before stepping foot in the store. This will prevent you from a.) buying things you don't need (another virtue of thrifting!), b.) feeling overwhelmed, c.) getting distracted (this will still happen regardless of your intention but hopefully a little less often). 

Educate yourself.

If you are thrifting for a specific type of item, be it clothes, housewares, furniture, etc., make sure you educate yourself to the fullest extent you can. You have to really know what you are buying. I thrift almost exclusively for clothes, shoes and accessories; it is crucial that I know the brands I am buying. Why? Because, believe it or not, a lot thrift stores are in business to make a profit. It is a common misconception that thrift stores are all operated for charity and therefore, their prices are really cheap. This is far removed from the truth. In the past few years, independently owned thrift shops have popped up everywhere and their prices can be really stiff but at the same time, they also tend to be much more open to customers 'talking them down' from their prices. I've been thrifting for years but it hasn't been until recently that I've started to research brands and prices. I've built my knowledge of designers through the websites of high end department stores and of course the coveted website of most women today... Pinterest! I spend time looking at the styles that are currently in fashion, which brands are most popular and then I research pricing. I also use the website Polyvore to scroll through styles and look at what is trending in fashion. I am inching my way into 'flipping' for profit but I know that I have to do a lot more research before I can count on this intention to pan out. If you want to get into flipping, I also recommend turning to to review what your brands are selling for; this can be a great way to gauge how to price your flips if you plan to sell through sites or stores other than ebay. Even if you don't intend to flip your items, one of your goals in thrifting will most likely be to get the best value you can for an item. If you walk into a thrift store with a solid idea of what things cost, you will be much more apt to find the best bargains. 

Only buy what you know you will use.

This is a principle I struggled with for a really long time. I think I am cured of my 'buy it because it is only a dollar' disease but it took time and diligence. For a bargain hunter, self-control can be shattered when standing in a store where nothing cost more than $5.00 - $10.00. I will write about specific strategy in an upcoming post where you will be exposed to the 'bins' and the temptation that surrounds them (you'll find out what is so enticing!). This used to be my downfall but I now can hunt with a closer eye and only pull out things that I will absolutely wear. If you experience even the faintest second thought on a item, do not buy it. You probably won't wear it and if you do, it won't be more than once. I have learned this one the hard way; it will end up right where you found it and you will be the few dollars that you spent on it. I try to keep a running list of things I am looking for and this has seemed to help me focus on buying only what I know I will wear. It doesn't mean I am confined by my list but if I start to pick up too many items, I do a quick mental breeze through of my list and refocus my intention. I would argue that this is probably the most difficult part of thrifting. It is perfectly fine to leave a store empty handed even though that sometimes feels like defeat! Self-control is a must or you can and will quickly spiral into a lifestyle of hoarding- ain't nobody got time for that! 

Do your research.

So what is the difference between 'educate yourself' and 'do your research'? This principle is all about researching the actual stores you will find yourself in, not just knowing what you are looking for. Before you get out in the trenches, make sure you know the strengths and weaknesses of the stores you will visit. A great resource for finding out information about a store is the website If I am thrifting somewhere new, I always turn here first. Not only do you get to read first hand accounts of fellow thrifters but the site also lists the hours and addresses; it is a one-stop-shop for all you need to know! I have been attempting to broaden my thrifting horizons lately and have been shopping in areas other than my hometown; yelp has been a huge help in determining where the best places are and which ones offer the best deals. With franchised stores like Goodwill, you know that wherever you go the prices will be relatively the same; trips to these stores will require less research. With independently owned stores, you will have to take the time to develop an idea about whether a store is worth your time. I recently went to a Goodwill in Alexandria, VA and wanted to see if there were any stores around so I used my yelp app to do some research. I found a huge, independently owned store just 4 miles from Goodwill and the place was a gold mine! It is called Thrift Store Center; a must on your "to thrift" list! Without research, I probably would have never crossed paths with such a great store. 

Be polite and give back.

Taking a monthly load of donations to a thrift store will bring you good karma in your shopping, or so I  like to believe! I try to take a load at least once a month, even if it is only a grocery bag full of stuff. This keeps my wardrobe constantly changing and it also supports the stores which supply my needs. It is a nice gesture to take donations as often as you can in order to keep your stores in business. Even now that I am starting to flip items, I still make a pile of things to donate. When donating, keep in mind the types of things you would want to find. It always makes me sad when I see people donating clothes with huge holes, stains and odors. If you wouldn't be caught dead it in, don't donate it. Also, treat the employees and fellow shoppers extremely well. If you are a frequent shopper in a store, it never hurts to befriend the employees; they'll be more apt to tell you about the new load they just got in or the sale of the day. Also, if I am digging in a bin, I sometimes try striking up a conversation with a fellow picker- you can help each other by sifting through sizes and styles. Treat others the way you would want to be treated; it will make your thrifting experiences even more interesting. 

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