How to Shop Thrift and Consignment Stores

“Thrifting” is my favorite hobby.

Living in New York’s Hudson Valley, I have a plethora of thrift and consignment stores to explore (and even more on the days I’m in Manhattan.) At least half of my designer wardrobe was acquired from thrifting, not to mention the fact that I’ve scored some amazing one-of-a-kind and vintage pieces.

I’ve actually turned my love of thrift and consignment shopping into a little side business for Stylaphile. I always find incredible items when I go treasure hunting, but they aren’t always my size. I buy them anyway and resell them through my Shop Stylaphile Vintage store.

I’ve been thrifting for a long time and I’ve picked up a few pointers on how to score the best deals. Here are my tips on how to fill your closet with designer duds (without going broke!)


Step #1: Do your research.


Google thrift and consignment stores in your area and make a list of the ones you want to visit. Depending on your budget, you may want to visit more consignment shops than thrift stores or vice-versa. Consignment stores have higher-end designer items and you’ll pay a bit more, but the clothes are usually in excellent condition and the stores are neatly organized. With thrift stores, you’ll need to carefully inspect each garment before purchasing.

Make sure to check out store hours before you go. I’ve found operating hours vary with a lot of shops. Some of them are closed on Wednesdays (there’s a reason for that…I’ll get to it later in this post) and some are closed on Sundays. Others are open 7 days a week.

Once you have your list, map out your route according to location so that you’re not driving all over town.


Step #2: Get in the right frame of mind.


You know how people tell you not to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry? Well, I’m telling you not to go thrifting if you are looking for one particular item, because you’ll end up wasting a lot of time. The key is to think of it as a treasure hunt. You’re open to any type of discovery.

When you’re looking for a specific item – say a dress – your tendency will be to head straight for the “dress” section. If you don’t find the dress you’re looking for, you may leave without looking through the rest of the store. And people don’t always put things back in the right place, so your dream dress may be hiding on another rack.

You have to be prepared to go through every rack, piece by piece. That’s how you discover hidden treasures that you didn’t even know you were looking for. I’ve found Dolce & Gabbana skirts, Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses, and even a vintage Gucci blouse using this method.

Remember, you’re a pirate. And this is a treasure hunt.


Step #3: Go when the stores are least crowded.


I get a ton of items from my local Salvation Army store. But you won’t catch me there on a Wednesday. Why? Because on Wednesdays, everything in the store is half-price and the store is so crowded and noisy that it’s not worth it to me. It’s like going to Walmart on a Saturday or going shopping on Black Friday.

I mentioned previously that a lot of the consignment stores in my area are closed on Wednesdays. That’s because all of the owners hit the Salvation Army store that day to search for bargains to resell in their stores. So you know what I do? I hit the store on Tuesday, when it’s dead. Plus, I get the advantage of looking through all the newer merchandise before everyone floods the store on Wednesday.

I always try to go between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, because that seems to be the least crowded. You’ll have to visit the stores in your area at different times to see what works best for you. Maybe you’re one of those people that doesn’t mind crowds. In that case, you should definitely check to see if any shops host a “half-price” day and you’ll end up saving even more money!


Step #4: Dress appropriately.


I never try on clothes. Ever. I’ve been a (somewhat) professional shopper for so long now that I can usually look at a garment and tell whether or not it will fit me. And since I have the online shop now, I buy everything that I like, whether it’s my size or not. If it doesn’t fit me, it gets sold on Shop Stylaphile.

If you don’t have an experienced eye when it comes to fit, you’ll need to be prepared to try on things, since most of the items in thrift and consignment shops are final sale. It’s important to wear something that is easy to get in and out of in the dressing room. I’ve seen women wearing just a pair of leggings and a tank top so they can slip things on and off in the aisles. (I used to do this myself every year at the Barney’s Warehouse Annual Sale!)

And even I, the stiletto queen, wear flats or sneakers when I go thrifting. Comfort is key.


Step #5: Have patience.


The real key to scoring big at thrift and consignment shops is to take your time and be patient. As I mentioned above, you have to go through each and every piece…every single rack. This is how you find the good stuff.

Sometimes the store racks are so jammed full that it’s hard to shop. But don’t let this derail you. No matter how hard it is to sift through, just remember that Sophia Amoruso, founder of NastyGal, found a Chanel jacket in a thrift store for $8 and then turned around and sold it for $1,000!

Patience, ultimately, pays off when it comes to thrifting. And life, for that matter.

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