5 thrifty secrets for secondhand success
When I walk into a thrift store, I know anything is possible.
The idea of discovering some long lost priceless heirloom is always exhilarating. Uncovering a favorite vinyl album. Completing a set of mid-century dishes. Finding fashion that represents our brand. This is what we do. And we love it.
But I’ve always loved it, even before I started doing it professionally.
I started shopping at thrift stores on a regular basis in high school. I had always shopped at them when I was younger with my parents, but it wasn’t until I was 15 or so that I made a conscious effort so shop secondhand. And of course it wasn’t because I was into recycling or anything, I simply didn’t want to dress like everyone else. I think it started with a soft ball t-shirt, though it’s been 10+ years since I made that first purchase.
Once I realized the fun of the hunt, something I’d always really enjoyed, it was just a matter of time before I’d find myself flipping thrift store finds.
I always tell my clients that what I do is a service anyone can learn, but the true art of thrifting comes from deep inside. It’s a want, desire and need that drives you to find more, and to find the best. Sometimes the best is a ratty Rusty Wallace NASCAR t-shirt. It just depends on what and who you’re looking for.
If I’m thrifting for myself, I can spend an entire day at one store — depending on the size, of course. I’ve trained myself to move quicker when I have a time crunch, but I still know how to maximize my time and eye. Having an eye for thrifting is a bit harder to train, but since opening my shop I’ve learned to keep an eye out for certain items (specifically clothing): sequins and/or rhinestones, different textiles and odd colors. I tend to start searching for pieces that are in season (usually because those are the most purchased items at the time and most replenished).
My biggest piece of advice when thrifting: don’t expect anything.
I have talked to so many different people that all say the same thing, “I can never find anything.” Well, if this is true, you aren’t going enough. And you might not be going at the right time. There are a lot of factors when it comes to preparing yourself to find that perfect piece. Here are my top five secondhand secrets for perfecting your own art of thrifting:
Go early and often.
I cannot stress this enough. If you’re able to go daily, that’s ideal, but we all know with 9-to-5’s and our day-to-day routines, throwing in something new can be tricky. If you want it, though, it’s worth it. Many thrift stores restock in the evening or before opening, so it’s best to arrive with the early birds. I’ve also learned the more you go the more chances you have of finding your new prized possession. It also helps to get to know the staff, managers or owners. You never know, a tip off could be in your future.
Don't go out of your way.
Unless just have to. But honestly, I find it to be the most rewarding when thrift stores just “pop up” in my daily activities. I hardly ever say: “Today I’m going thrifting.” Here’s an example: I’m planning a trip to the grocery store. Inside the same shopping complex is a thrift store. I choose to stop by before or after my grocery trip since I’m already in the parking lot. Instead of making a special trip to multiple thrift stores all in one day, incorporate them into your already established routine. If you know you pass by one of your way to work, and you always arrive on few minutes early, leave a little bit earlier and stop in beforehand. This way you A) Don’t waste anymore gas than need be and B) Have more of chance to find what you’re looking for by applying Rule #1.
Give yourself a budget.
One of time and money. Usually $30 will suffice, but we all know that’s not always applicable. Sometimes $5 isn’t even a question. If you’re an over spender, make time your controlled variable. Treat secondhand shopping as if it’s a game. If you know you only have 15 minutes to search and scan, you’ll train your eye to easily catch garments you might have passed over multiple time while just “browsing.”
Or if you bring a friend, bring one who understands that your time is valuable. If you’re a seasoned professional, you know all too well that the search and scan method is most effective when strategizing maximum efficiency. Go around the outer walls first, then hit up home goods, electronics and the randoms. Clothing should be next. Then books and media. If you’re quick, a good trip can take only 10-15 minutes. If you bring a friend, one who is not a trained professional, 10 minutes can turn into an hour. “What about this? Or this?” The questions will continuously bombard you until give in and just buy those jeans because what’s $4.99 for a little peace and sanity? My partner and I have different trips for different reasons. If we plan to leisurely shop, we address that in the beginning, otherwise it’s a snatch and grab sort of experience. At the end we meet up and go over our winnings. Not all our treasures make the final cut though. We always scan everything for snags, flaws, rips, stains and wounds. If it’s for us we’re a bit more lenient, but for clients, only the best. Even if it is that beat up Rusty Wallace tee. Sometimes you have to take a chance.
Don't beat yourself up if you don't find anything.
There’s always tomorrow, and a whole new batch of secondhand goodies hitting the store. If you’re lucky and live in a medium-large city with multiple thrift stores, keep the flow moving. Plan a schedule for sales, special discount days and when they’re open/closed. Just because you didn’t have luck at one place doesn’t mean you aren’t good at thrifting, it just means the right thing hasn’t found you. I’m a firm believer that when the timing is right, whatever you want will find it’s way to you, whether it’s a pair of black Adidas shorts or a new yellow coat that makes you feel like Harriet the Spy. Let your clothing find you, and have fun with it.
So, are you ready to thrift? If you’re starting up a vintage business or planning to resale, take the time to survey your surroundings and see what options are available. It’s possible there may be a secondhand warehouse in your city. Often you buy by the pound, so it’s definitely a more affordable experience. If you’re going for yourself, map out locations and learn to incorporate them into your routine. If you’re unable to check out any thrift stores in your area, estate sales are another great option to score big with amazing finds. Shopping secondhand online is another easy way to maximize your time (and save that gas money!). Whichever route you take, just remember to shop smart and buy what you love. If you hate it in two weeks, sell it. Take your fashion into your own hands — you make the rules.