How to Find Thrift Store Treasures

Thrift stores are, by definition, stores that sell secondhand clothes, furniture, and other items at deeply discounted prices. Well-known thrift stores in the United States include Goodwill, ARC, and Salvation Army stores. These three examples have social missions built into their business operations, such as employing developmentally disabled adults or providing donations of money or goods to the underprivileged. For a complex set of reasons, including the fact that thrift stores’ merchandise is used, there is a prevalent stereotype that only people who are very poor can or should shop and thrift stores, and that secondhand products found at thrift stores are bad or worthless.

The Truth about Thrift Stores

It is true that thrift stores often have very large inventories. Because their merchandise is acquired through charitable donations from individuals, they do not select items to keep in stock. As a result, almost everything they receive as a donation ends up for sale in the store, and there can be extreme variation in type and quality. If one doesn’t take the time to look closely in thrift stores, one might get the impression that clothes there are ripped, stained, or otherwise unusable. However, if one takes the time to look closely in thrift stores, one can find clothes that are in excellent condition, even brand new clothes, for very low prices.

Tip #1: Shop by Neighborhood

Thrift store shopping can be particularly productive in large cities if one knows where to look. The first and most important guideline for thrift store shopping, or “thrifting,” is to consider the neighborhood. Donations of clothes and other items usually come from people who live in the area surrounding a thrift store. Therefore, if a thrift store is located in or near an upscale neighborhood or well-to-do part of town, chances are good that a high percentage of the donations are good quality, brand name items donated by individuals who simply wanted to update their wardrobes. On the other hand, thrift stores in less well-kept neighborhoods might be likely to have a lot of damaged items and should be avoided.

Tip #2: Shop by Color

If you are the type of person who is interested in keeping up with current fashions, you might think that you can’t find what you are looking for at thrift stores because the merchandise is “old.” This is a common misconception. Large thrift stores contain clothing that’s both old and new. Sometimes people give away new clothes that they received as a gift but don’t like, sometimes whole wardrobes are donated when a family moves away, etc. The wide variety of circumstances under which people donate to thrift stores means that thrift store shoppers have a good chance of finding what they are looking for. A tip to help you quickly and easily find clothes that are current and in-season: shop by color. Thrift stores have so many clothes that they often do not have time to sort them in any meaningful way, so it’s up to the shopper to find the needle in the haystack. You can easily pick out things that are in season by only looking at items with current colors. For example, sometimes pastel colors are in season for spring. If you look for these colors, you can save time by not considering items that are in off-season colors.

Tip #3: Check and Clean New Clothes

Make sure to double-check any item you find at a thrift store for stains, tears, and other problems, before you purchase it. Additionally, you should always wash anything you buy at a thrift store before you wear it. This is because thrift stores have a strict disinfecting process to which they subject clothes before they sell them. The chemicals they use to make sure donations are disinfected can be harsh on skin and can have a distinct smell, so it is a good idea to wash them when you get them home. (This is also true of consignment stores that sell secondhand clothes at higher prices.) By following these tips, you’ll be able to find stylish, brand-name clothes in like-new condition for unbeatably low prices. With a little patience and luck, you’ll be able to update your wardrobe sustainably.