Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Strategy: Thrifting

I've laid the groundwork of principles for what I feel is absolutely necessary before you venture into the uncharted territory of thrifting. Knowing the principles and sticking to them will only get you to the door of the thrift store. The magic that happens when you open it-- that all depends on your strategy. Yes, my fellow frugalites, there are specific tactics that will help you fulfill your intentions as you sift your way into second-hand success.

Spec out the sales.

The arguably most misconceived aspect of thrifting is that everything is dirt cheap. I would say that this reigned true about ten years ago-- today's world of thrifting is a money-making business (in many cases). The majority of thrift stores have sales and this is where you will find your "gems." Yes, real sales that are often better than ones you will find in department stores. Sales are normally posted on a board in the front of the store; look closely because they're sometimes hard to find. The majority of thrift stores tag their items by colors and their sales are based on this coding system. Franchised stores like Goodwill often select departments and give percentage discounts for items in those specific departments; i.e. 25% off all accessories or 10% off all women's blazers. I try to only shop the sales when I thrift in order to control my spending. I you don't see a sale board, definitely ask an employee because I have yet to encounter a store that doesn't have sales. 

Here's an example of one of my local thrift store's sale boards. You can see that they do % off of specific items as well as tag color discounts. Note the $0.75 bin clothing- a thrifter's heaven!

Get your hands dirty.

If you want to be considered a true thrifter, you must propel yourself whole-heartedly into the realm of bin-digging. This is an intimidating part of thrifting but it is so incredibly rewarding when you those steals that make your toes curl! Most thrift stores have large tables, tubs or bins in which they pile clothes that they do not have time or space to hang. A common misconception is that the bin items are things which are not "good enough" to make onto a hanger- very untrue. The best part about the bins is that most items are never over $1.00. Some of my best thrift gems (blazers, pencil skirts, jeans and a number of designer blouses) have been found digging in the depths of the mysterious and sometimes frightening bins. I will admit, I thrifted for years before I ever came close to a bin because, like most people, I thought the bins were a.) disgusting, b.) for the stained/ripped clothes, and c.) infested with who knows what types of pests. There are a few guidelines which I would suggest when approaching the bins. First, if a bin clearly has any type of bed linens in it, stay far away. Most stores are really good about separating linens and clothes but the mix can happen; this combination wreaks of lice to me (could just be in my mind- it never hurts to take precautions!). Second, if there are multiple bins, transfer clothes from one to the other as you sort through. I saw a woman doing this a few weekends ago and struck up a conversation with her; she said she finds double the items most of the time when she uses this strategy. I like! I haven't tried this out yet but it definitely sounds like a good idea but note. Third, make sure you dress in layers if you plan to dig. This can be a strenuous task and you will work up a serious sweat if you really get into it! Last, circling back to the original virtues, do not buy anything unless you absolutely love it. It is really tempting to buy bin items that you only like (not love) because they are so insanely cheap. All the same rules apply to the bins as the rest of the store. Practice your self control with bin digging because, trust me, you will need it!

Examine everything.

While I am in the same vein of bin digging, one downside to thrifting is that many store mark the tags of their clothing with permanent marker in order to signify what department they come from or what price they are. This is almost always the case with clothes that come from the bins; if a tag is black, you better believe that employees of the store will mark the actual fabric next to the tag with a dot or line in permanent marker that does not wash out. Be sure to inspect your items for such stains. Also, when buying any sort of pants, check the seat and seams for wear. If you don't sew or know a cheap seamstress, don't buy anything with a hole or that needs altering. Check the inner-thigh area of the pants for "pilling" (little balls of fabric that are commonly found on sweaters under the armits). If a fabric is already pilled, chances are you won't get much more wear out of it before it starts to tear. Another recent revelation of mine is to review the care tags; I just took a few things to the dry cleaners that I got from the thrift store; my jaw dropped when I saw the price of this service. I would recommend steering clear of anything that requires dry cleaning unless it is a "to-die-for" deal; in those special cases, you just have to buy it! I usually re-examine all my items while I am in line or at the counter because most often you can see them in a different light. Checkout counters are usually located near the windows in the front of the store and that little bit of natural light can illuminate something you didn't see when you did your initial look over. The better you examine, the more value you will get from your purchases, the more value you get, the more money you will have to spend on other things like vacations, spa days or more thrifting! 

Try it on.  

This is the one rule I have learned the hard way. You must, I repeat, you must try everything on. I loathe trying clothes on anywhere before I buy them; it slows me down and puts a halt on the adrenaline rush I get from shopping. A few weeks ago, I bought three pairs of dress slacks, all size 6 because I "knew" I was that size in the specific brands I bought. I got all of them home and not one pair fit; they were all too big. Luckily, Goodwill accepts returns and I was able to get store credit but we all know that is always a hassle so do yourself a favor and just try it on while you are there! With thrifted items, you can never be sure that they will fit the same way they when they were bought brand new. For instance, if you know you are a size 4 at Banana Republic, don't think that just because the skirt you picked up is Banana, you don't need to try it on. Since you are dealing with second-hand clothes, sometimes they do fit differently even when you know your size. If you are grossed out by trying things on in the thrift store, wear leggings under your clothes so that you don't have to directly touch the fabric. Chances are if you are this picky, you probably won't shop in the thrift store anyway, but just in case- this is a tip for my fellow germaphobs. Trying things on will not only help you decipher whether you like or LOVE something but it also gives you another chance to examine your items. The fitting rooms in thrift stores are by no means any sort of glamorous but they serve the purpose they need to and if you are really lucky, you might even find a mirror in them (sometimes hard to come by in the thrift world).

Best of luck to any readers who dare to thrift! And stay tuned for a guide on how to do the initial wash of your thrift items and a revue of the ways I style my thrift finds! 

As always, thanks for reading!


  1. awesome post Karen. me and tabs have gotten into the thrift game and we are having so much fun. we have to find a better thrift store though, ours does not have any bins :(

    1. TJ! You guys need to go to Vintage Values in Lexington Park or Leonardtown. They both have bins and lots of Kylie size clothes!