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10 Tips for Thrifting (How to Find Vintage Treasure)

April 19, 2012
10 Tips for Thrifting
I remember the first time I walked into a thrift store with the intention of finding a dream dress or the perfect purse. I was in high school and I’d been thinking about going thrifting all day because I’d been reading all of these vintage fashion books from the library and I wanted to find a real vintage dress… for cheap. 😉 When my sixteen-year-old self walked into that Goodwill for the first time, I was struck (and a bit put off) by the smell, the disorganization, and the sheer size of the place. I walked around, touched a few shirts, picked up a knickknack or two, laughed at the ridiculous Christmas table settings, and walked out with nothing. I remember thinking that my inability to find thrifted treasure was a result of my location in a small Indiana town. I figured all the neat old vintage clothes must be in hipper, more affluent towns. WRONG. Was I ever wrong.

I learned most, if not all, of my best thrifting tips when I was in college in Greencastle, Indiana. Now I’m from a small town, and I love small towns, but when I went on huge study benders where the only cure for sanity was a nice little dose of retail therapy, Greencastle didn’t cut it. Shopping for clothes in Greencastle meant hopping on down to Fashion Bug or the Peebles next to China Buffet. Yup. No joking, that was it. So I started going to (incredible) Goodwill on the town square. Throughout my four years in Greencastle, I realized that thrift store clothes could be better than clothes from the mall and I picked up a few tricks and tips that helped me sift through the, I’ll be frank– total crap, that is in all thrift stores and find the thrift store treasure.

10 Tips for Thrifting
When I go thrifting, I usually have a general list of things I’m always looking for– stripes, globes, polka dots, retro prints, silk, craft supplies, cameras– and that really helps me sift through unorganized stores. With a general knowledge of what you want, it makes shopping easier because you can scan the store and let the things you want pop out.

10 Tips for Thrifting
I used to think that the best thrift shops must be in New York City or somewhere really cool, but that is NOT true at all. I actually HATE the thrift shops in New York. They are overpriced and rather small. (Eight bucks for a (boring) used shirt? No thank you.) There isn’t much digging and scrounging around in big-city thrift shops… and isn’t that most of the fun? Small towns usually have a lot of old people that donate the best stuff, (Read: vintage 1960s dresses and swoon-worthy Polaroid cameras), and shoppers in small town thrift shops are rarely hunting the same things that a vintage-grubbing hipster hunts.

10 Tips for Thrifting
This is so important because if you are serious about snatching the best thrifted stuff, you need to know when it first comes in stock. My favorite Goodwill shops usually bring in a large batch of new stock on Wednesdays, but it varies from city to city.

It never hurts to strike up a relationship with the employees, either. In my favorite shop here in town, I usually talk to the book-stocker, Stan, and one day he asked me what I was looking for. I said I was on the hunt for nice old atlases for some projects, but I can’t ever seem to find any on the shelves. He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow, “You mean you want old maps from the 40s and 50s?” I couldn’t say yes fast enough before Stan replied, “Well honey, I find tattered old books like that all the time! I just didn’t know anyone would want them!” It never hurts to ask. :)

10 Tips for Thrifting
The things that thrift stores have in stock are always so random, so you need to have a routine to make sure you don’t miss anything good. When I was in college, I went at least once a week, always. Sometimes if I was really stressed out, I’d even go two times. Needless to say, the ladies that work at the Greencastle Goodwill totally knew who I was. 😉

10 Tips for Thrifting
when you’re thrifting, you always have to be prepared to lift a box, move a plate, and dig in. The best cameo necklace could be hidden under a poofy hair scrunchie from the ’90s or something and you’d never know with just a glance!

Extra tip: Make sure you check the locked glass cabinet in the front of the store– that’s where I’ve found a lot of really cool stuff. My favorite vintage Coach “Willis” bag, for one. :)

10 Tips for Thrifting
Don’t count out an extra-large shirt if you walk by the rack and the print or pattern sticks out. Flex those sewing skills and choose items for what they could be, and not what they are at the moment. Make a shirt smaller, hem a skirt– if you like a design on a big baggy shirt, think about what it could be! And as a side note, I hardly ever buy fabric from the fabric store for my crafts and projects– I usually buy something from the thrift store and repurpose it. Recycling, people. 😉

10 Tips for Thrifting
Sometimes when I am walking down an aisle, I just run my hands along the clothes to feel them. I’m always on the lookout for natural fibers, especially silk and wool, and feeling the materials helps me find the silk in the clothes rack. 😉

10 Tips for Thrifting
Sometimes I wear an 8 in one store and a 4 in another– when you’re thrifting, it is really important to try stuff on and make sure it doesn’t fit in an odd way. Sometimes you’re even surprised by how good a piece of clothing looks on you. :)

10 Tips for Thrifting
While it’s good to go in with a plan and a list of what you want, it’s just as important to keep an open mind for things that you stumble upon.
10 Tips for Thrifting
And be sure to consider an item’s potential as well– just think, what would this look like with a coat of paint? A nice scrubbing? Some new soles?

10 Tips for Thrifting
And only buy stuff you really love, stuff that you will wear. Buy stuff that makes you look and feel really good. The stuff your home can’t live without– and leave the rest. :)

Bonus tip: If you’re really only looking for great vintage clothes and you don’t want to hunt and dig around grubby old stores, head to the antique shops. They’re more expensive, but they’re curated more carefully. And when you look around, they’re everywhere. (At least in the Midwest.) 😉
10 Tips for Thrifting

Happy hunting! :)
10 Tips for Thrifting

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49 Comments

  • Reply Ellie Kornexl April 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I swear I have found some of the best stuff in small-town Indiana Goodwills! Whenever I go to my in=laws I go and always walk away with several things. The best part is someone in/near that town buys really nice stuff (banana republic, talbots) wears it a few times and then donates it! And they're my size! It's like a dream come true! In my larger Indiana town the Goodwill gets whatever doesn't sell at Target, so I've gotten tons of brand new clothes at Goodwill prices. And those Missoni pumps everyone was fighting for!

  • Reply LisaRae April 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    This is fantastic, I need to improve my goodwill skills now.

  • Reply LisaRae April 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    This is fantastic, I need to improve my goodwill skills now.

  • Reply LisaRae April 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    This is fantastic, I need to improve my goodwill skills now.

  • Reply Ellie Kornexl April 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I swear I have found some of the best stuff in small-town Indiana Goodwills! Whenever I go to my in=laws I go and always walk away with several things. The best part is someone in/near that town buys really nice stuff (banana republic, talbots) wears it a few times and then donates it! And they're my size! It's like a dream come true! In my larger Indiana town the Goodwill gets whatever doesn't sell at Target, so I've gotten tons of brand new clothes at Goodwill prices. And those Missoni pumps everyone was fighting for!

  • Reply imanee April 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I usually walk into my local salvation army (which is probably as big as a walmart) search through a few racks, get frustrated and walk out -_- im going to try some of the neighboring small towns :] good thing is, there isn't many hipsters in my area of florida so they're not out there buying my stuff 😛

  • Reply imanee April 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I usually walk into my local salvation army (which is probably as big as a walmart) search through a few racks, get frustrated and walk out -_- im going to try some of the neighboring small towns :] good thing is, there isn't many hipsters in my area of florida so they're not out there buying my stuff 😛

  • Reply The name's Amy! April 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    great tips! love, love, LOVE your blog! :)

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  • Reply The name's Amy! April 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    great tips! love, love, LOVE your blog! :)

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  • Reply The name's Amy! April 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    great tips! love, love, LOVE your blog! :)

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  • Reply Mallory April 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Totally agreed with the small towns have better thrift stores than bigger ones. A small Goodwill just opened up where my parents live which is 40 minutes away from the cities and it a lot better clothing than the ones where I live in the cities.

    Thanks for the tips! I've always wonder when they restock their items so I suppose it's about time I go ask now. =)

  • Reply Mallory April 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Totally agreed with the small towns have better thrift stores than bigger ones. A small Goodwill just opened up where my parents live which is 40 minutes away from the cities and it a lot better clothing than the ones where I live in the cities.

    Thanks for the tips! I've always wonder when they restock their items so I suppose it's about time I go ask now. =)

  • Reply Mallory April 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Totally agreed with the small towns have better thrift stores than bigger ones. A small Goodwill just opened up where my parents live which is 40 minutes away from the cities and it a lot better clothing than the ones where I live in the cities.

    Thanks for the tips! I've always wonder when they restock their items so I suppose it's about time I go ask now. =)

  • Reply AlyssaK April 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    This is fantastic! Whenever I read your blog I always thought, “Man, that girl is so lucky to have amazing thrift stores!.” Little did I know you shopped at Good Will… we have tons of those here in Las Vegas!
    Thanks for this awesome post. :)

  • Reply AlyssaK April 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    This is fantastic! Whenever I read your blog I always thought, “Man, that girl is so lucky to have amazing thrift stores!.” Little did I know you shopped at Good Will… we have tons of those here in Las Vegas!
    Thanks for this awesome post. :)

  • Reply AlyssaK April 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    This is fantastic! Whenever I read your blog I always thought, "Man, that girl is so lucky to have amazing thrift stores!." Little did I know you shopped at Good Will… we have tons of those here in Las Vegas!
    Thanks for this awesome post. :)

  • Reply Lauren April 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Great Tips! Especially 1. Knowing what you want, and 2. small towns have the best thrift stores. I totally agree!

  • Reply Caroline April 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    what a great post, stacie!!!
    –but i do have a question: do your pictures show up normally for you? because for a while now, i have to click on them (and it takes me to flickr) in order to see them. because right now they are this thin blue line. I hope it's only me that has this problem!

  • Reply Caroline April 19, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    what a great post, stacie!!!
    –but i do have a question: do your pictures show up normally for you? because for a while now, i have to click on them (and it takes me to flickr) in order to see them. because right now they are this thin blue line. I hope it's only me that has this problem!

  • Reply Lauren April 19, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Great Tips! Especially 1. Knowing what you want, and 2. small towns have the best thrift stores. I totally agree!

  • Reply Stacie Grissom April 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Thank you so much for all of your comments, guys! 😀

    @Caroline– I am so sorry the photos aren't showing up correctly for you! I haven't had any trouble seeing the images in my browsers, I use Firefox and Chrome. Are you using Internet Explorer? I googled the problem and some people seem to be having that problem when they use IE…

  • Reply Kellie April 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    FABULOUS tips! I'm an avid thrifter and was like, “YES!” for everything you posted. :) Thanks so much!

  • Reply Kellie April 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    FABULOUS tips! I'm an avid thrifter and was like, "YES!" for everything you posted. :) Thanks so much!

  • Reply Girl with the skull scarf April 21, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Great Help thanks! still trying to find my self a good buy at the moment, but this has opened my mind!

    http://girlwiththeskullscarf.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Reply Caroline April 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    okay, yes I am using IE..Probably I should switch to chrome! thanks for checking! :)

  • Reply Caroline April 23, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    okay, yes I am using IE..Probably I should switch to chrome! thanks for checking! :)

  • Reply Girl with the skull scarf April 23, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Great Help thanks! still trying to find my self a good buy at the moment, but this has opened my mind!

    http://girlwiththeskullscarf.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Reply booksphotographsandartwork April 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Great tips! Not too long ago I I bought a beautiful peacock inspired Indian type shift. When I first saw it I thought no thats not really me. Some of the other women I had been talling with as we shopped encouarged me to try it on and I am so glad that I did. It is my most beautiful and best Goodwill find yet! I am going to blog about it soon.

  • Reply booksphotographsandartwork April 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Great tips! Not too long ago I I bought a beautiful peacock inspired Indian type shift. When I first saw it I thought no thats not really me. Some of the other women I had been talling with as we shopped encouarged me to try it on and I am so glad that I did. It is my most beautiful and best Goodwill find yet! I am going to blog about it soon.

  • Reply jereza April 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    If you're in a larger town shop several Goodwill's. They are all different and some carry higher end stuff depending on the neighborhood. I find that Salvation Army is better for furniture. Our Goodwill's here don't have much furniture but Salvation Army has lots.

  • Reply jereza April 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    If you're in a larger town shop several Goodwill's. They are all different and some carry higher end stuff depending on the neighborhood. I find that Salvation Army is better for furniture. Our Goodwill's here don't have much furniture but Salvation Army has lots.

  • Reply jereza May 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    If you're in a larger town shop several Goodwill's. They are all different and some carry higher end stuff depending on the neighborhood. I find that Salvation Army is better for furniture. Our Goodwill's here don't have much furniture but Salvation Army has lots.

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    LOVE LOVE LOVE these tips. Thanks for sharing! We've got some tips of our own over at the Vintanthromodern Blog!

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    Curiosity killed the kitty cat. blogspot.com

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    Your comments on discounting shirts for being extra large is written in a way that could be offensive to bigger people. It could be avoided being said at all. The recycling part is important and something of note but it doesn't have to be set up this way.

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  • Reply Healthy November 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Cool tips. It's not always easy to find stores that sell affordable clothing bu when you do, it's definitely worth it. You know that you can get exactly what you want without putting strain on your pocket.

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  • Reply Alex December 14, 2014 at 2:22 am

    The best places for thrift shopping are often rich towns or tourist towns. The rich towns bit is obvious, but with tourist towns people turn up, donate all their expensive international clothing and pick up local clothes to head back home. Score!!

  • Reply Jocelyn December 23, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks for this post. In Houston,there are a few nice places to go where I live. We have Value Village, Goodwill and Family Thrift. The newest one is Twice Lucky Store at Meyerland. They are located in 5653 Beechnut St. Houston. They buy from their customer so their clothes tend to have better selection and quality. First I was hesitant to go to resale shop but now, most of my clothes came from them.

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