Thrift Store Shopping Tips for Beginners

Thrift store shopping tips for beginners

This year I have committed to not buying any new clothes – but that doesn’t mean I stopped shopping! I have been updating my wardrobe on an almost monthly basis by shopping at second-hand stores.

Prior to this challenge I found second-hand stores to be kind of gross (that distinct thrift store smell…) and too overwhelming to consider as a real option for clothes shopping.

Now, because of my commitment to not buying new this year, I have forced myself to test and learn some seriously game-changing strategies for how to tackle second-hand clothing stores. In fact, I have tested these thrift store shopping strategies on MULTIPLE friends who I have brought shopping with me and every single one of them ended up walking away with incredible pieces! I’m not just talking basic vintage band t-shirts, I’m talking incredible name brand coats, shoes, blazers, dresses, denim, for a FRACTION of the price that they would have cost when bought new.

If you want to become better skilled in the art of thrift shopping, read on for my road tested tips and shopping strategies.

Thrift Store Shopping Tips

1) Take inventory

It’s a good idea before you shop (thrift OR new) to take inventory of what you currently have in your closet. What’s missing? What needs to be replaced? What do you already have too much of?

Taking 5-10 minutes to assess what you already have will prepare your eye to keep a sharp look out for the items you actually need.

2) Shop one department at a time

I always shop in order of “difficulty to try on” – dresses usually being the hardest and purses or jackets being the easiest. The shopping order that never fails me:

  • Dresses
  • Pants
  • Skirts / Shorts
  • Shirts / Blouses
  • Jackets
  • Purses / Sunglasses / Jewelry / Accessories

I shop one section at a time, and I head to the fitting rooms to try on what I find after finishing each section (i.e. I’ll try on all of the dresses that catch my eye then have the store associate hold what I want to keep and put away what I don’t before looking at and trying on pants).

3) Keep an open mind

As you’re shopping each section / department of the store, don’t be afraid to pull out a few “riskier” items to try on! My wardrobe has become SO much more fun (and dare I say… more fashionable?) since adopting this strategy.

Nothing is off limits. As I’m scanning the racks for my favorite basics, I try to also pull a few colorful items or trendier cuts that I might not normally grab if everything was full price. Every now and then I surprise myself – this is how I ended up with my favorite pair of light wash vintage Calvin Klein high waisted cropped jeans!

4) Try everything on

I know I know – gross. Used clothing isn’t always fun to try on BUT you will regret it 9 times out of 10 when you buy blind. Plus a lot of thrift stores don’t have very good return policies (if they have them at all) so just take the extra few minutes and head to the dressing room.

As I mentioned earlier, I hit the dressing room after I finish browsing each section of the store. It helps me compartmentalize and compare like items. This way I don’t end up accidentally going home with 4 nice but similar blue dresses, I end up going home with the single best blue dress of the 4 I tried on.

5) When in doubt, take a selfie

If I try on an item that I think I like but I’m not 100% sure, I take a front, side, and back selfie in the dressing room mirror. Then I put that item in a mental “maybe” pile and keep shopping/trying on. After I’m finished trying everything on, I look at my “maybe” pictures and get real with myself. If I don’t LOVE how I look in the pictures then that “maybe” moves to a “no.” If I decide that I’m feeling it, I’ll take it home.

If I’m still unsure, I’ll text those selfie pics to my mom or a few friends to tell me their honest opinions. Not sure about you but my mom always has an honest opinion to share!

6) Ask yourself, do you LOVE it?

Don’t waste your time considering “ok” items. ONLY buy if it’s a “hell yes” – your closet real estate is far too valuable to store anything less.

7) Ignore price tags

I know this one sounds strange, but ignore the price tags until the VERY end of your shopping trip.

You’re thrift shopping so nothing should be too crazy expensive. Don’t let the super cheap price of an item sway you into liking it more before you have tried on everything else.

Remember, if it’s not a “hell yes” then it’s a no – no matter what!

8) Will you actually get that tailored?

If you try something on that is AWESOME but it’s just a little too loose around the waist or the sleeves are too long or it needs to be hemmed – be honest with yourself. Will you actually take this garment to a tailor?

The same thing goes for small mending projects like holes or tears or missing buttons.

If you’re like me, those things will never get fixed. Ain’t no time for that. My personal rule is, if it requires work, it stays behind.

9) Check cleaning labels & wash before wearing!

I think this one really goes without saying but please, make sure the clothes you take home are clean before you wear them out.

And if you take home a great suede jacket that needs a clean or an amazing white button down that has slightly yellow armpit stains, I’ve got you covered.

10) Browse regularly

Because I can’t ever expect to find EVERYTHING that I’m looking for in a single shopping trip, I check back regularly for updated merchandise. Every 6 weeks or so has been a good cadence for me so far.

New to thrifting? Here’s where to start


The vintage / thrifting purists will shame me for this, but I truly think that re-seller chains like Buffalo Exchange & Crossroads Trading are great if you’re new to second-hand.

These chains tend to be a bit higher priced than say a Goodwill, but they’re significantly more affordable than buying new AND better curated. They tend to carry trendier everyday merchandise from accessible brands – you’ll certainly see fast fashion retailers represented (Zara, H&M) but those higher quality brands will also be peppered in the assortment.

Re-sellers like Buffalo Exchange & Crossroads Trading are also great because if you find a location that you like, you can start selling back clothes that you are tired of for store credit to use on a future shopping trip (NOTE: they usually offer to pay you with either cash or store credit, but the cash offer is always much less than the store credit offer – I always opt for the store credit).


If you prefer to shop online, don’t worry, there are plenty of options for you as well! When we think of second-hand online retailers, a lot of us immediately think of Ebay – but it’s like the Goodwill of online second-hand shopping: overwhelming and not always very well curated. If you’re looking for something a little easier to navigate then I recommend these sites:

Join the movement!

I have heard from quite a few of you that you’re joining me for my “no new clothes” 2017 challenge – that’s so awesome! If you have any tips or recommendations to add to this post please share in the comments for others to see. I’d love to hear from you!

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One Comment

  1. I have noticed that I have been spending way too much money on clothes lately and I would love to change that. I didn’t know that I could find clothes at a thrift store before. That is a good idea to try everything on first, before I buy. It would be nice to see if the second-hand clothes fit well. Thank you for all the tips!

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