As a girl on a budget, shopping (or more accurately: window shopping) can be painful. When even chain stores are too pricey (really Urban Outfitters? $110 for a shirt?), what’s a girl to do? Well, I always head straight to the sale racks for some of my best finds, like the $10 leather bag I got this weekend, but sometimes the most heavily discounted stuff is out of season, ill-fitting or just plain ugly.
The thrifty girl’s best friend is, well, the thrift store. While I can’t afford to drop hundreds of dollars on clothes each month, plenty of people can and do. And when these people get tired of their outfits, they sell them or give them away. That’s where we come in.
The first step to good thrifting is knowing your stores. Scope out your town or city and figure out where the good shops are. Most cities have a Salvation Army or Goodwill, as well as various consignment shops. Bigger cities and most college towns will have thrift or vintage stores (but keep in mind–vintage is often code word for EXPENSIVE!) If you find a shop you like, go there a lot, even if you don’t buy anything when you go. You’ll get a sense for when new clothes come in, so you can get to the good stuff first.
A lot of thrift stores have varied and arbitrary pricing, so if you know your local shopgirl you are more likely to get a discount on that dress with the small tear (which you can repair yourself). If your local shop buys clothes, bring along the stuff you don’t want any more (in good condition), and see if you can get store credit.
Once you’ve established yourself, you’re ready to start shopping. While everyone has their own methods for thrifting, I find there are usually a few important principals to live by:
1. Be patient!
Thrift stores are usually disorganized and packed full of junk. The best part of thrifting is the find–buried in that bin of cheap shoes is an adorable pair of heels, but only if you have the energy to dig all the way down to the bottom. It takes a lot of time to really look through every item on a crowded rack, but trust me, it’s totally worth it.
2. Don’t go looking for something specific
You’ll never find it. That’s what cheap chain stores like H&M and Forever 21 are for. If you walk into a messy shop looking for a blue spaghetti strap dress, chances are you won’t find exactly what you want—you might find a blue long sleeve dress or a green spaghetti strap dress, so make sure you’re flexible and open to anything.
3. When in doubt, try it on
Rarely do thrift store items have size tags, and sometimes older clothes have no size tags at all, or use an older sizing system. If it doesn’t look ridiculously big or ridiculously small, go ahead and try it on. Ignore the size, you may find it fits you anyway! My very favorite thrift dress is labeled almost 2 sizes smaller than what I normally wear.
4. Have Fun
This may sound cheesy, but it’s true. That gold lame dress is only $5…why not buy it and figure out how to incorporate it into your wardrobe? Try something different–maybe you don’t usually wear patterns but your local shop is full of old 50’s skirts. Go ahead and buy something unexpected–you may surprise yourself!
For our NYC girls, here are a few of my favs:
N. 11th Street between Berry and Wythe, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This is the mecca for stylish New York City girls of all incomes. Located in a massive warehouse, they buy discarded clothes from the hip Williamsburg/Bushwick crowd. Last weekend I scored a $15 dress from Urban Outfitters, an $8 romper from American Apparel, and a pair of Vans slip-ons for $10. They have a great selection of dresses, and a lot of newer stuff–you’ll see H&M t-shirts packed in with Marc Jacobs jackets.
If you want to sell your stuff, be prepared to go up against some really snooty buyers–they’ll take one or two items (if any) and donate the rest. They won’t take anything out of season either.
7th Street between 1st Ave and Ave A, East Village, Manhattan
The go-to for cowboy boots, converse, and bags. The hours are weird though, so try going in the afternoon. Not great for clothing.
Flores Antique Clothing
529 Grand Street, near Lorimer Street, Williamsburg
For vintage dresses, there is no better store. Almost everything is under $50, and there’s even a discount if you buy in bulk. It’s a no-nonsense, decidedly un-New York shop.
Do you have a favorite shop in your town or city? Let us know in the comments!