As a fashion enthusiast, there’s something about shopping at the thrift store that cannot be beat. The endless possibilities are absolutely thrilling, as is the feeling of finding a unique piece at an outrageously affordable price. On top of that, buying second-hand is such a great way to feed my clothing obsession without hurting the planet. While thrift shopping can seem overwhelming at first, I’ve compiled my favourite thrifting tips to ensure a successful thrifting experience every time.

Before You Go

Purge your wardrobe to clear out space and assess what you need. Bring in donations to save money (or at least pass on the good vibes). Many thrift shops, such as Salvation Army and Value Village, offer coupons in exchange for your donations. It’s a great way to declutter and provide a potential find for another thrifter!

Be strategic about the outfit you choose to wear on your thrifting journey! Because many thrift shops may have a limited number of fitting rooms (or none at all), dress in layers that would make it easy to try clothes on over or under.

Shop in your favourite outfit. A hot tip that changed the thrifting game: wear an outfit that fits well and makes you feel confident. This will allow you to compare potential finds to your current outfit. If your potential find doesn’t make you feel just as confident or better, move on.

Location matters! Keep in mind that thrift stores often reflect the styles of the neighbourhood it is located in. In terms of the thrift store, Salvation Army tends to offer better deals in general. Value Village tends to be pricier these days, but they offer many 50% off discount days every month or two (typically Sunday for members and Mondays for everyone). Become a Value Village member for free, and you’ll receive email coupons for different discounts each month. Keep on the lookout for independently run thrift stores and charity shops for unique finds. If you find a thrift store where the proceeds support a cause that you care about, you’ll make an impact on the environment and your community.

The Thrift Shopping Experience

Don’t be limited by sizes. At the thrift store, I scour the entire store for fabrics and patterns that catch my eye. Sizing over the decades and between brands can vary vastly, so don’t limit your search to just your size range. Items can be easily misplaced throughout the store as well. Try on anything you love – the fit may surprise you.

Don’t limit your search based on gender. Styles can cross over between the sections, and many pieces could have been misplaced in the wrong section. As a women, some of my favourite finds have been found on the Men’s jacket rack, and my boyfriend’s prized cardigan was found in the women’s aisle.

Learn to discern quality. Know your fabrics so you can choose the best pieces. I tend to avoid polyester unless if I’m looking for sport tops. For example, if it’s polyester imitating wool, I would pass. My favourites tend to be 100% cotton or linen, but check the labels and feel the fabric between your fingers to assess its quality.

Look for vintage or retro. Older clothes can really make a statement, and you can be sure that you won’t turn up to the office in the same outfit as someone else! Another great advantage is that clothes from the 80’s (and older) were usually made to last longer. Mall brands like the Gap, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren tended to use better quality and stitching in the 80’s and 90’s. Check the label for vintage logos to get a good indicator of their age.

Stock up on layering basics. I’ve found my favourite tees and turtlenecks at the thrift store. People tend to overbuy basic pieces and donate them to clear out space, so I find the thrift store a great place to save money on pieces you’ll definitely need. Look for better brands and fabrics so you get the best quality.

Don’t forget the accessories. This is where you can find a literal treasure. I’ve found a beautiful vintage watch that ran perfectly (after I replaced the battery) for just $2. Just keep in mind that there is no guarantee that watches will still work, but it’s worth it to repair if you find a unique piece.

Narrowing Your Selection

Don’t shop for price. If a piece is not quite what you’re looking for, don’t be tempted by a low price tag. You’ll likely re-donate the item or have it take up precious room in your closet. Assess if the piece is unique, missing from your wardrobe, or makes you feel fantastic.

Check for signs of wear. Hold your potential find to the light and check for stains or holes. Small moth holes are not fixable, but if there’s a small tear near the seam and you love the piece, you can easily salvage that. I tend to avoid any items that are stained. In terms of pilling, assess whether the pilling implies that the piece is low quality/ almost at the end of its life, or if a quick shave with a razor or lint brush would save it. Most of the time, I tend to avoid items with pilling, unless if I trust the brand and have had experience saving it in the past. For example, I once found a pair of Lululemon pants for 50 cents. With a quick shave, it looked brand new all over again.

It’s alright to walk away empty handed. Don’t shop for quantity, and just enjoy the experience as you fuel your fashion inspiration! If you don’t find anything that you love, don’t buy something subpar just to feel like you bought something.

Any other tips I missed? I’d love to know the strategies that work for you!