just a thought – thrift philosophy


thrift store outfitDo you have a thrift store philosophy?  If I do, it is “thrift without looking thrifty”.  There is an art to selecting items – Tricia of Bits & Bobbins is the master of this.  After much practice, I have discovered my own simple tao of thrift, resulting in some truly satisfying (if less colourful) finds.  This weekend I picked up a never-worn pair of Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, in my size and my favourite wash – dark, no stretch, no fade.  Other great finds I wear all of the time like these sandals, and this shirt in the outfit on the left.  The costs per wear are practically nothing, yet nothing about it looks like cheap second-hand clothes.

I used to be quite awful at thrifting as a teenager.  I would select things without much thought – desperately wanting to find something cool and picking up less-than-ideal bell bottoms, fur coats full of moths that ate my wool sweaters, long polyester skirts, ill-fitting jackets and of course, cheap old slips, filling cardboard boxes with the unworn spoils of my pocket change.  Back in those days at those prices (most things were under a dollar, imagine!) the financial damage was limited – the moth damage was devastating.

Once I came to Toronto where the prices were higher and the choice was much broader, the stakes were raised and I stopped thrifting for a while.  But I have come back to it, and now I put more thought into it.

I go as frequently as possible, and set aside at least an hour or two to do it.  Weekdays are better than weekends, less busy and more recent deliveries. I never go looking for anything specific, and often leave without buying anything.  Like the library, the thrift store is best approached with an open mind, allowing serendipity to draw you towards what you don’t know you’re looking for.

Here is my thrift technique:

  1. Run your hands across the fabrics looking for good ones.  How to tell a good fabric – a good fabric feels good.  If it does…
  2. Look at the label.  Is it a size that might fit you?  If so…
  3. Look at the colour and style.  Does it suit your taste?  If so…
  4. Look at the fabric content if possible… natural fibres are often indicative of quality – but always consider the touch of the fabric.  A soft, top quality polyester blend is better than an itchy 100% wool.
  5. Anything else that makes it worth trying on… an interesting label?  Made in an interesting location? Nice pockets and lining? Good condition? A good price?
  6. Only if it satisfies all these criteria, try it on.  Is it an absolute yes?  If not – a slight yes, any mixed feelings at all, its really a NO.  Only buy things that are great without reservations.  That is the trick to thrifting without looking thrifty.

Do you have a thrift store philosophy?  Any great finds lately?

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9 thoughts on “just a thought – thrift philosophy”

  1. I am a bit of a thrifter and a bit of a vintage buyer. A bit of both. I like that there’s a method to your madness. I don’t have much of a method at all – except going with an open mind and with a decent amount of time to find the good finds 🙂 You can’t go thrifting with the mind set that you’re only going for a half an hour… you need to be on the hunt – and hunting takes time.

    I only have a few stipulations:

    1. Cannot look too worn, damaged, or old. If it looks ancient and preloved to death, it isn’t coming home with me.

    2. Must be unique. I find myself not buying anything anymore unless there is some detail that I love that I can’t live without. I personally am moving more towards a minimalistic approach to life… and purging all the old CRAP that I bought before is one step towards that… so to me unless it’s unique, it isn’t coming home with me.

    3. Must fit WELL. No more thinking “well I could fix this when I get home… hem it, take it in or out here and there”. NO, if it doesn’t fit to begin with it isn’t coming home with me.

    4. Must be worth the money I put into it. I don’t always thrift. Sometimes I spend a little more on some nicer vintage pieces. They MUST be pristine – no stains, no tears, no weak seams or fabric! If it’s not ‘quality’ it isn’t coming home with me.

    5. I must LOVE it … period. If I don’t love it, it isn’t coming home with me.

  2. I agree with your tips & Christy’s too! When thrifting, I tend to ignore the label, just glancing at it to see if I recognize it. If it’s a higher quality label that might make me pay more attention, and if it’s something from Old Navy I know I won’t pay any more than $2-4 for it, depending on the item. But since a lot of stuff at thrift stores is older, I don’t recognize the label, and in that case put it through the tests you describe. Seeing if the fabric is worn out or stretched out, checking seams, looking for snags, holes, etc., looking at fiber content (I can usually tell just by touching it, but acrylic irritates my skin so I can’t wear anything with acrylic in it), and then checking for fit. I might bring something home even if the fit is a little off, because I can hem it/take it in by myself. I’m also trying really hard, thrift store purchase or not, to not buy items unless I absolutely love them and can think of 3-4 outfits I could wear with my current wardrobe (or maybe a small addition to it) immediately.

  3. I’ve been shopping at thrift stores for a long time so my philosophy has evolved over the years…but here’s a list of things that I look for when I go (and of course I end up finding completely random things half the time instead):
    1. Vintage or vintage-looking clothes, especially when shopping at thrift stores in smaller towns. I’ve found pieces from the 40s and 50s this way. I will buy almost any great vintage piece, even if it doesn’t fit me. I also swing dance so I’m always on the look out for something to wear dancing.
    2. Perfect fit only on things that aren’t worth altering to me…otherwise I love the challenge of altering clothes, especially if I think the item is amazing enough to try it. But I have to have a game plan for how I’m going to do it before I buy it.
    3. Absolutely has to be in wearable condition. I won’t even try it on if it isn’t.
    4. Thrifting used to be a time for me to take chances, but over the years, this approach hasn’t exactly worked for me (ex. a sequined 80s top that never made it out of my closet)…so I try now to be realistic. I’m not that edgy.
    5. One thing I do when shopping for NEW clothes is to look at things, especially trends that come in and out of fashion, and ask myself: “Could I find this at a thrift store?” If the answer is yes, I wait to try and find a used version of it.

  4. I definelty LIVE by the same philosophy. I love thirft store shopping and spend hours trying to find items that look amazing but cost absolutely nothing. Most of the time i just end up buying jewelry. But finding a great pair of shoes or jeans GIVES ME LIFE.

  5. my philosophy changes depending on the day.. sometimes I go into an op shop (what we aussies call thrift stores) because I feel the need to go shopping and buy new clothes and update my wardrobe, but have no money to go to ‘real shops’. On those days, I look for things that are a fairly good brand, quality fabrics, and that require very little or no repairs or fitting. If it’s not something I would buy new, then I don’t buy it. I often end up with nice quality basics.
    sometimes I go op shopping because I have nothing else to do that day and I feel like hunting through racks and racks of clothes. on those days I’ll look for interesting fabrics, unique designs and “real” vintage (getting harder and harder to find around here!). I look for things that I can alter to fit me or to turn into something completely different. I usually come home with brightly printed dresses and skirts that I end up shortening.
    If I’m just out somewhere and have some time to kill in a nearby op shop, then I guess I do a bit of a mix of the above. I set myself a price limit and usually look at dresses first, then skirts, then tops, and always check out the shoes just in case by some miracle chance there’s something other than dirty old target sandals and someone’s old ‘sensible’ black work shoes.

  6. I felt a twinge of shame when you talked about buying old slips. I remember a time where I wore a slip with nearly every outfit. I’ve found that my thrifting modus operandi has changed a lot. I started thifting as a teenager buying kids tees, slips, polyester (disco) dresses and over the top jackets (usually of the 1970s vintage and usually with fur). Now I find I look for:

    1) Unique pieces: something I could not find anywhere else.
    2) Quality and tailoring: how well does it fit?
    3) Ready to wear: I used to buy pieces that needed repairs..and never repaired them.
    4) Timeless: I try to buy things that still look fresh and modern. Some vintage can look too dated.
    5) Adaptable to my wardrobe: how well does it fit with my wardrobe – can I mix it up?

    I am just curious which thrift shops you frequent. I’ve been to the Goodwill on St. Clair and the Value Village in Leslieville. Both of which were ok. Are there any other gems?

  7. Wow thanks for all the hefty comments everyone – some great tips and stories here!

    Allison – I frequent the Leslieville Value Village and the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Parliament south of Dundas, more for convenience than any other reason. Whenever I have the opportunity, I like to check thrift stores in smaller cities (like Barrie, Hamilton, etc.) where there aren’t as many competitive savvy thrifters, there are more good finds.

    Small town thrift stores, on the other hand, are rarely good; there’s more than one case of someone recognizing an old item of theirs on a thrifty shopper, and lower turnover means that you can be sifting through the SAME items for years, literally.

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