12 Tips for Thrift Store Shopping for Cute Clothes!

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hoooray! happy friday! i am ridiculously excited to share this article with you because not only is it is filled with incredibly helpful tips for thrift store shopping but it’s written by my real-life bestie, alison! she makes appearances on my blog (like when we surprised our guys with a snowshoe trip!) and she is hands-down my most fashionable friend. between her and my mother, i’m slowly starting to dress less like a 15 year old boy, which is an amazing feat. 

she loves clothes but she doesn’t love to pay full price so here are 12 tips for thrift store shopping for cute clothing because thrift stores aren’t just full of used plates, dishes and rollerblades! thank you alison for sharing your secrets with us!


how to go thrift store shopping

There are no two ways about it: clothing is expensive.  Yes, things go on sale, but often this means they’ve run out of sizes or no one has bought it at full price for a reason…I love clothing and style but struggle with spending money on things that may not last, flatter or excite me for more than a few months.  Because of this, I rarely buy anything new.  So I thrift.

This works well for me because I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, I enjoy having new things. Thrifting is more about hunting than shopping, so it appeals to me on that level.

Thrifting is hardly a new occurrence, and I’m sure many of you are reading this and thinking – DUH.  If that’s you, and you consider yourself a hardened thrift shopper, just nod along with the tips I outline below…but be sure to check back later when I share how to turn your thrifting prowess into a nice cash flow.

I’ll break my tips down into three sections that chronologically work through a traditional shopping trip: At Home, At the Store, Before Check Out.

At Home

Before you head out shopping, take a little time to plan your trip by doing the following:

1) Evaluate Your Closet 

Take a few minutes to think about your wardrobe and then make a mental or actual list of what it is lacking, so you know what you have and what you need. Be specific with your needs: do you need flats or do you need black flats?  Knowing what you’re looking for will help you not be overwhelmed when you arrive in the sea of semi-organized clothing that make up most thrift stores.

Pro tip: thrifting pants can be extremely challenging, because styles have changed a LOT in the last 5 years and pants are hard to buy in general.  It’s completely doable, but don’t be frustrated if this is elusive at first.

2) Evaluate Your Style

Personal style is just about what you feel good wearing. It’s not about a specific brand or a pithy label. What do you put on for a day when you’ve got brunch with friends and some errands where you might see people you know? That’s your “style.”  Knowing what you tend to reach for first is important before heading into the thrift jungle. The racks of thrift stores contain items that would fit into thousands of personal styles, so it can be overwhelming to see what fits in your life.

3) Identify the styles you aspire to

Before you head to the store, take a moment to think about trends or styles that you like that aren’t necessarily yours. This may seem like a possible contradiction to my advice about knowing your personal style, but it’s just a way to grow your style.  Thrifting is a cost effective way to try new things and you can test something of much higher quality than you would if you went with a fast fashion retailer, like Forever21 or H&M.

chelsea and alison

Decide Where to Go

If you type “Thrift Stores” into Yelp, you’ll get a huge number of results and knowing where to start can be daunting.

4a) Check out consignment shops

Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, Crossroads and local boutiques are a fantastic way to get your feet wet. They tend to be organized and the clothing will all be closely reviewed before they bring it into the store, so it should be free of stains, tears, smells or missing buttons.

4b) True thrift stores

Goodwill, Value Village, Salvation Army are the unwashed (sometimes literally) masses of second hand shopping.  These stores are filled with all sorts of things in widely ranging age, condition and style.  The racks aren’t typically organized beyond type (ie: jeans, t-shirts) and ballpark size, so you have to really search to find what you’re after.  The prices here are the least expensive.

At The Store

When you arrive at your selected store, here are a few ways to ensure success:

5) Divide the store into sections

Don’t try to see everything or shop blindly – you’ll be digging through the racks all day and I bet you didn’t pack enough snacks! Start your search in the areas that you identified when you were evaluating your closet.  If you need black flats, hit the shoe racks and slowly peruse the selection.  At true thrift stores, shoes are rarely sorted by size, so try things on!

6) Look at fabric first 

    As you walk along each rack, look for the fabrics that catch your eye.  Maybe it’s the color, the pattern or the detailing on the sleeve.  Rather than flipping to see each thing front-on, you can easily pull out the items that catch your eye just by fabric.  I tend to reach for anything that is striped, gray or looks “nicer.”

7) Pull everything and carry 

    Once something has caught your eye and then still appeals after you look at it straight on, toss it in your basket or cart.  And be sure you HAVE a basket or cart! Instead of closely evaluating each thing as you pull it from the rack, carry it with you and plan to review it a little later.  I am a big fan of gathering everything that is potentially interesting and whittling it down.

8) Don’t limit yourself to your size 

    Most thrift stores group clothing into small, medium, and large, but where they separate small from medium may not be consistent.  While I’m usually a small or medium when shopping at J.Crew or Gap, I don’t limit myself to these sections in thrift stores.  Because I’m pulling fabrics that catch my eye and gathering anything of interest without closely evaluating, it takes only marginally more time to skim through the large section as well.
    As I’m writing this, I’m wearing a fabulously comfortably and slouchy cashmere sweater that I paid $4 for, despite the fact that retailed for over $100!  It’s a size XL and I love the way it looks with skinny jeans.

Before you check out:

Before you decided what to take home with you, you’ll have to review all of the things you gathered. Look at each thing and examine them closely.

9) Review first

Are there stains, pulls, missing buttons or holes? Some things are easily fixed, like loose threads or missing buttons (often there is a spare button on the inside seam by the care instructions).  Stains, pilling, pulls and holes are much harder to fix and generally mean the item isn’t worth buying.


I can’t stress enough how important it is to try things on when thrifting.  That being said, trying things on is the worst (true story, I once bribed Chelsea with a chocolate chip cookie to get her to try a pair of pants on rather than letting her just buy them and hope for the best).  I look at it as a way to help identify what I really love.  If I don’t like it enough to try it on, I know I won’t like it enough to get excited about wearing it in my normal life.  Trying things on is a worthwhile hassle and often you can catch strange things you might have missed when you were examining the item (like pants that have been shortened).

how to go thrift store shopping

11) Think about caring for it

Take the time to look at the care instructions for anything you are considering buying.  One of the benefits of thrifting can be finding expensive clothing for extremely cheap prices.  One of the drawbacks of expensive clothing is that it often needs to be dry cleaned.  I love cashmere sweaters and silk blouses, and getting them for under $10 makes the cost and hassle of dry cleaning worth it for me.  Things made of polyester are generally machine washable, but may not wear as well in the long run.  Think about your lifestyle and laundry habits and whether the screaming deal you’re getting will turn out to be a cleaning nightmare.

12) Check the return policy

Thrift stores typically do not have generous return policies.  Many times, all sales are final.  If they do accept returns, it is usually only for store credit and the window for returns is short.  For example, Goodwill allows returns within 14 days with the tags still attached, but the item MUST be returned to the same store it was purchased at.

Keep in mind these 12 tips for thrift store shopping and it will not only help you find new-to-you clothing to add to wardrobe but thrifting can be exceptionally fun!  I love coming home and having my boyfriend guess how much something retailed for and then how much I paid.  I enjoy it enough that I’ve turned my thrifting skills into a money making venture…which I’ll be back to tell you about soon!

how to go thrift store shopping


  1. Elyse

    June 19, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Great tips!

    I used to do all my shopping in thrift stores, but I’ve gotten out of the habit, thanks for the reminder to start shopping there again!
    Elyse recently posted…5 Signs You’re a Newlywed

  2. Brittany

    June 19, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Great tips! I recommend Thred-Up too!
    Brittany recently posted…Beauty Products to Help You Beat the Heat

    • Alison

      June 23, 2015 at 11:13 am

      I’ve heard of Thred-Up but never tried it! I’ll have to go check it out!

  3. Charlene Maugeri

    June 20, 2015 at 10:49 am

    I loved the tips! They make me want to run to GoodWill right now!
    Charlene Maugeri recently posted…5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me

    • Alison

      June 23, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Goodwill shopping is such a delightfully addictive habit!