Thrifting Tips 101

Thrift Stores. I buy about 80 % of my family’s clothing from thrift stores.  Take into account I am including undergarments and shoes(I always buy these new) that’s almost everything.  I’ve been shopping in thrift stores for years, growing up in New York there was a Salvation Army thrift store right across the street from my apartment. As a teenager I bought quite a lot there, but always went early in the morning, in partial disguise.  I figured out early on, I could buy fabulous unique clothes for a fraction of the retail price.  More often than not the quality was better than if I bought new. I almost never heard, “I have that shirt/skirt.!” By expanding your options(different eras, lines from stores you may not have access to, etc) your style is expanded. This is where my love of vintage style began.  The styles, the fit, the quality of fabric and workmanship was almost always superior to anything modern.  I’m a true New York bargain lover to start with, and with 25 years plus thrifting, I’ve become what all that know me call a “deal queen”. And while I’m aware ebay and etsy have tons of great vintage clothing, I don’t buy many vintage clothes online.  Fit and finance are two biggest problems I have.  Anything really great is out of my budget, if I can afford it, I can usually find something similar and not pay shipping, and be able actually feel it and try it on. I am 4’11” and have a wide chest area. I’ve had three children, and while I’m lucky I actually still have a waist, I have a little bit of a pooch.  I just prefer to try things on. Now that I’m thinking about it if  more online options had a return policy, I’d do a lot better. Note to sellers.

So here’s a few things I’ve learned. You may already know or practice some or all but hey if it helps one person. These would apply to yard sales, church sales etc. Anywhere that sells used clothing and goods.


1. Go often. This is number one. Inventory comes in and is put out daily.   Also if you are lucky enough to have several in your area, go to all of them.

2. Learn your shops.Learn the layout out of the store. This makes going often easier.You can zip around the store. Most of us don’t have as much time as we’d like to spend exploring. Knowing where and how your shop displays items will help. Some separate by size, some by  color, some have “better” racks etc.  Find out what specials they have on what days. My local shop has 50% off  all merchandise on Mondays, on Tuesdays all clothing with certain color tags indicating they’ve been there over a week are 99 cents, and so on.  This is not to say you should only shop on deal days. I know for a fact that a certain large chain of used goods shops “pulls” some of the better items off the floor, so that they won’t be sold for half the ticketed price.  Not all shops do this, but going on a day with no specials, will be less crowded, picked over, and have more inventory.  Remember number one, go often.

3. Be educated. Even though the majority of my family’s clothing purchases are second-hand, I’ve made it a point to learn as much about retail lines  as possible. Knowing names, and which lines are made for certain stores will help in making your purchases. Learn to spot quality fabric and workmanship.   You will learn which designers cuts you do best with, will stand up to wear etc. You will also learn not to pay too much for lower end lines that are inexpensive sold new. You will be able to tell if an item is actually from the 1940’s or is 1980’s does 1940’s.  Syms’s clothing stores had a commercial on while I was growing up. The owner said “An educated consumer is our best customer”.  The more you know, the better you’ll buy.

4. Don’t go shopping with anything in mind. Trust me if you look in your closet and think, “I need some pretty blouses for work” and then set out in search of them, you more than likely won’t find a thing.  But there might be perfect for you suit on the other side of the store,or a ton  of quality  of clothes in your daughters size just donated.  Along these same lines, the best finds are usually off season, just like retail.  In the middle of July, summer clothes are at a premium, you might just find a gorgeous cashmere cardigan, or a great pair of vintage wool trousers.Also be open. Some of my most flattering clothes are items that didn’t exactly reach out and grab me.

5. Buy ahead provided you have storage space. Your daughter may wear a size 2t now, but she will eventually be a size 5. That vintage wool princess coat will eventually fit her. If you wait until she’s a size 5 to find a coat, the inventory then may not have anything you like. You may have a perfectly fine pair of white keds now, but they will wear out. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a new pair sitting in the closet waiting it’s turn?

6. Be picky.Inspect clothes carefully, you don’t want to have to pay to mend clothes or worse get home and find a bleach stain or worse.  Just because it’s only a dollar, doesn’t mean it’s a good buy. Even if an item has no flaws, be selective. Does it fit perfect?If not, is it worth the price of either your time or professional alterations? Is it comfortable? Will you wear it often?  Do you really need another pair of black trousers? How often are you going to wear a sheer blouse? Does it work with what you already own? How will you put together great looks if your closet is stuffed.

7. If possible, get to know shop employees. They may be willing hold items for you or at least call you when a donation of your interest comes in. A girl at my shop, will hold all dresses, she thinks are vintage and my size for one day. In return, I bring her son goodies from my job that I get at cost. There may be something they saw in the back, hasn’t been put out yet, you might like.This is especially true of consignment shops. Yes the prices are a bit higher but you the inventory has been presorted of junk. Besides notifying you of merchandise, maybe you could workout a donation/discount deal.  I go to a shop, donate all my son’s quality outgrown clothing, I get a discount fthe owner deems fair.

8. Here’s what I’ve found shopping yard/tag sales.  The wealthier the neighborhood the more they expect you to pay for goods. Obviously this is not always true but I find it to be true most of the time.  The attitude is like I payed 60 dollar for that coat, your getting a deal if I sell it to you for $15.  Or that comforter came from Bloomingdales you should be happy to get it for $40.  What then happens a lot, nobody buys much, they just donate it and it ends up in the thrift store. 🙂  If you really have to have an item try a little haggling first. Remind them they wanted to get rid of all this stuff. Not have to haul it all away, and have another sale or donate it and get nothing but a tax receipt.

Now in the more modest neighborhoods, people are much more likely to let things go rock bottom. The only exception is brand new items.

In all instances be nice, and ask the sellers if you’re looking for something in particular. Especially at estate sales. They may have know idea you’d love all those old full slips they were going to donate. Or that fur trimmed coat from the 50’s.

9. Never be too quick to judge a shop or sale. You may see what looks like a bunch of junk but way back in the corner there’s a lone vintage wicker purse for 50 cents. Do a quick but thorough  walk through everywhere. One of my best buys was at a resale shop here in Atlanta that caters to teens. There are several around. I went in with my daugher, and found a brand new Chloe bag for $10! I can only imagine some wonderful grandmother bought this as a gift for her grandaughter who then decided it was too old lady for her. Score for me!

10. Tag team.  Have friends and family who know you pick up things for you and you do the same.  It may not be right for you, but it’s perfect for your sister. Buy it and she’ll do the same for you.

Hope these help and happy, bountiful thrifting wishes to all! With a little effort you’ll get the joy of  responding to compliments on your attire with a  “I got it for $2”.


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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Pat here, from Filene’s Basement and SYMS — loved your post–great advice, especially the reference to Sy Syms slogan “An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer”–Sadly, Sy died late last year, but his daughter, Marcy, runs the company now and I forwarded your post to her. She’ll get a kick out of it.

    • Hi Pat, thanks for reading and commenting. OMG I miss Filene’s so much. When I lived in NY I shopped at the Central Ave store ALL the time. I haven’t seen on in Atlanta. Am I just missing it? Happily, there is a Syms quite close to my home actually, My husband who buys much more new shops there all the time,I shop there occasionally. Most recently a red down London Fog winter coat for my son(red so that it can be passed on to my daughters, add a red and pin scarf, I am super-thrifty) Don’t know if you read any of my blog, but between three kids, and paying tuition I am B-R-O-K-E. I do okay buying second hand, due in large part to that commercial. I swear to god I always think about it when shopping etc. Great advice. How exciting for his daughter to know how much her dad impacted my spending. Thanks again, Pat.

  2. Go to Previous message | Go to Next message | Back to MessagesMark as Unread | Print ReplyReply AllMove…InboxAnnChaseCredit OnionEtcETCjetNetflixnotesPayPalPlanet ForecastRecordsSeanStuff Orderedturquoise
    Flag this messageRe: [New comment] Apology and Makeup Offer, Free Vintage Hairstyle!Thursday, September 30, 2010 6:34 PM
    From: “M.Ault” View contact detailsTo: “Imitation of Vintage life” Hey, you are in the place for vintage fragrances. Coty’s Chypre (look on Ebay to see what the bottle looks like, but skip anyone selling it. Sharks sell it( and the smell will have gone) should be in some little ole ladies yard/estate/thrift store. And all the big mouth dept. on “ohhh, vintage is the new blah blah” …well, in my 40 someodd years of thrifting the good stuff hides, just like your find of that black cocktail dress. You see, your lips to God, luck, and there it is. Most people don’t want vintage as they are not as lucky as you in the height dept and the majority of stuff I’ve found is for women about 5 ft. or thereabouts.I’d keep an eye out for a fur coat – I had a friend who collected a bunch, cut them up into squares, made a throw out of them with bright red material on the underside.
    Chypre – it’s so nice to talk with someone who values the best. The Chandler book uses the name “Gillerlain” for the company (read Guerlain). Norell, Shalimar, Mitsouko(),
    Charlie (can you believe that?), Charlie Gold is an Oriental Chypre, and even though I don’t endorse any brand, Giorgio Red is a serious contender and holds quite well. Parfum 1 & are the best for ordering online with a non-existent budget. has a ton of brands you can’t find anywhere else. I’ve used both for 10 yrs. I will do a little more research on my nightly soujourns for you.

    There is a double rainbow starting up as the sun sets.The hummingbirds are all flitting about. It has been a treat to talk about all this stuff. I know you will find a surprise to go with your dress, and Miss Barbie’s Hampton Hideaway.

    Have a wonderful evening.

  3. Hello Misstsunami, will look out for Cypre(you know how that goes, I will probably see it as we talked it into my world). Charlie I know, was on my mother’s tray. My scent memories associated with my mother are especially strong and tender as she died when she was only 36. She had a great appreciation for good perfume. Christmas the year I was 13 my sister 12 we each got a large bottle of Opium! I have Norell now, actually right now I have a lot of new(to me) scents via the seller on ebay. I got minis of ma-griffe, moschino, creature, zibeline, balinciaga,creation,and chaleur d’animale, fracas all for less than $20. The seller stated these were from estate lot. I looked up the descriptions thinking I love ma-griffe, fracas and moschino, the woman had similar taste in scent as me. I was right. I like them all. You may be right about most vintage dresses being small sizes. The problem is while I’m still short,because of medication and the 40 milestone I’ve gained 20 pounds. I am no longer a size 4 now an 8. I can no longer fit in most of my dresses.Everything I own and most I find lately is just a bit too tight. I’ve not got rid of anything because it’ possible I’ll lose the weight 😉 more likely my younger daugher will wear. The older girl is already taller than me at 11 and big boned. Her style as of now is a bit different though she’s simple and understated. Land’s end or Jcrew if you know what I mean. No dresses, nothing girly. My younger daughter however is as girly as a girl can get. In fact she loves to watch Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with me. She walks around singing “diamonds are a girl’s best friend”. Funny. Only problem is holding on to all these clothes, plus the ones from 11 to four year old is driving me crazy. I’m seriously considering a massive purge. Flip side I’m waiting till Monday(1/2 price day) to get one of three fur coats they have right now in my size. Gorgeous probably donated by the same woman. Not very pc, but the dirt’s already been done, the coat at eh very least should be respected worn and loved. I can’t sew on a machine, that’s actually my plan after graduation. Lessons and a machine,they’re always at the thrift stores would e amazing to be able make dresses from patterns that fit perfect for my daughters and me :)Funny you mention parfum1, my family gave me a gc there last x=mas. I like how you can search by scent. I got a bunch of scents on descriptions alone, I really ended up liking black by blvgari. Two i haven’t opened yet.Saving for when I really need a pick me up. Great to talk to you. BTW have you read scents of time or fragrance? I have both books and could send them to you if you’d like. I sent them to a business contact before and they were returned. Maybe I’ll start a tradition. Happy Friday!

  4. Sounds like you’re cooking with gas, as they used to say! That estate seller was smart, and I’d definitely see about getting yourself one of the furs if possible. Ask for a picture of the coat – back if possible. What you are looking for is the state of the skins. Armhole is the most worn area on any piece of clothing. “PC” feh! A fur coat is worth it’s weight many times over, they last forever, keep you toasty,and what a shame to disregard such beauty over due to a philosophy that is based – well, let ‘s just say, know anybody with a pet mink? Besides, it’s one of life’s sublime pleasures to carry on the beauty/utility of such a coat. Enough of me on that.
    I adore “Black”, especially in the winter – it has that mossy leather scent and doesn’t slam you in the nose. Revillion has some fragrances floating about – they were a fur house that made perfumes to wear with fur. Everything used to have a purpose. Sigh. Like having doors opened for you.

    I think learning to sew is quite smart, it is easy to pick up. And think of all the original, smart works of art you will create to be worn.

    It’s wonderful to be able to chat about all this. If you really want to indulge, watch “Gilda” and the sequel “Affair in Trinidad”. Those clothes, hair styles, just such fun.

    And thanks for the offer re: reading the fragrance books. I think I may take you up on that.

    Good luck on the coat, and a secret for you. Women used to have their initials embroidered inside the lining. To store, get a sheet from a thrift store large enough to cut a hole to put the hanger hook through and cover the fur with the sheet in the closet. It will keep it in perfect condition.

    That’s me for now. Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. I am sorry that you lost your mother at such a tender age, but you are carrying on her traditions based on such tender memories.Your daughters are blessed, as I see so many women in our age group who are too consumed with their own wants and never realize how fast time goes.

    Keep on.

    • Hey Missstunami,
      I sent you email to reply so check your spam if you don’t see it right away.

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