Thrifting 101, Part 9: Thrifting Etiquette

So yesterday I almost got into a fistfight. While scouring Goodwill, on an endless quest for vintage maxi skirts and silk tanks and sequins sequins sequins, I happened upon a gorgeous vintage sequined crewneck sweater. It was just lying there, all sad and lonely and abandoned, on a rack outside the dressing room. Magpie that I am, attracted to anything sparkly, sequined and shiny, I walked towards the sweater in a trance-like state, hands trembling in anticipation. This lovely sweater was mine. Or so I thought. The moment I laid hands on it, a furious middle-aged woman flew out of the dressing room, screeching that the sweater was hers, and WHO DO I THINK I AM TAKING HER CLOTHES??? I consider myself pretty scrappy, but I'm not about to get shanked over an article of clothing. So I skulked away, head hung, muttering half-hearted apologies as I departed.

Thrifting is a complicated process. It is not about dropping into a store and immediately finding what you need. There are no guarantees you will find success. There are also no hints in regards to how long a thrifting expedition will take. Thrift stores are not the venue for you if you need instant gratification, are working with time limits, or are otherwise unwilling or unable to dig. It’s a delicate dance of give and take, steadfastness, perseverance, and restraint.  

Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, a post about determining what days are the best for thrifting, and I explained my love for thrifting.

While nursing my defeated ego yesterday, I realized that some of my fellow thrifters could use a post in Thrifting Etiquette 101. So I offer up a few hints to keep in mind for future thrift adventures.

  • Don't shop down the racks in the path of another shopper. It's much easier to go with the flow, in the direction of other shoppers, even if that means following behind someone and not getting first dibs. You’ll also have more time to mull over items instead of doing that awkward sidestep-fall in the rack. In addition, don't let your cart monopolize the aisle. Park it within sight of where you are.
  • If something falls off the hanger, pick it up. At the least, throw it over the rack so it’s off the floor. Maybe it's my years of retail experience talking here but it really bothers me when people blatantly see things fall on the floor and just step over it, or worse…step on it.
  • Don't hide or secretly squander merchandise you think you might come back for. If you aren't immediately drawn to it, leave it for someone else.
  • No taking other people’s stuff out of their shopping carts while they are indisposed in the restroom, the dressing room, or otherwise not smart enough to guard their things. This will lead to hostility on the part of the person returning to their cart only to discover that their vintage polka-dot blouse is now in someone else’s possession. Note my near-smackdown above for proof.
I have seen people gazing longingly at another customer's items piled in their carts. For some, the temptation is too great to bear. Before the unsuspecting shopper knows it, their cart has been pillaged and treasures stolen. I have been that unsuspecting shopper. The one-of-a-kind nature of thrift stores, filled with unique items, make perfectly normal people behave rather ungraciously (I yearn to use more colorful language, but I'm a lady and trying to work on my manners.) Unlike a traditional retail stores, there are no copies in The Back.

  •  No stalking employees while they're wheeling new merchandise out onto the floor. It's creepy, and might get you kicked out. Store employees do not care that you MUST HAVE the red Christmas sweater circa 1984 on their rolling rack, the one you spied leaving the back room and have been stalking like a famished cheetah circles a herd of axis deer. That red sweater might be the jackpot in your virtual casino, but control yourself and wait patiently for said item to be hung. Then it's fair play.
Do you have any tips regarding thrifting etiquette? What's the worst display of behavior you've seen in a thrift store?


  1. Great article! Thanks for the etiquette tips :) I need to go with you one of these days!

  2. My trip to Goodwill was pretty much ruined last weekend by a herd of unruly children, left to roam/run at will throughout the store by their mother, who seemed content to ignore them. I don't have kids, so perhaps some will feel I'm being insensitive, but if I did I would make them behave in public. One of the kids picked up a beeping toy, then proceeeded to hit the button to make it beep over and over and over again, while he ran at top speed up and down the center aisle for about 30 minutes. Thrifting requires concentration! So I left.

  3. My golden rule is to do my best to stay out of the way. Thrift stores are often small and cramped, and it makes everybody's day a lot nicer if we can all just be a little bit courteous.

  4. I gotta go with Kimi on this one. We have a small thrift store here close to my house and it seems to turn into a babysitting area some days. I have two children so I'm NOT being insensitive. Yes, kids will be kids but they need to do it semi-quietly out of the aisles. It drives me insane!!

  5. i love to thrift shop, pretty much the only way i buy clothes and my rules are: i stick to a budget so i make judicious choices--no "maybe i can make this work" purchases! then i leave myself PLENTY of time so i don't feel like i "miss" something. i also avoid people and come back to that area when they are done...

  6. Confession: I just read all nine parts back to back. What an awesome series about thrifting! I just recently fell in love with it, so this was extremely helpful and useful. Reading about someone who has the same obsession makes me want to go thrifting right now!

  7. yep! unruly children. leave at home or tie em up out front?

  8. I have not seen this crazy behavior in a thrift store or any store for that matter. I have seen people step on fallen clothes though (which I hate too!)
    "Pick it up people!" I'm shocked that people actually DO steal from other ppl's cart. I thought this was a myth for some reason. Maybe my shops are less intense. I need to go where you go, i'm curious! I think it would be fun to plan a thrift shopping meetup with you as our guide. :)

  9. I really enjoyed this post! I'm so glad I discovered you via Twitter!

  10. I don't guess I thrift often enough to have fights! Maybe I should go more.

  11. I vote for rounding up all the unruly children in a bull pen :P

    I've just gotten into thrifting, so this series is truly wonderful! The hardest part for me is to "go with the flow." More than once I've had my eyes on something only to have it being snatched up by the person in front of me.

    14 Shades Of Grey

  12. what happens with a fellow thrifter is working a rack behind her cart and is only a 1/4 of the way into her search? do i follow behind her and her cart or can i work the rack in front of her cart? the rows between racks are super narrow and i wondered if there was an unspoken rule of "first dibs" to a row or rack-thoughts?


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