11 Tips for Thrifting

Recently I’ve had a few comments left here asking for thrifting advice and so instead of replying directly and being all slapdash about the matter, I decided I’d think about it properly and make a list. I’m sure a lot of you guys are already more than adept at thrifting but I hope you’ll find at least one thing here that’ll be helpful to you in the future. I’ve also thrown in a few pictures of some of my more recent thrift finds to keep things interesting.

Thrifted Ferragamos and Gucci loafers (the latter of which are unfortunately the tiniest bit too big for me)

1. Go Often

I like to go thrifting as often as I can. Sure, I’ll frequently come back empty handed and the whole thing will seem like a wasted trip, but other times I’ll come back grinning from ear to ear with things spilling out over my arms. It’s important not to let yourself get disheartened when you don’t find anything and to just keep going back. This is probably the most important thing to remember with thrifting.

2. Get out of Town

Don’t just haunt your local charity shops, go further afield and explore places you haven’t been to before. Going to new thrift shops keeps things interesting, and you might stumble upon a hidden gem. So far I’ve found that the best charity shops are to be found in those smallish villages that only have a handful of shops, most of which are independent or charity shops. Usually these places will harbour a lot of good vintage pieces (let’s not go into the reason why!) and you can also get a good pub lunch before you go home.

3. Dig

With thrift shopping you have to be willing to get on your knees and dig. I once found a beautiful black leather satchel hidden at the bottom of a basket underneath a load of ugly nylon briefcases, and that faux Chanel bag I found? Well I wouldn’t have discovered it if I hadn’t turned around a few unassuming looking bags.

Thrifted leather bags.

4. Dress for the Occasion

This sounds a little silly but believe me it’s important! In particular I’m thinking about when you go thrifting in somewhat extreme weather conditions. The car boot I go to at home runs throughout the winter and if I’m not dressed warmly enough (I’ve made this mistake several times) then I’ll spend the whole time thinking about the hot tea stall rather than what’s on the table in front of me. The same goes for hot weather. Also, remember that last tip? It’s not so easy to do if you’re wearing a short skirt (another mistake I’ve made!).

5. Be Proactive

There’s more to thrifting than charity shops and car boots. Have you thought about going down to your local tip? Ours runs a shop to sell the pieces that people have left there as ‘rubbish’ (when really they’re in tip-top condition and just need a new home). I scored a beautiful old wooden towel rack from mine and now it’s sat in my bedroom displaying all my shoes. There are also garage sales to think about (although I don’t come across these often, I should check my local newspaper more) and things like village fêtes and street fairs, of which there are usually plenty in the summer.

6. Know Your Fabrics

Sometimes it’s difficult to look at things properly when the clothes rail is bulging and all the garments are crammed together. This is especially troublesome if, like me, you’re vertically challenged and the rail is high up. In this situation I’ll often just thumb through the fabric I can get at and this way I can usually tell which pieces are worth getting up on my tip toes for. When thrifting, it’s a useful skill to be able to tell what a fabric is just by holding it in your hand. If that sounds impossible to you now, don’t worry,  it’s something you get a feel for (pun intended) after going thrifting for so long. I’ve found many a silk blouse this way when I might otherwise have passed them by.

Thrifted silk blouse.

7. Check Every Section

I’m talking menswear, childrenswear, homewares, all of it. Even if men’s clothes aren’t to your taste, sometimes you’ll find nice leather belts in the men’s section, and if you’re looking for a leather satchel (the holy grail of thrift), then often this is where they’re kept in charity shops. If you’re petite then sometimes you’ll be able to get away with buying things from the kids section, I’m thinking more 13-14-15 year old blazers and coats here.

8. Keep an Open Mind

There’s nothing wrong with going thrifting with something particular in mind, in fact a little focus is a good thing and will probably prevent you from returning home with bags full of unwanted junk (again, a mistake I have made many a time). However, try not to get too hopped up on finding that one particular item because then you’re likely to start missing other things. This kind of ties in with the last tip: be sure to check every section and don’t just rush to get to the skirts/shoes/bags because the perfect dress/hat/blouse might get overlooked.

9. Don’t be Afraid of the Dirt

Often the older, more desirable pieces will have stains of some sort but unless they’re really awful, don’t let that put you off. Vanish Oxi products can work wonders on 40-year-old stains and if the worse comes to the worst, there’s always the option of dyeing. I’ve got a beautiful silk blouse with armpit stains (lovely!) waiting to be dyed at the moment, then it’ll be good as new (almost). Just remember that when it comes to removing stains you need to be patient (sometimes things need to soak for days). If a stain just won’t budge, I’m usually happy to wear the garment anyway, so long as it’s not blindingly obvious.

Thrifted belts.

[N.B. I did not thrift this chicken. I just didn’t have another picture to put alongside my belts. Today is GPOMCF (gratuitous picture of my chicken Friday).]

10. Think Outside the Box

The great thing about clothing is that it’s fairly easy to alter. You can take things in, chop things shorter or even change a garment into something else entirely. I recently thrifted some velvet tie-dye trousers and the lady at the till looked at me like I was crazy when I went to pay. I’ll agree that as trousers they’re really not very cool, but as shorts? I don’t know, I think maybe they could work. We’ll see I guess when I finally get my scissors to them.

11. Take Your Tote

Okay so this won’t give you magical thrifting super powers, but it is better for the environment. It doesn’t have to be a tote of course, any old bag will do. Or if you’re a crazy person, you can just wear everything you buy as soon as you’ve bought it. I don’t know how you’d wear more than one pair of shoes though.

So there we have it! Have I missed anything out? Do any of you have some tips that you’d like to share?

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  1. There are some great tips in here! I find that I really have to be in the right mood – if I’m too tired, I don’t have the energy to sift through the junk, and if I’m too excitable, I end up with too many things I’ll never use!
    I haven’t been op shopping in a few weeks and I’m feeling lost without it – you’ve made me yearn a bit, looks like I’ll have to have a sick day this week :)
    Lauren x

  2. Brilliant tips for all those thrift shopping lovers out there! #10 is a good one to remember and often forgotten about or not thought of by many. Bringing a little snack or a sweet pick me up is something I like to remember during my thrift shopping days. I never know when I might get carried away and forget to stop for a bite to eat!

  3. often forgotten about or not thought of by many. Bringing a little snack or a sweet pick me up is something I like to remember during my thrift shopping days. I never know when I might get carried away and forget to stop for a bite to eat!

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