1. I don’t thrift in town if I can help it. I travel to the smaller towns in the region, avoid Goodwill and Salvation Army, and hit up the little church thrifts in Nowhere, Indiana.
One major reason I skip town that the tiny towns may not have excellent quality clothing, but they have a ton of clothes and sell them cheap. A thrift store not too far from here offers $2 a bag sales in which the little church ladies force you to fill your industrial-sized garbage bag of clothing before you leave. Another reason is that if you’re like me and don’t mind mending and spot cleaning, you can find some funky clothes that would otherwise be snapped up by hip-minded college-aged students with an eye for vintage t-shirts.
The other major reason is that the ratio of “time capsules” to collectors is smaller in rural areas. A time capsule is an estate by an older person who has passed on or is down-sizing, and all of their curated items from an earlier era. The best time capsule I ever had the pleasure of shopping was a high-end horse ranch in the middle of nowhere, the estate of two well-traveled professors. It was glorious.
2. Know your size. First, know your measurements and your actual dress size based on those measurements.
Better: Don’t just know the number, but be able to eyeball what will fit and what won’t. I know certain styles, shapes, and fabrics will work with my body and others won’t. I can pretty much look at a piece of clothing and know whether or not it will fit me. My safe bets, being pretty curvy and of average height, include A-line skirts, cotton t-shirts, sweaters, and cardigans. I’m not so much worried about what brand label it is so much as it looks wearable, feels machine washable and I like it. After all, I’m getting an enormous amount of clothes for quite literally a few dollars.
3. Go ahead and try it on — over your clothes. My friend taught me how to try on clothing in a thrift store by wearing things in that easily come on and off in the aisle under your potential buys. Nobody cares, I’ve gathered, and neither do I since I’m out of town.
An easy way to figure out if a waistline will fit your body: Hold the pants/skirt flat. Place the pants waistband over your neck where a tee shirt collar falls. If the waistline of the pant will not meet on the back of the neck, the pant will not fit. If it does and there is some give, there is an excellent chance it will fit around your waist. Seriously.
Yes, you will be wrapping pants around your neck in public like a weirdo, but it works.
4. Don’t go in with a particular item in mind. Think more openly about, for example, what season of clothes you’re looking for, or specifically what you aren’t looking for. Be open and try on a lot of stuff. There are always more clothes. Buy what you’ll actually wear.
Thrift store shopping provides the great majority of my wardrobe — the only things I spend a good amount of money on are pants and shoes, although I have quite a few pairs of thrift store shoes in my arsenal as well. Purchasing a good pair of pants for work is a good investment if you’re an office monkey, because a black or brown pair can be worn with nearly any crazy shirt you pick up at the thrift store and be made to look professional. I have one pair of black pants, one pair of brown pants, and a pair of gray pants. This is all I need for work with my collection of thrifted tops.
Shoes, too, are a good investment, primarily because you have to care for your feet lest you end up with hooves like mine. Get leather, make sure the heels are in good condition, and that there are no signs of cracking. If they stink, shake some baking powder in there before you wear them.