My friend always asks me where my shirt is from, and all I can say is thrifted. She groans: Why can’t I find this at the local thrift shop? All that’s there are cringe-worthy graphic tees and old jean shorts.
The problem: my friend doesn’t know how to shop like I do. She doesn’t know how to find potential in pieces or how to stay in a thrift store long enough to find the right pieces. Thrifting is never easy, but it’s also not impossible. Here’s a list of things to remember to help you obtain your vintage and second-hand goods like a master-thrifter.
1. Keep it ethical and give back. Thrift shopping is great for the environment because it reduces the amount of clothing that appears in landfills. It also reduces fast fashion and other unethical processes in the fashion industry. But, thrift shopping can also be unethical, if you don’t do it right.
Thrifting is fun, but guess what else is? Donating to your community! Don’t just take—give! Donating a pile of clothes is always a good idea because it helps your community and clears out the clothes you don’t want anymore. Thrifting is a semi-controversial activity because some people see it as taking goods that somebody else might’ve needed. But, if giving back is a consistent part of your thrifting routine, everything can stay ethical and everyone can have a fun time shopping sustainably.
Be sure to donate and buy a similar amount. Donate about as much as you hope to buy, and make sure you’re giving back clothes of similar quality to what you took away. Giving for each item you’ve purchased helps the store and people in need. If you donate more than you buy, that’s even better!
2. Know what you want. This is really a good idea when trying to do anything, but it’s always important for shopping. Before your trip to the store, ask yourself: Do I want Kurt Cobain or Gigi Hadid? Silk or tweed? Am I looking for Parisian chic or grunge? Whatever you’re looking for should be planted in your mind before you go.
Figure out what colors, fabrics, styles and silhouettes you love before your trip. Knowing what you want makes it easier to spot on the rack. That way, you might be able to scope out the perfect green sweater from across the store. Then you won’t have to waste loads of time looking through racks because of your lack of aesthetic vision. Scroll through Pinterest before you go! This might also help you decide which store to head to.
3. Find the right store for you. The right store might be in the city, or in the suburbs, or wherever college kids drop their old crewnecks. It all depends, which is why you have to know what you want. For example, if you want more high-end clothing, find a wealthier neighborhood that has a store. Or, you can try out all the stores in your area and pick your favorite! You can do research, but for the most part, this step will be more trial and error.
4. Set aside a good amount of time. Sorting through racks of clothes doesn’t take five minutes. Speed-thrifting is a mistake; you’ll miss everything that has potential. It’s beneficial to spend a good minute thinking about a piece. Look at it from every angle. Do I have anything like this? Could I wear this with jeans? How would this look with my winter coat?
5. Since you could be at the store for a while, try setting the mood by making a playlist or mixtape. Inspiration comes from everything! My thrift mix is full of Bikini Kill, Nirvana, Avril Lavigne, Oasis and Blur. You might be inspired to try a new piece based on what song is playing. I really like this album cover, maybe I can find a piece with a similar color or design!
6. Bring a friend! It’s always fun to bring someone with you. Not everyone likes to be alone in an overwhelming store. Plus, it’s a second opinion. Your friend can help you find an awesome piece that you may have missed. If your friend can’t make it, turn on a podcast to keep you company and snap pictures of all the cute jackets to send to them later.
7. Speaking of missing things, be sure to check for stains or snags. Check for food or makeup spills, or loose stitches. Look at the piece closely, and then put it down and step away. That looks weird from this distance. If anything looks strange to you, hang it back up.
8. Don’t worry about size. Sizes really aren’t accurate in thrift stores, and they really don’t matter, either! Most thrift stores are overwhelming because they are messy or disorganized, which leaves pieces of all sizes and styles everywhere. You might find a blousey top in the middle of the little boy’s pajamas, or an XL in the mediums. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it ensures that you’re looking everywhere. Different styles and sizes are scattered. You don’t even have to get clothes that are your size. Oversized is fun, too. Don’t be afraid to slam the door as you exit the room called The Comfort Zone.
9. Don’t focus on gendered clothing. It’s super cool to play with both masculine and feminine pieces—it doesn’t matter who you are. Don’t hesitate to head into stereotypically gendered sections, like men’s suits and dresses for girls. Mix it up! Combine masculine and feminine pieces to make a new look that works for you, not for society’s gender norms.
10. Go out of your comfort zone. Try a new style or color because you never know what looks good until you know it doesn’t. Be unique. Fashion sinning is fashion winning. Rocking an outfit that some might call a fashion disaster, is the sign of a fashion master. Start a new trend while staying sustainable.
Now for a few hot-takes from a master-thrifter:
Thrift shopping is a fun way to get great deals on second-hand clothing while staying sustainable and ethical. It might seem hard or overwhelming at first, but every master-thrifter started as a rookie. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be searching racks and finding the best stuff in no time at all! Happy thrifting, everyone.
About the Author
Ari is a small-town teen writer and poet who loves soup, skirts, and sonnets. Her mind is swimming in a pool of poetry, journalism, art, Emily Dickinson, feminism, fashion, Edgar Allan Poe, and disposable cameras. She loves writing to inspire and express, but the majority of her published work has been more news related. Her work can be found on her school’s online news publication- eSomethin.com- or on her social media. When not writing, she can be found listening to Bikini Kill, re-reading Percy Shelley’s “The Daemon of the World,” or riding her bike in the wrong shoes. She thinks everyone should: read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, own a leather jacket, and wake up early to watch the sun rise.