Interested in tips on how to shop smarter at thrift stores? Being a college student, who routinely shops at second-hand stores uniquely qualifies me as an expert! On an average Sunday afternoon, throngs of young students can be seen catching the bus downtown under the guise of doing homework at a café. Within the hour, after the coffees have been consumed and the gossip has been shared, students find themselves packing up their unopened books and heading to the nearest thrift store, in hopes of finding a treasure wonderful enough to distract them from their mountains of schoolwork, without breaking a college budget.
I speak from experience. On any given Sunday during the semester, my friends and I can be seen making the pilgrimage from Portland’s Cut Copy, our downtown café of choice, to Buffalo Exchange, where we will invariably run across classmates rummaging through the mountains of moth-eaten garments. This process is akin to a modern treasure hunt, where both shoppers and store clerks alike will ooh and ahh over a sequined mini-skirt or a cashmere sweater, salvaged from a heap.
However, this treasure hunt looses some of its fun when one cannot seem to find anything worth taking home. What good is putting off your responsibilities if you don’t even have a new hat to show for it?
Well lucky for you, I am here to share my tips and tricks for finding your very own treasures in second hand shops.
The most important thing to think about before you go second hand shopping is where you are going. Try for stores in interesting neighborhoods, where the store is likely to have either picked up clothing from residents, or cater the aesthetic of residents. For instance, I have found that 23rd street in Portland and Haight Street in San Francisco are both loaded with second hand stores with interesting finds.
Also, be aware of “Gucci Goodwills”, or second hand shops where wealthy neighbors are more likely to unload their lightly used designer duds. These can usually be found within proximity to luxury apartments and upscale restaurants.
If you are on the search for upscale clothing only, I would suggest visiting one of many consignment shops that only carry designer and high quality clothing. However, be prepared to shell out more than you might at your average thrift store.
Vintage stores are always a treat, especially if you have a flair for wearing timeless fashion. However, because of the recent revival of vintage clothing, you may find yourself in a vintage shop where moth eaten, unflattering suits from the 80s can cost you hundreds of dollars.
When shopping at a second hand store, I suggest sticking to one rack at a time, so as not to be overwhelmed. I tend to scan said rack for interesting colors or prints that I might wear. After I find a color or print that agrees with me, I will pull it off the rack for closer inspection.
It should also be noted that second hand shopping is a very tactile exercise. By feeling various garments while they hang on the rack, you will be able to spot your cashmere in a sea of poly-blend.
Bear in mind that at a true thrift store, the garments are rejects from someone’s closet. That means that shoulder pads and mom jeans are abundant, as well as stained t-shirts and ugly ties. Unless you see yourself wearing a floor-length jean skirt, or a fuchsia felt vest, it is best to not even let the mind consider some items.
Personally, I have had the most luck when it comes to scarves. I have an extensive collection of designer silk scarves that I have picked out of reject bins in various thrift stores around the country, by plunging my hand into the scarf bin and groping around for the unmistakable feel of silk.
After the hunt is over, and your new bounty is added to your closet, remember to give back to your community by donating your old and unwanted clothing back to thrift stores and clothing programs. Many thrift stores give their proceeds directly to hospitals and charities, and almost any religious institution will take donations to clothe the less fortunate.
Just yesterday, after scouring through countless racks of stained polo shirts at the Nantucket Hospital Thrift Shop, I finally came across a red and blue paisley Dior scarf that is now part of my collection. In return, I happily donated two bags of my own clothing back to the same thrift store. Talk about a fun way to be sustainable!
About Emma Grillo: From a young age, I’d pour over the pages of my mother’s Vogue, and relish any opportunity to dress up for a special occasion. This infatuation with fashion has followed me to Lewis and Clark College, where I am pursuing a BA in English and Art History. I am extremely excited to intern with Joseph, learning the ins and outs of personal branding and style. I am also writing 10 blogs, including this one. I am thankful for this unprecedented opportunity, and for the hands on education that I will undoubtedly receive.