Thrifting 101: Things I Didn't Buy at the Thrift Store


It spoke to me from the depths of the rack. Tucked in a corner on the top floor of a thrift store was a stunning Victor Costa cocktail dress, created from yards of shockingly pink taffeta. A stiff poof skirt bubbled from the waist. I pulled the dress from the rack and held it to my body. It was nearly perfect, aside from a pull near the waist and a small stain near the back hem. Accented with flirtatious rows of ruffles at the bust, this 1980's dress was made for me. It spoke of youthful fun, of proms and homecoming and staying out past curfew and wearing your boyfriend's class ring around your neck. It was wondrous.

But I didn't buy it. And despite the damage, I regretted it. And with that, this dress fell into my ever-growing list of thrift scores that got away.

There are things we leave behind while thrifting that haunt us. Even though they might be damaged beyond repair, priced beyond our budget, altogether impractical, or not in our size, it can be hard to resist the emotional pull these items have on us.

I have a soft spot in my heart for vintage sequin tops, cocktail dresses and evening gowns. I love that these pieces makes me feel like a pretty pretty princess, even though I lack servants and a mansion and tiaras and all other luxurious trappings princesses have. When I go thrifting, evening wear is the first section I head to and the spot I spend the longest in. I have a hard time resisting sequined jackets and velvet cocktail dresses and well, anything crafted from tulle and taffeta. I've left things behind that make my heart weep white hot tears of sadness. Such as the 1960's allover lace wedding gown with a full crinoline circle skirt I saw in the Goodwill last week for $10. And a black and gold striped v-neck maxi dress from the 70's. And let's not forget the vintage prom dresses I used to see in Urban Outfitters while in high school. Those will haunt me forever. (Did you know Urban Outfitters sold a substantial amount of vintage back in the early 90's? Yup.)

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. And there's no way of knowing whether you will see any item during a future expedition. It’s a delicate dance of give and take, steadfastness, and  perseverance. And restraint. There are things I see at the thrift store I desperately want, but just don't need. There are also things I could never, ever let myself purchase because of the squick factor - such as lingerie and undergarments - and things you just shouldn't buy, no matter their emotional pull. My friend Sammy posted a great list of things to avoid while thrift store shopping, and I couldn't agree more with her choices. No matter how much you love those running shoes, they won't give you the safest, most optimum stride during your workout.

Making peace with the thrift scores that got away takes time. I still think about those prom dresses I saw over twenty years ago. That pink Victor Costa will invade my dreams. But in the end, the decision not to purchase them was financial astute. It's far better to save my money for pieces I actually need - staples such as sweaters for winter and sundresses for summer.

Do you feel an emotional pull towards certain pieces while thrifing? What items do you have a hard time passing up? What are your thrift scores that got away?


  1. I don't have any items from thrift shops that haunt me, but there were a pair of holographic sneakers that I wanted in 5th grade that my parents wouldn't let me buy. I still remember them!

  2. Nostalgia is a huge part of thrifting for me. It's hard to let those toys, sunglasses, themed sheets, and poofy dresses just stay there because of the emotional attachment I might have to them. But, in a culture that is obsessed with ironic nostalgia, I try to pick my emotional buys carefully. A framed 1993 print of Star Trek: The Next Generation for $1? Sure. A $0.50 Teddy Ruxpin. No, thanks.

  3. I feel an emotional pull while thrifiting...all the time. Especially if its not in my size. I'll always say "I could hem this. I could do this. I could do that." and in reality I wouldn't do anything to it & it would just sit there and look pretty. But I'm starting to think I'll just buy them. Just to serve its purpose. To sit there and look pretty and I won't have thrifters remorse either.

  4. The beautiful midnight blue silk taffeta skirt I passed up this week is something I will emotionally, if not intellectually, regret for a very long time to come. I mean, it had a crinoline, the shell was real silk, it was GORGEOUS, but I knew perfectly well I wouldn't wear it. (Although I instantly mentally constructed a perfect cocktail party outfit around it. If only I frequently went to cocktail parties...)

    And did I mention it was only £5, a fairly high-end brand, and beautifully made? Yeah, I'm still in mourning.

  5. I don't thrift much because there aren't many treasures for plus sizes but I have had lots of shopping regrets. I can't tell you how many times I've gone back to a store hoping something was still there and dug through the racks for far too long holding out hope.

  6. I'm getting better at NOT buying these pieces. One of my recent regrets was a hot pink sequined tuxedo jacket. It was not in my size and I couldn't immediately think who would love to have it. I've taken to snapping photos of these things, as a way to document my "find" that I let get away.

  7. Where are all of these great places to thrift at ??? I have children and a mortgage and I am sure my husband would be pleased at my thriftiness lol


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