All it really takes to get you hooked on thrifting is one really good find. Once you’ve brought that treasure home and started to enjoy it, you’ll start to feel a pull to search for more treasures. But if you want to be consistently successful finding gems at the thrift store, you need to start paying attention to the details.
Here are a few more tips for when you want to go from casual browser to a serious hunter.
1. Pay Attention to Fabrics
One of the best parts about thrifting is that you can buy lightly used but very high quality clothes that you might not otherwise shell out for. Paying attention to fabrics is how you get the best bang for your buck. We don’t think very highly of spending $5 on something you can get new at Forever 21 for $8. But keeping an eye out for quality fabrics means you could get for $5 what might cost $60 at Banana Republic or $90 at Nordstrom.
Use your fingers to examine texture and pick up the item to gauge its overall weight (many higher quality fabrics are heavier). Look for natural fibers like cotton over synthetics. The shinier the fabric, the cheaper it looks. Keep an eye out for worn out fabric. It is possible to use a razor to freshen up pilled fabric, but it’s tedious, time-consuming work, so unless you’re in love, skip it.
2. Is it really vintage?
Some thrift stores like Goodwill have actual vintage sections, but at most places you’ll just find vintage items mixed in with everything else. If you’re a fan of fashion from other eras, there are a few quick and dirty ways to determine if something is really vintage.
First is zippers. Plastic zippers, or even painted zippers are a relatively new phenomenon. A piece of clothing with a big metal zipper is more likely to be truly old (though we have seen this look coming back in a few contemporary pieces).
Next, smell the clothes! We know it sounds a little weird, but older fabrics tend to have a different smell. It may be the type of fabric, it may be how it was stored before it came to the thrift store, who knows, but vintage clothes definitely have a smell.
Finally, check out the labels. The style and printing of labels has changed over the years, so vintage labels tend to stick out as old-fashioned. If you don’t recognize the brand, that can also be a big hint. Also, if you ever see a United Ladies’ Garment Workers Union label you know you’ve got genuine vintage, because the union disbanded in 1995.
3. Don’t pass something up because it’s out of season
Thrifting is all about striking while the iron is hot. Unlike regular retail, if you find something you like you can’t put it on hold or hope it’s there next time you visit the store. So if it’s January and you find a pair of sandals you love, go ahead an get them. There’s nothing wrong with having them wait patiently in your closet until the right weather comes around. So think all seasons while you’re thrift shopping!
4. Explore! Thrift outside your usual neighborhood
Successful thrifting is all about giving yourself great opportunities, so don’t limit yourself to the same few thrift stores near your house. We often take thrifting day trips around the Bay Area, from all parts of San Francisco to the East Bay (Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley) to the North Bay (Marin, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Rohnert Park). We’ve also been known to thrift while on vacation. Some of our favorite finds are from Lake Tahoe, Joshua Tree, and even other states.