There are days when my husband will ask me what I did all day and I am forced to admit went shopping for seven hours. And while this sounds outrageous momentarily, when I add the word “thrift” right before “shopping”, it suddenly sounds savvy and smart. In fact, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks for how to be a great thrift shopper, and one of them is to allow yourself plenty of time… so when I enjoy a seven-hour shopping trip, I’m actually following my own great advice. See for yourself as you peruse my list of 10 WAYS TO BE A GREAT THRIFT SHOPPER. Here goes:
1. Dress for success. Maybe you’ve made the mistake of donning a dress in which to shop, but if you haven’t, here’s how it goes: You try on a skirt and suddenly realize you’re topless. Somehow Riri is rocking this look, but trust me, it's not as fun when you're half-naked and you realize the mirror is outside the fitting room. Instead, wear: easy-off separates like leggings and a fitted tank over which you can try on this or that; slip-on shoes with socks underneath; your best nude bra; underwear that isn’t all bunchy and weird. I also recommend carrying your long-strap-across-your-body purse or a mini backpack, because your hands are then free to shop happy! You should also pack a reusable bag (because you are kind to our earth), a belt (because sometimes a belt changes everything), and a measuring tape (because fitting rooms don’t exist at garage sales).
2. Think outside the big box. Value Village is a fun time and you should definitely hunt there, but remember there are many places to find great used and vintage pieces. Spend a Saturday on a garage sale mission, looking on kijiji.com or in the paper for your leads. And when you get there, tell them what you’re looking for because it’s possible they had items they weren’t sure about selling, but which they want to go to a good home. Churches often have congregation-wide sales in their parking lots, so take note of any signage leading up to those events or for any flea markets that may pop up. Try out that weird Salvation Army on the other side of town, and Google “thrift store” and your city’s name, just in case you’ve overlooked a gem. And while consignment stores and vintage boutiques might be a little pricier, it probably won’t be as hard to find something you love, since the shopkeeper gets to discriminate what lands on the racks. Shop whilst you travel (this is another Google moment) or take a trip to a small town (I once bought thirty vintage hats in Osler, Saskatchewan). Online can be fun, though if it’s Ebay, make sure to read the seller’s reviews and measure yourself carefully, and if it’s kijiji, make an appointment to try the item on AND THEN BE PUNCTUAL ABOUT IT, GOOD LORD (yes, I’ve some feelings on the matter). And my last direction: tell your mother and grandma you’d like to raid their closets, then proceed to do so. They'll be cool about it.
3. Make a day of it. Philosorapter here should know that the maxims he's pondering aren't mutually exclusive. See, getting an early start at a thrift store can mean the difference between getting that gown and seeing the girl in front of you get that gown... but in terms of flea markets and garage sales, sometimes the later you go the better the bargain you can strike since people just wanna make some cash before the day ends! So clear your schedule and you won’t feel rushed. This way too, you can feel free to peruse each item rather than just scanning for a colour you like.
4. Know your tailoring limits. Say the zipper doesn’t work. Are you prepared to get it replaced? If so, factor in another ten to thirty bucks, depending on the length and type. Now, I can sew but I would always rather not, so I’ve made a new rule that if it’s not absolutely drop-dead incredible, I won’t add a stitch to it. That being said, there are simple things like swapping out buttons or nipping in the waist a little that can completely alter the feel of a piece and you might want to consider it, especially if it’s a bargain to begin with. And oh, those jeans are too short but your bum looks super cute in them? Perhaps you can issue them a ticket to Cut-Off Town.
5. Check it over. Having a good look at your potential piece is crucial. Deal-breakers include velvet that’s been ironed and is all flat in spots, discoloured armpits, leather that’s cracked, obviously scratched feature hardware on a purse, missing stones in a necklace (unless you’re REALLY motivated to upcycle it), and scorch marks on polyester blends. Also, does it smell like a dog smoking a cigarette? I once bought a fabulous red-and-black chevron sequined dress that stunk just like so. I washed that thing by hand and then twice in the washing machine (in a pillow case), and for the life of me I could not make it smell right! I ended up keeping it in a plastic bag until I wore it once for an outdoor photo shoot and could give it right back to its thrift store home! Ick. Another nearly-unfixable problem is stretched stitching, so pull at all the seams a bit to expose that unfortunate problem, and while you’re at it, keep an eye out for any weird stains.
6. Head to other departments. Remember the purse and scarf section (I got the most amazing silk Dior scarf there for two bucks), the shoe isle (this is why you are wearing socks), and don’t limit yourself to ladies’ wear—we can all agree that the androgynous Annie Hall look is both timeless and effortlessly sexy. Truly, men’s blazers and bunnyhugs or little boy’s graphic Ts are often cuter on you than they were on their original owner. Don’t forget to look at men’s shoes while you’re over there because out of my five pairs of cowboy boots, four were worn by actual cowBOYS.
7. Keep an open mind. Check out at least one size above and one size below what you normally take because different designers size differently, fabrics stretch differently, clothing may have shrunk in the wash, and of course, sizes have changed so much over the years. Know the decades and shapes that are flattering to you (I am best in 1950s nipped-waists and 1970s maxidresses and worst in the 1960s shifts, though I’ll buy one now and then), but you should experiment. Does this mean you should buy something way out of your comfort zone? No. Only buy what you will love and wear and that fits into your personal style, but don’t be afraid to broaden that horizon a bit!
8. Be sweet. This is a general rule in life because if you are your best self, people will be their best selves back, and you can never have enough lovely people in your life. But in the thrift-shopping biz, being your sweetest You will also make the shopkeeper want to give you a deal when you ask for it (which you will). Bargaining is kind of fun, and it’s a no-brainer if you have multiple items or if you’re going to have to put some work or money into the item you’re buying. Just say: “Would you take $__?” and the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Being sweet also begins a relationship with that shopkeeper, which benefits you because you’ll know when new stock is generally put out, you’ll know about upcoming promotions, and they might think of you when something comes in. Once when I walked into to a store in Saskatoon, the lady pulled out a yellow wool coat from the ‘60s that she was certain was meant for me. Years later, it remains my favourite coat.
9. Opt for quality. Metal zippers, well-crafted bead work, real wool, silk, lined dresses and skirts, lace that doesn’t look like it’s made of elastic, a lovely drape to the fabric, no pills… these are things that you should look for in a vintage or used piece. Checking the label is a decent place to start (although I'm not super convinced the "Comfort Fashion Quality" brand pictured above is all it's cracked up to be) because there are many vintage pieces that will only increase in value. I once found a fabulous ‘70s Valentino purse for eight dollars, which my husband tried and failed to get me to sell on Ebay. But the lesson is that you could potentially make money just by checking who made that pretty piece.
10. WASH IT. Seriously, do not pass Go here. Who knows where that thing has been? In fact, you’d better wash yourself, too. I know many things say ‘dry clean only’, but I don’t really give that much credence. Our washers are so much better now than in 1965. Unless it’s wool, silk, or rayon (and even those I’m pretty brave with, though I probably shouldn’t tell you to be), throw it in on the cold, gentle cycle and hang it to dry. If you bought shoes, spray them with Lysol. If you bought earrings, use a cotton swab dipped in hydrogen peroxide on the posts. And if you bought a leather jacket, put it in the sun for a while.
Congratulations to making it to the end of this post. Good lord I sure type, hey? But hopefully I've put you in the mood for a big ol' day of thrift shopping, and I'll leave you with one last piece of advice: bring some hand sanitizer. Ciao!