Thrift store used to be a dirty word, synonymous with ill fitting clothes that smelled like your grandmother’s home. That changed somewhat in the mid-90’s, when grunge bands like Nirvana popularized the anti-fashion statement. Since then, thrift store shopping has been a statement of the counter-culture against corporations, materialism, and globalization.
When the economy crashed, thrift stores saw an increase in popularity. It became a source of pride to spend as little as possible on clothing while still looking cool. Items found in thrift stores are also usually out of circulation. Modern indie culture, with its values of absolute individuality, enjoys the unique nature of thrift store finds.
All of these sentiments culminated in Macklemore’s ode to the hunt, “Thrift Shop“, which made it to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts last year:
They be like, “Oh, that Gucci – that’s hella tight.”
I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt,”….
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t
People from all walks of life donate to thrift stores, so you don’t necessarily have to leave the shop looking like a Burning Man refugee or a character from a Wes Anderson movie. Keen eyes can usually spot barely worn, high end name brand clothes that someone for an unknown reason decided they didn’t want.
Here’s my humble advice after a solid decade of popping tags.
Keep an open mind.
It’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to walk into any thrift store and find exactly what you want. The odds that you’ll find, say, a pair of skinny jeans that are the perfect color, style, and cut you want are…slim. (Sorry).
But if you have patience, an open mind, and a sharp eye, you’ll probably come across something unexpected. It’s a lot like looking for love; go in with narrow expectations and you’ll be disappointed. Allow yourself to be surprised.
Give Yourself Time
Thrifting can be an all-day endeavor. You’re going to want to work through the store section by section, because…
The Best Stuff is in the Wrong Section
This is a universal truth of thrift store shopping. Maybe the highest quality stuff gets picked off the racks more often, making it more likely to end up in the wrong section, where it ends up staying longer because shoppers can’t find it. Whatever the reason, you have to shop the whole store. The medium stuff ends up in the small section, the long-sleeves end up with the short-sleeves, and someone has inexplicably stuffed a blender in Home Goods full of very nice argyle socks.
Look, Feel, Smell
Trust your senses. Look for broken zippers, buttons, and holes in the clothing. If there’s a very strong musty scent, that piece of clothing will likely never lose that weird smell. Feel the fabric. A lot of old clothes were made with horrible polyester or some other Cold War era fabric, and you should know you’re going to be vaguely bummed out and uncomfortable every day you wear it.
Know Your Measurements
Over time, you begin to get an eye for your size. This is important because the selection at thrift stores spans several decades and brands, and the medium that you may think you know so well could have well been a 1970’s small.
The trip goes quicker if you can eyeball something and see immediately if it’s too big or small. That being said…
Be Brave, Try it On
What do you have to lose? If you’ve given yourself time, you might as well try on everything you think you might like. If nothing else, that floral print shirt with collars the span of condor wings will make you laugh at yourself in the mirror.
Don’t Get It if You Don’t Love It
A melancholy accompanies the clothes that almost work… but don’t quite. Maybe the collar of a shirt is a little too stretched, a pair of shoes too tight, or the shoulders of a jacket to boxy.
There’s a desire to make your trip worthwhile by buying something. Fight this. If you’re not sure about it in the store, you will definitely be sure when you get it home. (Nope.)
You Should Invest in a Sewing Machine
This will salvage a great deal of “almost”. Tailoring is a complicated and time consuming art, but there’s a few things you can do with little experience and a sewing machine. Many clothes that are slightly too big can be easily altered, and there are tons of internet tutorials on quick fixes for baggy clothes.
You can also consider going to the tailor. Make sure this is worth the money. For example, you might find a great coat for 20 bucks but it’s two sizes too big.Getting it resized by a professional tailor could cost upwards of 100 bucks. Could you buy a similar coat for 120 dollars? Probably.
Shop the Changing of the Season
Another rule is when the seasons change, folks clean out their houses. So this when you’ll find a lot of the best stuff. You can also learn the best day of the week–the day that new inventory is added— to shop.
Enjoy the Experience
A full closet and a full wallet feel great. Keep in mind, though, the hunting is the fun part. Take your time and enjoy yourself.