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Aug 12, 201410:47 AMPatterned


Aug 12, 2014 - 10:47 AM

Photography by Amanda Mustard

I still have my first thrifted treasure hanging in my closet. It’s an orange A-line dress with an all-over purple, green and white floral print haphazardly strewn across it. It has delicate cap sleeves, and it buttons down to the cinched elastic waist. It hit me mid-calf when I bought it, so I immediately took a pair of scissors and sliced – quite crookedly – the hem up to mid-thigh. The edges roll up sometimes, making it even more warped than it naturally is.


I’ve thought about getting it legitimately hemmed for years now, but nostalgia simply won’t allow it. Because each time I see that jagged little hem, I remember the rush of pulling that piece off the stuffed rack, of imagining what it could be, of trying it on and noting the perfect fit, of being so excited to wear it immediately that I couldn’t possibly wait until it was properly hemmed.


I had casually thrifted for some time before I found that dress. Usually I’d go in looking for a costume piece or I’d give up too soon after feeling intimidated by the endless racks and sometimes overwhelming smell. But that dress marked a change in my thrifting patterns. I was starting to understand the flow of things and catch the hang of it.


Whether you’re looking to get a little more serious about your thrifting or simply looking for tips to get started, here I share with you my own personal cheat sheet for making your next trip to the thrift store a success.



·       Time is key

Successful thrifting takes time. There are thousands of items in any given thrift store; to think that you can breeze in and out in five minutes with a bag full of gems is just crazy. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but for most thrifting ventures – especially in the beginning – allot a generous amount of time to make your rounds, especially if you’re checking out a new spot. You’ve got to get used to the layout, the organizational methods and the space in general. Patience is key; you’re going to be digging through a lot of junk. A lot of dad’s softball jerseys from last year. A lot of Target castaways that went out of trend almost as soon as they came into it. A lot of lame-printed polyester dresses that your grandmother probably wore over a turtleneck in the early 2000s. But you can’t let any of that get you down!


If you don’t have ample time to devote – and depending on the venue, it could take hours – prioritize the areas you’d like to hit. Maybe today’s a day for dresses. Or maybe small housewares are what your heart desires. It’s too much to try to tackle a whole thrift store in a half hour.


And if you really do plan on camping out there for a few hours, consider bringing water or snacks to keep you going. I often leave a thrift store feeling quite fatigued; hours of digging, inspecting and digging some more can be rather exhausting. Granted, I’m often thrifting for the store that I co-own, Stash, so my hauls can be quite large at times. And on those big shopping adventures, I’ve found hand sanitizer and lotion to be helpful to keep my hands from feeling grimy and dry.



·       Dress for success

Wear comfortable clothing and footwear seeing as you’ll be on your feet for a while. Or don’t bother with that advice if you really could care less about how comfortable your feet are. I know some lady friends who rock some fab heels without a problem, in which case, I salute you and say, “YOU DO YOU, GIRL IN 6-INCH HEELS AT GOODWILL.”


If you’re going to be trying things on, wear something that you can easily change in and out of. There’s nothing like finding an amazing piece and thinking about what a hassle it would be to get out of your zip-back dress with triple-crisscrossed straps and lace-up-to-the-knees boots. Along the same lines, wearing good undergarments will help you get a better vision of what the piece will look like in your everyday life.



·       Research

Most thrift stores offer half-off days once a week, so call or check ahead of time to see what their normal schedule is like. On these days, most items in the store are a whopping 50 percent off. It’s Deal City, USA up in there. But be careful; some places exclude certain tag colors or items such as large furniture and jewelry. Make sure you ask or check all signage before filling up your cart. And while you’re there, check in to see if they have any other special events coming up.


·       Don’t get caught up in the size on the tag

Sizing has changed drastically over the years, so look more at fit and general measurements as opposed to the number sewn into the tag. Perfect example of this: by today’s standards I wear approximately a size six, but when I buy jeans to cut into shorts, I often find myself fitting best into size 12 to 16 when it comes to vintage denim. You really never know until you try, so make sure to hit up the fitting room to make sure that the hanger appeal translates on your body.



·       Inspect each piece

With pre-worn goods, there is always the chance of flaws in the fabric, holes, missing buttons or zippers, or stains. Run each piece through quality control – aka a good look-see with your eyeballs. Be mindful of the costs of drycleaning. If you find a breathtaking piece, it may be worth some extra laundering costs. but know what’s worth taking a risk on. Or it may require some Oxyclean, a gentle spin through the delicate cycle, a hand-wash or a soak, but each process can certainly do wonders.


Find a good tailor or seamstress in case you find a must-have piece that may need some fixing up. Fit is so key in our clothing, and thrifting makes it easier for you to invest in good tailoring. You may have found that almost-perfect pair of jeans for only $2, so spending another $15 to get them perfectly hemmed still leaves the total cost of the jeans at least than $20.



·     Be open

I feel it is best to go without a huge game plan in mind since you really never know what you’ll find. It’s the nature of the beast, really. And thrifting is an excellent way to try out a new look or trend that you’re not looking to spend a lot of money on. If for some reason that bright jewel-toned psychedelic print caftan is screaming your name, give it a try! It’s probably only, like, $5, and no one else is going to have it.


And maybe you think, “Ew, there’s an underwear section? No thank you!” But I’ve found some of my favorite pieces in the most unexpected of places. They often stash a lot of lacey loveliness in the lingerie/pajama section, and the men’s top section is the ideal place to find slouchy plaids and cozy vintage graphic tees. I used to think buying bathing suits at thrift stores was a bit odd, but as my laundering skills have improved, I no longer shy away from bold monokinis with high-cut leg openings.


Maybe you love the fabric of an item, but the fit is way off. Or maybe it’s just a ginormous sack of a shapeless dress, but you can tell it has potential. Your tailor or seamstress may be able to help you think of ways it could be reworked. And don’t forget to imagine pieces in different colors. Dyeing can make it possible, and furniture and small housewares can often be painted or spray-painted.



·       Budget

Many thrift store accept credit and debit cards, but take cash or give yourself a limit so you don’t overspend. It’s easy to do when everything is super cheap! Yes, that tank top is only $3, but next thing you know, you’ve got a cartful and you’re up to $60.



·       Don’t give up

Alright, so you went out, you followed some of this advice and you still came up unsuccessful. Don’t stop there! It happens to all of us. Pat yourself on the back for not making any sloppy impulse buys just to make yourself feel better about spending an hour rummaging through the Salvation Army.


And don’t fluff off a certain location because you went once and didn’t find anything. I know I find myself frequenting some of the stops where I’ve had the most success, but it’s good to try new places or go back to ones you haven’t visited in a while. New merchandise comes pouring in every single day, so things will change over quickly. Give it another chance!


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About This Blog

Designer Yves Saint Laurent once said, “Fashions fade, but style is eternal.” Contributing writer and editor – and co-owner of Harrisburg’s new boutique, Stash – Jen Merrill analyzes the true meaning of style as she explores trends and ideas related to clothing, accessories, home décor and design in this new online column.