- If it’s your first time at a store, ask to speak to a staff member or volunteer.
Introduce yourself and ask if there is anything you should know about the shop. Inform yourself about the charities involved. Many thrift stores color-code items and have discounts on certain colors. Ask if there is a changing room. You also want to ask if they are cash only or if they also accept credit and debit cards.
- Take a tour of the shop before you dig in.
Get a lay of the land and figure out where everything is. Some stores have “dollar racks” or special sections or rooms for kids clothes, menswear, housewares, etc.
- Inspect your clothes.
Look for imperfections, holes, stains and anything untoward. If you’re as lucky as I am, most of your store’s inventory will consist of clothes in pristine shape, but this is not always the case.
- Try on everything before you buy.
You don’t want to get home and discover that you can’t zip up those hot pants.
- Try on anything that looks like it might fit you, no matter what size it is.
Thrift stores and vintage shops carry items from the past – which means that the size may not be commensurate with today’s standards. Develop an eye for the size of your waist, chest, etc. My rule of thumb is to try on anything that looks good in my size plus or minus 1- 2 sizes. These days I wear anything from an 8 to a 14 depending on the item (skirt, pant, dress) and its fit (high-waist, low-rider, etc.) It’s also a good idea to keep a few pieces in your wardrobe that you know are slightly larger than you usually wear, for days when you’re bloated. In general, I avoid buying anything that is too tight. There’s simply no point in being uncomfortable.
- Never buy anything that you’re not 100% sure you love.
If you have to think about it for more than 30 seconds, don’t get it. Absolutely do not get anything that turns you off for any reason. Trust your gut and follow your tastes.
- Think about gaps to fill in your wardrobe.
Do you have a sufficient variety of clothes for work, socializing, physical activities and lounging at home? Know what your priorities are by getting very clear on what you already have at home. When I first started thrifting, my priority was getting suits, blouses and dress pants for the office. Next, I turned to casual slacks, skirts and dresses. Only after getting a solid wardrobe for work did I begin to explore more playful items and loungewear.
- Know yourself and your preferences but also allow yourself the flexibility to change.
Are there certain colors and fabrics you like? Styles you love or hate? Develop a sense of your own personal style by seeing how you spontaneously respond to items. Go with what you’re drawn to. Pay attention to your heart. As you expand your wardrobe, you will find yourself buying colors and styles that you’ve never worn before. Trust yourself as you begin to develop your sense of what looks and feels good on you. My old wardrobe consisted mostly drab, dark clothes – many of which were ill-fitting. As I relaxed into thrifting, I began to get a sense of what suits my figure. I also discovered that I love a variety colors besides beige and black: pink, blue, red and to a lesser extent orange, yellow and green – colors that I almost never bought before. I also found myself drawn to fabrics that feel soft to the touch — silk and jersey cotton, for example.
- Be considerate, positive and friendly.
I find myself naturally picking up around the store when the spirit moves me: I’ll hang things up that have fallen on the floor or clean out the changing room. I don’t do these things because I’m trying to be a good thrift shop citizen. I do it because I am having a good time and I enjoy keeping things neat and orderly. If you’re in a good mood, you’ll spontaneously spread positive energy and simultaneously build up good thrifting karma.
- Don’t go on an empty stomach or when you’re in a rush.
Have a bite to eat before you go to the thrift shop and choose a time period (preferably at least an hour) when you have time to look and try on clothes at a leisurely pace.
- Don’t bring a lot of crap into the store.
Sometimes all I bring into the thrift shop is my car keys. I don’t like to be weighed down by my purse, sunglasses, etc. You can always go back to your car for your wallet once you’ve finalized your purchases.
I’ve actually found that thrifting helps me practice mindfulness. I pay attention to my breathing. I notice my own reaction to the items I find. I pay attention to what’s going on around me. I interact with the other clients and the staff, enjoying the aliveness and spontaneity that emerges from our conversations. I touch a silk blouse and luxuriate in the feel of its fabric. I allow the vividness of a blazer’s color to delight and penetrate me. All of this, when done mindfully, is really quite a sensual and meditative practice.