The world of thrift: or why I go thrifting

Let me state the obvious here, my blog is called Thrift Eye. I used to thrift all the time, and I’ve refined it to about once a week if I can afford to and have time. I hope I’m not giving the impression to you guys that I’m one of those bloggers that’s shopping all the time. I window shop a lot, and then I use that as inspiration for when I thrift. (I also want to say that I don’t only thrift, but it does make up about 75% of the clothing I ever buy).

I will give you an example from today- I spent months drooling over this Madewell dress, but could never justify spending that much on a dress. If you can, that’s perfectly fine. But she sure is a pretty dress.

And while thrifting today at a Goodwill, I came upon this dress, and it’s by J.Crew.

So you guys know that Madewell is owned by J.Crew right? Not only did I save retail price from the Madewell dress, I saved it from the J.Crew one too –  my dress was $8. I waited, waited, waited and in the end found a dress that was pretty similar. I’m very  happy with it. Now I can’t wait to wash it and wear it.

I’m constantly reminded why I thrift, why I named this whole thing Thrift Eye six years ago. I dug through my archives to find a very old post about my “thrifting rules.” I made several bullet points about the whole world of thrifting. I re-read the rules and altered them to fit how I shop and dress now-

Set yourself a kind of routine to check out. I typically start by looking at the shoes, work my way to purses and accessories, furniture/home accessories, and then women’s clothing (some days I even look at men’s clothing). Remember that things can often get mixed up and you may find that their markers for sizing or types of clothes may not necessarily match what you find on the racks. Depending on how great or little time you have, know where to start, divide and conquer so you don’t get overwhelmed.

There are some people in life who just wear their clothes no more than a few times. Luckily for some of us, “those” people like to donate their lightly worn, almost new, designer clothing as tax-deductible donations to thrift stores. So do NOT be surprised if you see Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta, etc… next to the scrubs and muumuu’s.

Some days you cannot help but to just walk into a thrift store and find something perfectly great, I think it’s an art. Finding something that is currently fashionable, not damaged, affordable, fits your body, and not to mention unique from the things everyone else is wearing is not an easy task – I’ve often walked away empty handed.

Probably one of the worst things you can feel at the thrift store is finding those items that you love but not your size. And not just a little bit, because we can sometimes get by with not having something fit perfectly – but it just doesn’t fit at all. Like the zipper that won’t close or those pants that won’t go over your hips, or maybe they don’t stay on at all. It’s almost heart breaking to leave something behind on these circumstances. But don’t worry, if you find it once at a thrift store, you may find it again at another one in your size, just be patient.

The more you thrift, the more you see the Thrift store hierarchy – some are more organized than others, others have better prices than others, some may have really great clothing merchandise, some may have really great furniture pieces.

I remember seeing one thing I liked once – a colorful plaid sundress by Isaac Mizrahi for Target. If I wanted something from Target, I’d gladly go to Target. But I found the dress, and it was about $16, which for a thrift store, I believe is way too much. And on top of that, it was too small for me. Then while digging around some more, I found the same dress in a bigger size, my size. Except the price rose to $22! I could have probably paid that at Target. I try to stick to thrift stores that have consistent and regular, sensible prices. 

Sometimes to find your jewel, you’ll have to dig through a lot of trash. And after hanging out with record collectors, I am find similarities in the trade. So you’re telling me that I’m going to have to look through ALL those racks to possibly find something good? Most likely yes. I think it is more of a mood thing. Some days I feel like looking through every single rack, some days I just browse on top, looking for standout items, certain colors, patterns, or labels.

There is first come first serve factor. While this still applies to a regular store…at least there you have the slim hopes that there is more than one of the item or that there is more in stock at the back. At thrift stores, if you don’t get at it first, then it’s most likely gone to someone else’s home. And yes, I have followed someone around a store before, hoping that they would leave something behind that I really wanted . And sometimes it has happened, others, sadly not.

Be ready for imperfections, especially if you’re looking for vintage clothes. After about 20 or 30 years in someone else’s closet, some of this stuff may be near to or falling apart. If you don’t have basic sewing skills, or access to someone who does, I would most likely suggest not buying the item.

So all that being said…..set yourself some limits. Mostly being that, if I am not completely WOWed by an item when I first lay my eyes on it, then I am almost definitely going to leave it behind (this should also go for regular shopping). Know when to leave something behind because it’s kind of smelly (no matter how cute), is damaged beyond any repairs you can’t do (unless you can fix them yourself), or the price seems too high for you. Yes, sometimes thrift stores price items competitively, and it’s perfectly fine to walk away because I usually find those items at half-price a few weeks later anyway. Don’t feel afraid to try something new – take advantage of the grab bag thrift stores can be, to try a new trend or color that you don’t wear much. But most importantly, don’t feel that because it’s so cheap, you’ve failed if you don’t buy anything. You don’t have to buy something every single time you shop. Don’t ever feel pressured that because you blog, or you read lots of blogs, or whatever reason, that you have to keep up with others.

To thrift or not to  thrift? Do you?

  • sartorialsidelines

    Great post! It’s early in the morning and my coffee hasn’t really kicked in yet so I’m having a hard time putting this into intelligible words but I really loved reading this.

    Courtney ~

    • Eli

      Thank you 🙂

  • Asiancajuns Lar

    I always come here for thrifting inspiration, Eli, and I love this post especially. Cath and I have always thrifted, but not as much as I’ve wanted to. Now that I’m over in the UK, I run into about five charity shops (mainly window shopping too) as I walk my local grocery store. Your reminders in this post are going to help me to stay on track and not just buy something because it fits some of the criteria.
    Hope you are having a lovely week!

    • Eli

      Thanks Lar, when I lived in las vegas, I was extremely close to a thrift store too, it was so good and bad at the same time. I was definitely more compulsive about shopping then. 

  • I really do love the thrift and have found some of my favorite pieces in my closet from thrift stores.  I don’t thrift as much as I’d like to here in NYC because I just feel that the prices are a lot higher!  There’s a huge Savers near my old university in Connecticut, so when I go back there to visit I try to schedule in some time for thrifting too.  I usually come back with a huge haul! 🙂

    • Eli

      There’s a Goodwill nearby me in SF that’s pretty overpriced to this other Goodwill I frequent that’s outside of the city by my work. It’s so funny how just because they’re in the city they bump the prices up. I guess that’s how they make rent! There’s one Goodwill here in SF that’s really fancy and sell lots of brand names but is VERY expensive, so funny how that works out. Thrift goes luxury.

  • Cammila

    Oh babe, I LOVE this post! I relate in so many ways, most prominently that I also use upmarket examples as my inspiration when I set out on a thrifting adventure. I too find that having a point of inspiration, or even what you might call a “goal look” can make thrifting more successful — or at least less overwhelming. Way to spread the Goodwill gospel! ;D

    • Eli

      Ah yes, Goodwill Gospel is the PERFECT term for it. I don’t think I’ll be able to shop full price retail regularly ever again in my life. It’s so funny how people don’t realize how there are so many new things when thrifting now.

  • Kristin Cheverie

    i thrift a LOT. i like this post! i had a similar experience recently: i’ve been looking for a good pair of vintage, kinda dressy sandals with a wood heel. i ogled over swedish hasbeens and the like but could never pull the trigger because… they’re just so expensive. anyway i found the perfect pair of low heeled wooden sandals. white crisscross straps with an ankle strap. just like swedish hasbeens! only these are natualizer (comfy), never worn, and they were 8 dollars instead of a bajillion. that’s why i thrift!

    i think what you said about leaving things behind is important. i came really close one day to buying a pink pendeleton wool blazer. the price and fit were right but i am just NOT the kind of person who will wear a pink blazer! something like that would be regarded as a good thrift find by just about anyone, but if i wouldn’t wear it, what’s the point? i’ll let someone who WILL wear it find it and get excited about it.

    • Eli

      I think we all live and learn, I say to leave things behind but only learned through failing at it many times and realizing that I just wouldn’t wear these things because they’re not me.

      Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂 I appreciate it!

  • InnyVinny

    Most definitely!  I get a lot of my high-end designer vintage thrift shopping.  Just scored a Dior suit jacket for $10 a couple of days ago!  It’ll have to be tailored, but still a win.  =D

    I’ve become a lot more selective in what I buy and in my process, and it’s very similar to what you listed here.  I’ve also learned to leave things behind and not just shop for the sake of a good price.  I nodded when you said that something has to WOW you before you take it home.  If you gave out no other advice, I think that sums up thrift shopping quite well.  

    • Eli

      I think the trick is thrifting more, you definitely learn your own style better. If anything, by trial and error. I don’t think I will ever again be able to go back to only shopping retail, I’m ruined, but I don’t mind 🙂

  • what a great little overview!
    I like to thrift, but I always feel overwhelmed in stores like goodwill that are huge and full of more junk than good stuff.

    So I stick to the two small stores in my town. I go in each usually once a week, do a quick lap to see if something is new or if something I want is half off. most of the time I leave empty handed, but you never know. Just last week I found a new little coach bag!

    • Eli

      We used to have MEGA thrift stores in Vegas that were giant warehouses. You could spend hours there and often leave empty handed, it sucked. I definitely like the more intimate thrift stores I go to now.

  • Adiel

    I freaking love thrifting! I definitely have to be in the right mood though because I really try to look through every piece on every rack. You never know what you’ll find that way, right? Great tips, Eli!

    • Eli

      There are days when I’m so grossed out that I wont even open the racks. I’ve seen some things at thrift stores before that are like those moments you lose your appetite. I’ll tell you about it some time 🙂

  • We So Thrifty

    It is as if you peered into my brain and wrote out an entry out of it. Love this post! I found myself nodding right along. 

    • Eli

      Thank you 🙂 I think the trick is to go often, anyone can get refined at it with a bit of diligence or help

  • Pearl D`souza

    I’m an avid thrifter too & I prefer thrifter to buying off the rack clothes. I completely agree to all the points you’ve written. Glad to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

    • Eli

      Thank you Pearl, yes you’re not the only one. I have a Goodwill, Crossroads, Buffalo Exchange, and Wasteland in my neighborhood that are so dangerously awesome and cheap sometimes that it’s so difficult to buy anything new ever again!

  • You really have a good talent for thrifting! If you can save money from finding similar styles, why not? I also think thrifting can keep someone from looking too trendy… which I think it’s a good thing. 

    • Eli

      I really like this idea Jeanne, thank you for making me thing about it another way. Don’t we all fear looking like “mall” people?!

  • Tamika D.

    These are some cute looks. I blog about thrifting & frugal fashion and it’s not an everyday thing for me either. It’s great when you find items or get inspired from them!

    • Eli

      Thrifting really can be inspirational to putting outfits together. I can’t remember the last time I paid more than $30 for something I wore and I kind of like that!

  • Leticia

    I try to stick to thrift stores that have consistent and regular, sensible prices. I think that’s why most ” 

    This sentence seems to be missing something. 

    I agree with your views on thrift stores, and have bought many clothes on them before. It does take more time to shop, though. 

    • Eli

      Oops, not sure what was going on there, it looks like I didn’t finish my thought? I fixed it, I appreciate you pointing it out to me.

      I do agree that it can take more time though because you have to sort through a lot of crap sometimes. I’ve had moments where I get overwhelmed and just leave. Or you find things that don’t work in the season or city you live in.

  • I love your blog, its such an inspiration. I too am a avid thrifter, have been for years, i still love that feeling of finding something that you have looked for ages to find. A better experience than any retail store could give you. 
    Anna xx 

  • Shermika & Tamika

    I love to thrift and my sister and I go together. You have some great rules…you def have to know if something is too much money, or when you should simply leave it behind. Did I say I love thrifting? Now when am I gonna find all htese designer goods?! Ha! But the thrill is in the hunt. Now I’m looking for a store with great furniture so I can find a comfy chair. ~SD

  • I have a very difficult time buying anything retail when there are so many thrifting deals to be had! 

    One suggestion I have is to consider negotiating with the sales people at thrift stores, even vintage shops. I’ll point out a snag here or missing button there and get a few dollars knocked off. Everything is final sale anyway, so it never hurts to ask! I saw an old road bike at a Salvation Army marked at $50. I literally had $40 cash on me and asked if they’d take that — SOLD!

  • kristian satterlee

    Hmmm, this is really interesting. I want to thrift more, but there is not much shopping around- thrifting or otherwise (and what there is seems to be mostly church places that open at odd times. For example- thursdays 10-4. Who is shopping then? Don’t many people have jobs during that time). 

    Many blogs lead one to believe that were will always be a “treasure” when thrifting too, so it is nice to hear you say that it not always that case and, prices lower or not, to make sure that you absolutely love the piece if you’re going to get it. It baffles me when some people get annoyed at this idea….

    Thanks for sharing these reflections! 

    • Eli

      Yep, thanks for the sentiments. I’m not the kind of blogger to tell you to go buy things that you may not need

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