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Back in high school, I hit my first thrift shop looking for a Halloween outfit. But after rummaging around and with the expert eyes of my mom, I soon realized these places are veritable treasure troves.

Not only can you find brand names and designers items you’d never be able to afford otherwise, but sometimes you hit those one-of-a-kind finds that turn into the wardrobe loves of your life.

My favorite? A silk top with lacy trim that I bought for three dollars and wore for years. 

Yes, there’s a definite thrill to secondhand shopping. But you have to be patient and learn a few ins and outs to make all that pilfering pay off. 

To help you save money and expand your wardrobe horizons with quality items, we’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts for the budding thrifter.

With just a little patience and preparation, you could be turning heads in a vintage treasure or killer thrift store find in no time.

DO: Go in with a Game Plan

Ladies looking at clothes in a flea market
tartanparty / Shutterstock

Thrifting is an endurance sport. With all those racks and piles of clothing, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. So don’t just go at it will-nilly. Instead, shop with a specific item or outfit in mind.

Sure, you’ll probably still veer off track a bit. But having a general plan of attack will help you avoid early burn out.   

DO: Apply the Terminator Scanning Method

If you have some idea of what you’re after, there’s no need to pilfer through every last rack and jumbled up pile. Do a quick scan of the general area and hit the racks with styles and colors you’re looking for.

I call this the shop and destroy or terminator method. As for all that stuff you didn’t explore, you’ll be back.  

Related: The 6 Best Fast Fashion Alternative Brands

DO: Try Things On

Woman looking fabulous in a red dress and admiring herself in a mirror

Never trust tags in a thrift store. Sometimes a medium is a medium, and other times it’s more like a tent. Be prepared to try on different sizes as you may be surprised at the fit. 

DO: Dress for Action

Not all thrift stores have dressing rooms. In case you need to shimmy into something in the middle of an aisle, wearing a pair of leggings and a close-fitting tank top will make it easier to try things on over your clothes.  

Related: 8 Of Our Favorite Lululemon Leggings (And The Lowdown On Which Fabric Is Best For You)

Also, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes! 

And another pro tip: A crossbody bag will keep your hands free and prevent you from losing your purse in a random pile while thrift store shopping. If you have space, throw a little water and an energy bar in there! 

DON’T: Impulse Buy

Two gals rocking their thrift store, 80's outfit finds

Yes, that ’80s safety pin skirt looks surprisingly good on you. But unless you have a plan for how and where you’ll rock it, it’s in serious danger of never leaving your closet and ultimately heading back to your local goodwill.

Think twice about whether that specialty item will actually work for you once you walk out of the store. And on that note... 

DO: Bring a Friend

Man and woman looking at a pair of shorts

Yes, thrift stores are a great way to expand your wardrobe horizons. But sometimes it helps to have a second eye to help you determine if something is crazy cool or just plain crazy. 

Bringing a friend along can help you put things in perspective—the more brutally honest, the better.  

DON’T: Forget to Inspect all Items Closely

There’s nothing more exciting than stumbling upon a vintage treasure. But before you walk out of the store with your newfound love, be sure to go over it with a fine-tooth comb. 

Check closely for things like rips, stains, broken zippers or missing buttons. If it’s a boo-boo you’re willing to fix, buy it. But first, ask for an additional discount at the register or haggle the price.

If it’s something too troublesome to repair, leave it on the rack. This is not the Marines. Sometimes the injured are best left behind.  


DO: Buy Out of Season

Winter may be months away, but there’s a chance that wool sweater may not be on the rack once the temperatures drop. If you find a quality buy you really love, it’s okay to purchase out of season. 

You’ll probably save extra money, and you’ll have something you can look forward to wearing.

DON’T: Forget to Check out the Accessories

Pile of costume jewelry

As we know, accessories are what pull an outfit together and give it that special verve. At thrift stores, you can often find scarves, jewelry, purses and belts for a fraction of the price. Sometimes even designer brands.

So dive in there and see if there’s a Prada bag or some other treasure just waiting to be found.

DO: Think Twice About Buying Shoes 

Sometimes you find a pair of kicks that look like they’ve never been worn. In that case, you may want to go ahead and buy them. 

But in general, shoes form to the previous owner’s feet and may even have fungus. Best to look for deals elsewhere. If there’s a slightly worn pair that you just have to have, try to have them deep cleaned.

Hats are another source of bacteria, germs and even lice. Yuck! 

Again, if you have to have it, deep clean it before rocking your new lid. And unless you’re absolutely in love with it, leave it on the rack.

Finally, we probably don’t really need to say this, but underwear, bathing suits or other intimate apparel are also a no-no.

DO: Clean Items Before you Wear Them


Man steam cleaning a rad maroon suit

It looks clean, and you can’t wait to wear that killer jacket you found, but be sure to give it a wash before you take it out on the town. Germs and bacteria that you can’t see may be lurking in those cool, old threads. 

Related: The Best Washer & Dryer Units For Small Spaces

DO: Be Aware of Other Discounts

Yes, thrift shopping is a lot less expensive. But there are even more ways to stretch your fashion dollar here.  

Many stores have special discount days, holiday sales or discounts for students, seniors and veterans. Be sure to ask. No one will think you’re stingy!

DO: Bring Some Cash

Woman pulling cash out of her wallet

A lot of thrift stores accept credit or debit cards, but not all. Be sure to have some cash on hand, and you’ll never have to leave a newfound treasure behind.

DON’T: Forget to Donate to Your Local Thrift Store

Your barely worn jacket may turn into someone else’s go-to piece of outerwear. More importantly, it will make room in your closet for all the other cool stuff you may find.

So do a deep dive into your wardrobe and start weeding out the things you never seem to get around to wearing. It’s good feng shui!

DO: Be Patient and Cast A Wide Net

When it comes to thrift shopping, you have to play the long game. There are days when you luck into an amazing find, and others when you just don’t hit it. Don’t let it get you down.

Asking a staff member at your favorite thrift shop when they put new items out is one way of shopping ahead of the curve. Or if they don’t have a particular day, it pays to circle back on a fairly regular basis. Try hitting stores a little further away from home too, and you could luck into something unexpected. You just never know. 

Lastly, and certainly not the same as the in-person shopping experience, are online thrift stores like ThredUP and vintage clothing shops on Etsy. You can get your thrift on right from the comfort of your own home.

And that, bargain shoppers, is the thrill of thrifting! 

You may also enjoy: The 7 Best Clothing Subscription Boxes [For Men And Women]

The 15 Do’s and Don’t of Thrift Store Shopping:

DO: Go In With A Game Plan

DO: Apply The Terminator Scanning Method

DO: Try Things On

DO: Dress for Action

DON’T: Forget to Inspect all Items Closely

DON’T: Impulse Buy

DO: Bring a Friend

DO: Buy Out of Season

DON’T: Forget to Check out the Accessories

DO: Think Twice About Buying Shoes 

DO: Clean Items Before You Wear Them

DO: Be Aware of Other Discounts

DO: Bring Some Cash

DON’T: Forget to Donate to Your Local Thrift Store

DO: Be Patient and Cast A Wide Net

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Posted 
Jul 16, 2020
 in 
Fashion & Beauty
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