Look at what you have in your closet before you go. I know this sounds like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many times either myself or a friend has gone thrifting and come back with a garment incredibly similar or exactly the same as one in the closet. Think about what you have a lot of, what you don’t have a lot of, what outfits you’ve seen lately that you’ve liked or were inspired by, and what colors you would like to see more of in your wardrobe. I personally have an overload of skirts, so I shop around for purses and blouses when I can (I need more blues!).
Have a crafty eye: Think of items outside of their designated function. See a broken chest of drawers? How about a bunch of old picture frames? What about a pair of suede shorts that’s roughly 10 sizes too big? Instead of seeing these things at face value, think about how else they could be used. Those individual drawers could make great wall shelves for your heirlooms, and those frames a wicked awesome collage above your nightstand. Hell, buy the $2.99 shorts just for the fabric–suede isn’t cheap, you know!
Avoid looking frumpy by pairing your thrift store finds with contemporary, handmade, or new pieces you have at home. The thrift store fallacy I see so very often is wearing thrifted upon thrifted upon thrifted garb. While granted this look can be coveted given the right person in the right garments, secondhand layering often looks sloppy and tired (Take it from me, I overdid it in high school). Those high-waisted thrifted palazzo floral-patterned pants, for example, would look great with your Modcloth crochet vest, H&M button-up, and vintage cat-eye sunglasses.
Don’t pay attention to sizes, age, or sex when it comes to clothing. I have found grungy plaid greatness in the little boys’ section and one kickass blazer in the men’s formalwear aisle. I also regularly wear women’s size clothing 0-14 (I wear a contemporary 3-4). Don’t let labels throw you off; try on the clothes, because vintage sizing is virtually outdated compared to our size standards. Also, don’t be afraid to meander throughout the entire store. Who cares if that lady gives you a weird look for wandering down the men’s shirt aisle? She’s probably just jealous of that t-shirt dress you’re going to make by upcycling that XXL Rolling Stones’ top.
Keep researching new stores in your area; what you find may surprise you. True, most thrift stores change their stock daily, but that doesn’t mean you should stick to the same store each week (or each day, in my case). Everybody has their favorites, but don’t forget to look up new vintage joints or secondhand scenes to grab your gear from; the store you go to now may not have the Gunne Sax dress you’ve been pining for since you first watched Forrest Gump, but the gently used place down the street might!
Even though everything is cheap, don’t buy every single thing you see! Fatal error: Overspending on a bunch of items you won’t ever see or use again. I know that everything is cheap, trust me, I know, but try to be selective about what you buy. Ask yourself these questions while browsing to solidify your investment: What will I use this for? Will I actually use/wear this item? Do I have anything like this already? Could I give this as a gift? On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I really like this item? What makes this thing special or unique? Is it worth what I’m paying for it?
Hire or get to know a personal tailor to bring your vision to life. It will be the best investment you’ve ever made. I’ve gotten the most compliments on the (especially thrifted) clothes that I have gotten professionally altered to fit my body’s shape. Are tailors expensive? Sometimes, usually yes. (Luckily, my mother’s been sewing for 25 years, so I have the hook-up.) However, if you want the best fitting, most comfortable, most flattering clothes you’ve ever owned, either take your clothes to be professionally altered or get on a close and personal level with a professional seamstress; secondhand clothes are no exception. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your ideas, too–just make sure that pro is around to perfectly execute your plans, whether it be turning a maxi in a mini skirt and lining the pockets with leather straps or simply taking in a dress to make it fit just right.
If you see it and love it, buy it right then and there–don’t play the waiting game, because you will lose. I hear the phrase all of the time: “If it was meant to be, then it will be here when you come back.” I’m here to tell you: THAT IS A BIG FAT FREAKIN’ LIE–that’s just something people tell themselves to feel better about not buying things. If you see something that you are absolutely, head-over-heels, gaga, over the fence for, then buy it, because chances are it won’t be there when you come back and you’ll have a missed opportunity to add that zing to your wardrobe. I mean, where would I be if I hadn’t found this killer red hat for only three bucks?