I love thrift shopping. I hate buying new clothes. It’s expensive, stressful and environmentally unfriendly. I live in the UK where thrift shopping comes in many forms. My prefered place to thrift is charity shops because they tend to be pretty cheap, easily accessible, varied and of course it’s a great way to donate to charity. There’s also plenty of vintage shops for when you want something a little more specific, although often more expensive but worth it for the curated selection. I also love pop up things like flea markets, car boot sales, clothes swapping events and local bizarres.
People often comment on my magical ability to always find awesome second hand goodies because apparently this is something a lot of people struggle with. So today I’m going to share my thrifting tips with you in the hopes it will lead you onto a magical life of thrifting glory. A few little side notes first- I’m 5ft 5, a UK size 14-16 with UK size 7 feet so fairly average making thrifting for me a little easier than it may be for some people. However don’t let that deter you! There’s tips here to help everyone and I promise there are treasures out there to suit everyone.
1- Keep a thrifting wish list. Thrift shops can sometimes be a little overwhelming with so many different items all jumbled together and I know that can be off putting. Having a wish list gives you a goal and takes out some of the overwhelm. This can be a list of specific items you want to find or something more general like a cut, style or colour. Sometimes I will just have a vision of something I want (right now it’s mid length lilac shorts) and I will go on a mission to find the perfect item. Write this list down or add it to your notes on your phone so whenever you find the opportunity to pop into a second hand shop you have a good starting point.
2- Set a price limit or item limit. This can be a limit for your whole shopping trip- “I won’t spend more than £20 or get more than five things” or a limit for the spend on an individual item. I have a general rule that unless it’s shoes, a coat/jacket or designer I won’t spend more than £5 on an item in a charity shop. I allow more if I’m in a speciality shop like a vintage shop. Having rules like this in place stop you from getting carried away and coming home with way more than you set out to find. Obviously these rules are your own and you can break them if the thrifting gods are being particularly nice to you that day, but I find self imposed guidelines can be helpful.
3- Be persistent. This is a biggie. People often get discouraged if they go into a charity shop and come away with nothing, and I totally get that. But that’s just the nature of second hand shopping. The stock rotates super frequently so sometimes you won’t find anything at all, other times you might be attacked by fabulous finds. Keep going back, stick to it. I have a favourite charity shop that I go to every week and I try to nip into most of my local ones on a monthly basis because you never know what’s going to show up.
4- Always try things on. I know this one seems kinda obvious but it’s super important when thrift shopping. With so many different brands all under one roof sizing can be a little tricky. Sure, sometimes if it’s something simple like a T-shirt you can probably tell straight off the bat whether it’s going to fit your body but with other things, especially dresses and trousers I would recommend always trying stuff on. Another point to mention is lots of second hand shops don’t accept returns so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
5- Learn some basic sewing techniques. Sewing is a great skill to have on hand anyway but particularly helpful if you thrift a lot. This way you can fix on new buttons, mend small tears, take things in, shorten hems etc. Being able to sew opens up a world of possibilities. Like that top but wish it was cropped? No problem! Chop the bottom off and re-hem it! There are plenty of books and youtube tutorials to help you learn how to sew and supplies can be super cheap so it’s worth giving a go. You could of course rope a friend or family member into helping you if they already have the skills. I recently got a really cool pair of orange corduroy trousers in a charity shop and they were only £2 because they had a small rip by one of the belt loops. As the material was quite thick I asked my friend if she could fix it up using her sewing machine and she kindly did just that and now my trousers are good as new. Make do and mend my friends.
6- Look in all the sections. Check outside your usual size range, check in the “men’s” section, check in with the kids clothes and always have a peek at the bric-a-brac. Because of the wide variety of stuff in these kinds of shops it’s always worth looking around as thoroughly as possible. There could be gems hiding anywhere, especially in less curated shops like charity shops. Wonderful pieces can sometimes be overlooked and end up at the back of the rack, just waiting to be discovered and cherished.
7- Think about your existing wardrobe/home decor. Whenever you are unsure about a piece think about items you already own that would look good with it. You may love that multicoloured pom-pom sweater but what would you wear it with? This is a good tip for shopping in general but particularly helpful in the minefield of thrifting. It can also be good to buy things that are similar (but not identical) to things you already own. Maybe there’s a colour or shape that you love, getting more things with that same factor should be a sure fire bet.
8- Keep an eye out for good brands. I always check the labels of anything I’m considering buying. Okay, you might not find any Alexander McQueen in your local Cancer Research shop (although I’m sure that could happen) but you can find some pretty good brands. Looking out for these good brands is a good way to make your money stretch- you could buy a second hand Primark top for the same price as a second hand top from Topshop. I’ve purchased stuff from Henry Holland and Karen Millen for example and they were pretty much the same price as any other similar items of lesser quality. Quality is especially important when buying second hand clothes that have had a bit of wear. So always employ those detective skills. You can even find lots of clothes that are brand new, still with tags on if you keep your eyes peeled.
So that’s my tips for thrifting successfully. Most of these tips are more focused towards UK charity shops because that’s what I know best but I’m sure lots of these are transferable to all types of thrift shopping. There are also lots of online thrift shops and good old Ebay if you can’t easily get out. I have no real experience with thrifting online but it might be a fun option to explore. I hope you found these tips useful and interesting, happy thrifting!