Thrifting 101: Tips for newbies, and dealing with the squick facor

When I was a little girl, one of favorite activities was making mud pies in my front yard. My mother would send me out in my oldest, grungiest clothes with a wooden spoon and some warped Tupperware containers, and I'd go to town creating elaborate concoctions made out of dirt, leaves and basically whatever detritus I could find on our property. Getting nice and dirty never bothered me, and it took a lot to gross me out. Most little girls my own age were repelled by worms, and bugs, and blood, but I was fascinated. Sure, I loved my frilly dresses and hair ribbons. But they were always accompanied by dirt under my fingernails.

I suppose this is why I am unafraid of thrift stores. Thrift store excursions put one face-to-face with musty odors, dust, and dirt. There's a guaranteed ewww factor. Some consider the idea of rummaging through racks of use clothing distasteful, and I've received more than a few raised brows and scrunched noses after confessing my love for thrifting (you can see evidence of this passion here, and here, and here.) But I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Jentine of My Edit recently discussed this very topic in her Thrift Friday series. I was impressed by her tips for those who find thrifting intriguing, yet struggle with getting past what she calls the ick factor. However, I think there's another group of potential thrifters who could use some advice: those who have never, ever been thrifting, and are simply intimidated to enter the store in the first place. I thought I'd add my own tips to both groups. 

  • First of all, ask yourself if you are the type of person who can physically handle thrifting. If you have allergies, asthma, a super strong aversion to germs, or are unable to spend much time on your feet, thrifting is probably not for you. Also, you won't always find an item in your size. You won't always find something you like, either. If you are someone who loves to rummage, would sacrifice a half day in pursuit of a bargain, can thrift without triggering allergies, and enjoys the thrill of the hunt, then thrift store shopping is for you.
  • Decide what time to shop is best for you. You'll need at least a spare hour. Since rummaging requires energy, choose the time of day when you feel most energetic. Some stores are open at night or weekends, and I've found that fewer people visit thrift stores at night. Weekends are likely to be busier, and sales days are by far the busiest. Most thrift stores post hours and information regarding sales on their website; definitely take the time to check before planning an outing.
  • Leave your purse in the trunk of the car (or at home.) Carrying cash in your pocket frees up your hands for sorting/digging/browsing. And avoid wearing your coat into the store for the same reason.
  • Understand that the types of people who visit thrift stores are not necessarily the same as in your neighborhood or at church. Thrift stores attract all walks of life. This means that you may be chatted up by lonely souls seeking comfort, confronted by people with intellectual disabilities, or brush shoulders with those down on their luck. All of them have their reasons for being there; just be polite and move on to the next rack.

  • If the idea of the Goodwill or the Salvation Army squicks you out, try consignment stores instead. Consignment stores hand-select their items, and some even clean clothing before making it available to customers. They usually sell higher-label merchandise too. They're a nice steps towards becoming comfortable with the idea of wearing previously worn clothing.
  • Be honest with yourself even before trying on the item (if that's possible - many thrift stores don't include dressing rooms.) Do you really like the style overall - the arms shape, the leg flare, the neck plunge etc? Is it really your color? Don't buy clothes that you don't absolutely love, or don't quite fit, or are otherwise substandard - even if they are a bargain. It's tempting to purchase something because it's so inexpensive, but it's a waste of time, money, and space to buy something that's not quite right.
  • Check closely for stains, tears, mended parts, stretched stitching (often hard to repair) and marks. Do pants have a shiny seat, are beads or buttons missing, is stitching coming loose? If you see these, ask yourself if they're reparable or so damaged that they're better left behind. Only get items in good condition or capable of an easy repair. Buttons, zippers, and small holes can be replaced or mended by a tailor. Perspiration stains, fade marks, and large moth holes are beyond repair.
  • And finally, my most-important piece of advice (and I can't state this emphatically enough): Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed to be shopping second-hand. It's practical, smart, and financially sensible. And thrifting makes it possible to find some really unique, vintage pieces that no one else has. Anyone who would put you down for doing it only makes themselves look bad (and shallow.)

    Now I ask you: Does any part of thrifting squick you out? Do you avoid thrift stores entirely because of the squick factor? And please share your tips for newbie thrifters!

    Thrifted Kimchi Blue cardigan; thrifted Michael Stars henley; thrifted Seven For All Mankind bootcut jeans; thrifted Frye boots; thrifted vintage Whiting and Davis clutch; Betsey Johnson gold watch

    (Thanks for the positive responses, everyone! I think I'm going to start a Thrifting Thursday series now. It's nice to see that so many people share my passion for thrift stores!)


        1. thanks for introducing me to the word squick! it's awesome.


        2. I SOOO Needed these tips lady!! THANK YOU!!!!!!
          I loved thispost!
          More importantly I love your floral cardi!!


        3. LOVED this post!
          Thank you so much for the great tips, and as the previous poster - squick must now become part of my verbiage.

        4. My big tip is wear a skirt with leggings and a tank with a cardigan (or not in summer) for thrifting. You can try on anything, anywhere in that.

          I am one of those poor souls who has a dust allergy. I can thrift for about an hour tops and then I'm done. But I do enjoy that hour.

        5. Great post. I am a big fan of thrift shopping (as you call it in the states) and think more people should just get over themselves and not look down on those of us who thrift. I have quite a few friends who think I'm mad for wearing second hand clothes but I have scored some stunning items! Plus I took a friend thrift shopping for the first time a few months ago as she got a new job and need office attire. We managed to land 3 suits, a ton of shirts and a jacket for less than £30 I was pleased and so was she, a convert I think!!

          Daisy Dayz Home
          Cross-Jones-Photography Home

        6. Dang girl way to thrift! You found some great stuff.

        7. Great post! In the past, I tried thifting if I saw a thrift store walking by, but I've never been successful. You're right in that thrifting takes time. While the idea of finding a gem while casually browsing for 5 minutes sounds grand, it doesn't really happen like that. You have to work to find the deals. Last week, I went to the Salvation army and found two dresses, and paid $4.55 for both! Wednesdays are 50% off all clothes, so the deals are even more amazing, and there's nothing more thrilling than finding a great deal!

        8. I *love* thrifting so this post is great. Being able to buy interesting stuff at rock-bottom prices expands one's wardrobe quickly. And the serendipitous assortment means you never know what's going home with you.

          I'm glad you're endorsing the activity: posts like this encourage other women to try it. Good work!

        9. Wow! That cardigan is lurrrrvly! Thanks for the tips. I get rather exhausted by the idea of thrifting but I think that I would like it if I give it a fair go.

        10. i've been thrifting my whole life. love it! i get sticker shock pretty much in any "real" store now. hahah!. ;)

        11. THis post is so great. I stopped thrifting after college when I moved abroad and haven't had the time or patience to get out there and try again. Your post is inspiring me to get back into it.

        12. Are you kidding me! I love to thrift store shop! I found an awesome little store around the corner from me and they had all of their children's clothing on sale for 10/$1.00!!! I was able to buy my sons entire wardrobe from now until he's 3 for $10.00! and I am a thrift store snob (Lol). I only bought the nicer children's clothing lines, like OshKosh, Gymboree, etc. I am so excited! My little boy is going to look like he walked out a magazine and I will secretly think in my head. His whole outfit only cost me .20 cents. All those years of mud won't make me flinch and I won't care if he gets his clothes dirty : )

          P.S. New follower! : )

        13. Your tips are so helpful. I'm a student at UT Austin and I just started a blog about the local vintage shops and thrift stores. I included a link to Part 1 of the Thifting 101 series in my first blog post.

          I'm also the Natalie from the Texas Style Council Conference!

        14. Thanks Natalie - I'm so flattered! Running over to check out your blog right away!

        15. I have never heard the word sqick before, but I can honestly say it is my new favorite word!! I am a total thrift store junkie, but I do know the squick of which you speak! Love your blog...can't wait to start from the beginning.

        16. go girl! my daddy taught me too never have shame in a thrift store, i love when ppl comment on mine & my daughter's outfits, and the looks i get when i say thifted, or thrift & upcycled. some ppl dont like that my infant daughter in goodwill clothes, but isnt that the same as handme downs? plus i can get a huge bag full for her, that would get me olny 2 outfit at walmart or one piece somewhere else.

        17. I honestly have never even thought of a squick factor. I grew up wearing hand me downs, and have outfitted my own children in them forever. Savers is a new favorite because they hang by size. I'm not patient enough to look for nonexistent size tags for long! Nice article!

        18. Great article, I'm at a point where I dislike shopping elsewhere than thrift or vintage shops (I need to be surprised haha)! Just one thing, if the item has sweat stains or has yellowed due to age, not all is lost. I've been using oxiclean (the powder version) on all sorts of items (including a yellow 1930s waistcoat that revealed to be cream-coloured!) with all sorts of stains with great results. Mouthwash is also very good to get rid of practically any smells. Just thought I'd share my tips :)


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