Shopping for clothes at thrift stores can be an incredible way to save money! Here are eight tips for building a thrifted wardrobe from someone with over a decade of experience!
In high school, it was boys’ t-shirts, size large, that I shopped for at local thrift stores. Colorful shirts from summer camps and elementary school field days, jeans with the hem let out, and flip flops in every color made up my teenage uniform.
In college, I shopped for server black and whites that could be worn again and again during long restaurant shifts, and a starter wardrobe fit for a young student teacher.
These days, my style has changed, but my primary source for supplying my wardrobe has not.
I have been saving my family money at thrift stores for over a decade. As I have searched through crowded rack after crowded rack, and overflowing bin after overflowing bin in these last ten years, I have learned a thing or two about building a stylish wardrobe for much less money.
Last week one of my favorite stores sent me a coupon for $10 off any purchase. The coupon was just enough incentive to draw me into the store to check their sales and clearance racks. I am in an awkward in between stage right now with my weight– my maternity clothes are too big and yet I haven’t lost enough weight to fit into my “normal” spring wardrobe.
I found two or three items from the store that I really liked, but I wasn’t ready to spend the amount on the price tag. Not just yet, anyway. First I wanted to check in my favorite thrift store for what I needed. Because more often than not, I can find the clothing I need for a fraction of the cost.
As I perused the racks, I gave a lot of thought to this post. What works and what does not. Here’s what I know…
How to Build A Thrifted Wardrobe
The scarf was made in just ten minutes from a jersey knit. Find the quick and easy tutorial here!
1. Go alone if possible.
I have done more than my fair share of shopping with my kids in tow. In fact, most of my Goodwill trips are made all together. But, I know that my kids’ patience runs thin if we are not moving along quickly enough. It is also altogether difficult to try on clothing while wearing your baby or while trying to discourage your toddlers from crawling all over the floor.
If you must go with children, bring along the stroller (see above sentence), and a non-messy snack or two. If I need a little extra patience from my children, I will first go by the section with the children’s books or toys to give them something to look at while we shop. Sometimes we leave with a new toy or book. Sometimes we don’t.
2. Be thorough. Very thorough.
There really isn’t anyway around this one. In order to find quality clothes in the right style and size, you need to look through all the racks, piece by piece.
In a row of two hundred shirts, I may find 3 to 5 to try on. In order to find the ones I want, I have to look through many which I do not.
3. Learn to speed shop.
I have learned how to look search through the hundreds of hangers efficiently over the years. If you take a second to look at every article of clothing, the time really adds up and the process can be rather frustrating.
Instead of pausing to inspect each item, learn to scan the rack with your eyes and with your fingers. In a section of clothing, you can almost immediately eliminate over half of the pieces simply from the pattern or material. Thus, you are only checking the brand and size of a handful of pieces in each row of clothes.
4. Pay attention to brands.
I joke with my husband that I wear nicer clothing since I shop at thrift stores than if I purchased everything new. Every single time I visit a thrift store to look for clothes, I find multiple pieces of clothing from higher end stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, J. Crew, Gap, and so on. Generally speaking, these clothes are often in good condition because they are made from materials that hold up well over time.
Not everything from these stores is in my style or size, but I do give these tags preference. Be familiar with the stores whose quality you appreciate and keep an eye out for those tags.
5. Don’t pay too much attention to brands.
That being said, do not completely exclude the brands with which you are not familiar. More than a few of my favorite pieces of clothing are from brands completely unfamiliar to me.
Just recently, I found a pair of coral colored pants at Goodwill. At first I was not going to try them on because the fit looked a little funny and I did not know the brand. I gave them a chance, though, and they ended being a great fit and good quality too.
6. Only buy what you need. Only buy what you love.
In the past, I have filled my closet with more clothes than I need, excusing the excess because the clothes were purchased frugally. But excess is excess, and owning more clothes than you need does not add any more value to your life or your closet. It simply adds more strain on your space and time.
Using the same excuse of not investing much money, it is also easy to buy clothes which you “mostly like” or which don’t quite fit right but close enough. However, if you don’t love it when you buy it, you are not going to love it simply because you have brought it home.
The same principle applies whether you are buying new or thrifted clothing– buy what fits well, what you feel good in, and what serves a purpose.
Thrift store dressing rooms are not the best places for photos,
but that doesn’t stop me from getting a second opinion from a friend.
7. Inspect each item.
I hate buying a piece of clothing from a thrift store only to discover a hole or stain when I get home. Before you head to the cash register, look over each article of clothing. On shirts and sweaters, give careful attention to the neckline and underarms. On pants, pay attention to the pockets, hem, and waist area.
Occasionally, I will buy something even with a stain or hole because I know it’s just going to be worn around the house, but I want to know about it beforehand just the same.
8. Think outside the box.
If you sew, or know someone who does, many items at a thrift store can be easily repurposed or mended. Dresses can be altered, men’s sweaters or shirts can be repurposed into scarves, skirts or pants can often be taken in or hemmed.
Another occasion to think outside the box is shopping for maternity clothing. At least half of the clothes in my maternity wardrobe were non-maternity pieces which I found at thrift stores. Pants in a few sizes up can work well as your belly grows. Many shirts also accommodate baby bumps, whether they are maternity or not.
If you were wondering, my trip to the thrift store was successful this weekend!
Instead of paying a lot of money for a couple of shirts from the store (even after my coupon and their sales), I found a handful of pieces in great quality to add to my wardrobe. Each item is something I can wear often, filling in the gaps in my (trying-to-be-somewhat) minimalist wardrobe. I even found a pair of red pants– something I have been looking for for a long time!
Do you buy any of your clothes from thrift stores? What are some of your favorite items to shop for?