thrift store shopping tips

Tips for Thrifting

I grew up in a tiny Tennessee town where there was only one thrift store–a Goodwill, that despite the number of residents, always promised a surprising find–perfectly worn overalls, designer scarfs, linen dresses. It was here that my love of  thrift store shopping began, scourging the aisles every Saturday for a good deal.

Over ten years later, I still love thrift store shopping, yet my motives for second-hand shopping have expanded. In addition to the thrill of a good deal, I’m also trying to help break the detrimental cycle of fast fashion by embracing slow fashion. Better for the planet. Better for the people. And better for your wallet–that is if you know how to thrift shop well.

Thrift shopping is just another waste of money if the clothes you buy simply hang in your closet before eventually being ditched back in the donation pile. I know because I’ve done that countless of time, but over the years I’ve also slowly discovered some tips and tricks to making sure that my thrift store goods become wardrobe staples. Here’s how.

First, the DONT’S.
Don’t buy things simply because they’re cheap. 

When I first started thrift store shopping, I would buy anything if it was cute and cheap. The price always justified the purchase. Example: I have no idea where I’m going to wear this sequin top, but it’s only ten dollars. That ten dollars was a wasted ten dollars because I never once wore that sequin top.

Before I also never cared about brands, but now there are brands that I shy away from buying. These are the brands that I know won’t hold up new, so they are definitely not going to hold up used. (Forever 21, H&M–I’m looking at you.)

My goal is to not buy cheap clothes cheaper, but to give new life to well made clothes.

Don’t buy clothes you aren’t going to fix. 

Second, I simply don’t buy clothes that need any sort of fix, even if it’s an easy fix, because I will not fix it. Oh the money I’ve wasted on dresses that just need a shorter hem or shirts that just needed one button replaced. This is definitely a more personal tip. Some people might actually do those quick fixes but not me. My friend won’t buy anything that needs dry-cleaned because over the years she’s realized she will never get that 100% silk dress dry-cleaned. Know thyself.

Now, the DO’S. 

Have a game plan. 

With a child and work and general life, I rarely have time to meander when thrift store shopping.  So I try to enter with a game plan. Plus I often feel overwhelmed by the semi-organized chaos that characterizes most thrift stores, so I find it helpful to have a plan. Mine looks like this:

I always look through the dress section. Dresses are typically more forgiving with sizes so if there’s not a fitting room in the thrift store, or you don’t have time to try something on, you’ll probably have better luck with a dress than most clothing items.

I also always look through the children’s section, especially the overalls, because overalls on babies are the best. And buying kid’s clothes brand new is kind of waste of money.

Pay attention to fabric & details. 

If I’m in a hurry, my strategy is to go through the rows and pull out items based on fabric and color / pattern.You can learn so much about the quality of the piece just by touching. I’m personally attracted to wool and silk, because I know these fabrics will hold their quality for years.

Avoid certain sections. 

It’s tempting to want to look through every section of the store, but it’s impossible and also a time-waster. Focus on the sections that work for you and avoid the sections that don’t. For example, I rarely find jeans or shoes that fit. However I’m tall with huge feet so this is just something I’ve learned about me. So I tend to avoid these sections so I don’t waste a bunch of time and end up frustrated.

I also try to avoid the sweater section. Why? Because I LOVE sweaters and already have way to many considering I live in Southern California. Again this is personal to me, but I think it’s helpful to focus on the articles that you really need and will wear consistently.

Be picky! 

While I’m shopping I pull anything that initially grabs my attention. And then once I’m done shopping, I analyze what I have in my hands and ask myself a series of questions.

Will I actually wear this?
Do I already own something very similar to this?
Do I own something to wear this with?
Will this look good on me?
Is it in good condition? (No stains or holes. No missing buttons. Good stitching.)

After this whole process I normally eliminate about 75% – 100% of the pieces in my hand. I try to only buy pieces that I will wear and that will last.

How about you? Do you have any thrift store shopping tips? Or, if you’re not into thrifting, what’s your favorite way to practice slow fashion?


  1. Sarah Kang

    I love the Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade groups! Someone just told me about Facebook Marketplace too. Good post! I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Josette

    I am also a thrift store shopper. Also from goodwill. I have a membership with them. They give you points for so many dollars you spend. When you get 25 points they give you $25 dollars on the card. Also on certain days they have reduced pricing on certain color tags so I stick to the color of the week. You should see if your thrift store offers these or something similar

    1. Kait Kopeski

      That’s amazing! I know they always have half-priced on certain colors, but I’ve never heard of a membership–what a great tip!

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