The Art of Thrifting: 10 Best Tips

The Art of Thrifting: 10 Best Tips

Whether you’re an avid thrifter, have never stepped foot in a thrift/consignment store or you haven’t had success with these types of stores in the past…this guest post by Erin of This Little Light of Ours will have you scoring great steals EVERY time! Her 10 best thrifting tips cover everything from tackling the aisles to dressing room protocol to analyzing the threads. It’s an art…really! And who better to learn from than the lady who has made a 100% thrifted closet {with the exception of gifted items} look like a million bucks! As a personal stylist I love introducing my clients on a budget to the world of thrifting. It’s the perfect way to add lots of quality pieces to your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Enjoy and take lots of mental notes…


Every now and then, I get asked what my secret is for finding great stuff, so I thought I’d share with you some things I’ve learned:

1. ) Go OFTEN. I know this is kind of a no-brainer, but this really is my number one tip. People think I have magic thrifting skills (and let’s be honest, sometimes I let them), but the secret is I thrift regularly and often!

2.) Don’t be afraid to try on things you’d never wear in a million years, or that you don’t think will look good on you.  That’s half the fun!  And you never know when you might surprise yourself.  I personally live by the ‘Try On All The Jumpsuits and Sequins’ rule.

3.) Bring a camera (i.e. your cellphone)! If you’re undecided on an item, take pictures and learn to read your face.  It sounds silly, but I can tell so much about how I feel in something based on the expression on my face or my body language.  You can also share your photos to get feedback if you want it.  There’s a pretty awesome thrifting community out there!

4.) If you’re making a serious outing of it, I say fix your hair and wear the shoes you feel your best in.  It’s amazing how much cuter clothes look when I try them on with my favorite heels.  (It’s the secret to getting “everything looks good on you!” comments.)

5.) Try to hone in on your personal color palette.  This will make looking through the racks much, much easier.  Not to mention, you’ll feel better about what you’re trying on if the color flatters you.  These days, I stay pretty true to my palette of reds, blues, black and white.  It narrows down the store by a large percentage, and I know that whatever I buy has a good chance of coordinating with everything else in my closet.

Half off sale finds

6.) Make a mental (or actual!) list of your ‘holy grail’ items.  The things you always find yourself looking for – whether it’s something you love (like me and chambray and stripes!), or a particular vacancy you want to fill in your wardrobe.  It’s crazy the amount of times I’ve had a specific piece in mind and have actually found it (distressed jean jacket, baseball sweater, cargo vest).  It might not happen immediately and may require some patience, but for me that’s part of the fun (well, as long as you’re not going around naked or freezing cold).

Holy Grail Items

7.) Check out sections you normally might ignore…i.e. kids, mens, pj’s and workout clothes.  You can often find some good things hiding in there.  Check the racks of clothes waiting to be put away (just be careful that they don’t belong to someone inside the dressing room…I’ve found that out the hard way!)

8.) Explore different thrift stores in various parts of town (or new towns altogether!). Most of my wardrobe was thrifted in parts of town where I could never afford to live, but I still enjoy their castoffs!

9.) Pay attention to whether it’s high quality or ‘high ticket’ item.  Sometimes with lower quality items and disposable fashion type-brands, it’s quite honestly cheaper (or the same) to buy it retail.  If it’s a higher end item, at least you know you have a good chance of reselling it should you change your mind.  This can be helpful, since not a lot of thrift stores in my experience have a refund policy.

10.) Take the time to do a full, careful scan of the item in the dressing room.  I cannot tell you how often I’m in a hurry or excited about a find, only to discover when I bring it home that it’s stained or ripped or otherwise not wearable as-is.  It’s a sad lesson to learn, but sometimes ‘it no longer fits’ is not the only reason clothes find their way to the thrift store! One thing I do avoid is dry clean only items that are stained. Especially if they still have the tag from the cleaners in them, because then you know it’s been tried and failed.

Tips and advice regarding alterations and repairs:

Q: What alterations or repairs are typically easy or difficult (i.e. inexpensive or expensive)?

A: Generally speaking, taking up hems or taking in or (slightly) letting out side seams is easy.  If the item is lined, it can get more complicated.  Sewing on buttons or re-stitching undone seams is an easy repair, so long as the garment is in good shape (factor in the potential cost of having to replace buttons to match).  Replacing zippers is not bad, but it can depend a lot on the placement and the fabric (i.e. if it frays and there’s very little seam allowance). I personally like the challenge!  

Adjusting the shoulder fit and resetting a sleeve is rarely easy, and the same goes for adjusting armholes.  It’s not necessarily impossible, but it’s time consuming and probably won’t look exactly perfect.  Completely replacing a lining is doable, but it’s nice if enough of the existing lining is in tact so I can remove it and make a pattern for the new lining.

Q: What are some things to watch out for when buying used clothing?

A: If you’re letting out a hem to lengthen (i.e. a dress or skirt), first (using both hands) pinch the opposite layers of the hem in your fingers to gently separate the layers from each other (making something like a tube).  Looking at the bottom of the fold (where the hem has been pressed), make sure that the crease line is not faded, discolored, worn or dirty because this will show when you let out the hem.

Be especially careful with vintage items.  Vintage fabric can be fragile and if it’s rotten, can disintegrate right as you start working with it. If you can, hold the fabric up to the light and check for weak spots.  Often, rotting fabric will have a powdery feel.  Check for weak or rotten thread by gently pulling on any buttons.  Check for wear at stress points (the waistband, for example, or anywhere someone might have tugged or pulled throughout repeated wear).


Check out Erin’s full post on her 10 best thrifting tips for more about her love for thrift shopping. She also created an awesome flowchart for you ladies to take shopping with you to help in your decision making!

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7 Comments

  1. August 23, 2015 / 3:40 pm

    Agreed! I always make a list of looks and trends I’m eager to try so I can narrow my search better and don’t purchase look repeat looks. Great blog!

  2. August 24, 2015 / 12:04 am

    Great post! I completely agree with your tips. One thing I do, is use Pinterest to save particular outfits or pieces that I’d like to replicate. This is my way of remembering them when I thrift 🙂
    Following your blog!

    • August 25, 2015 / 3:35 am

      Fantastic idea!! I save looks on Pinterest all the time, but never refer to them while I’m actually thrifting! Thanks for the tip hun 🙂

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