Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!

Thrift-Shop Thursday: Shopping Strategies, Part 1


After last week’s Thrift-Shop Thursday’s big debut (featuring the ever-popular replace-a-button tutorial), it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to talk shopping strategies for a minute, before going on to more thrift-shop-find projects.

Tip: These strategies, while thrift-shop-specific in this post, can also apply to any clothes shopping you do; the only real difference between the two is that you’ll have more size options outside of thrift shops.

Rather than just giving you a list of general shopping concepts, I’m going to use my current Makeover Monday/Take Tango to Work series to illustrate these principles in action. In my last MM post, I talked about how to organize a plan to develop a multi-functional wardrobe; here, I’ll follow up on those steps with details, including how I’m putting my own plan to good use at my favorite thrift shops.

Starting with your general plan, you’ll get a bit more specific:

1. Decide what types of garments are your immediate priority. Do you desperately need skirts? Maybe you’re short on trousers, or need more simple tops that can be worn alone or as layering pieces. From here, get even more specific, if possible: black knee-length skirt, classic navy wool trousers, colorful printed knit pullover tops.

What I’m doing: Since I need clothes that can go from work to tango (see my recent Makeover Monday posts for details), I’m focusing my shopping efforts on skirts and dresses, specifically, pencil skirts and sheath dresses, both of which are commonly worn in Argentine tango, and both of which are also work-appropriate. And I need professional-looking jackets and more colorful tops (I’m getting tired of black). I’m also adding a “wild card” space to my list, to cover those unexpected finds, like my pinstriped skirt that I found while shopping for tops.

2. Narrow your priority list. This will require some familiarity with the thrift shop(s) you’re planning to shop at; knowing what types of garments these shops are likely to carry (or not) will save you time and frustration in the long run. Start by circling the items you would usually expect to find.

What I’m doing: My thrift shops tend to have a poor selection of the kinds of dresses I want; I usually see either hugely oversized tiny-print tents, or skimpy, cheap-looking clubwear— very seldom do I find a dress I like in my size. I’ve also found the skirt selection to be quite hit-or-miss, but I’m a little more hopeful about this category, so I’m circling skirts, tops, jackets, and wild card on my list. (Sorry, dresses, you’ll have to wait for me to sew you.)

3. Choose one shop that you think has the best chance of having what you want. This may mean narrowing your focus even more, e.g. if you like one shop for knit tops and another one for trousers. The key here is to be as specific as possible, to maximize the time and effort you put into the actual shopping.

What I’m doing: One of my favorite shops, a tiny Salvation Army “Boutique”, consistently has high-end brands, as well as a much greater percentage of items that will require little or no work before they’re wearable. (This is where I found the Christian Dior jacket featured in last week’s TST!) Yes, the prices are a bit higher than my other favorite, Value Village, but they make up for it by having regular 50%-off-everything days— which also ensures regular turnover of their merchandise.

This is my favorite shop for tops and jackets (and they also have a surprisingly good array of shoes), but it’s a little thin on skirts and dresses that I like. Since skirts and dresses are relatively simple for me to sew, I’m going to look for tops and jackets first at this shop, then take 10 minutes or so to go through the skirts and dresses, just in case that wild card item should fall into my eager hands. (It’s going to be tough to top that Dior jacket, though!)

And that’s it, Part 1 of my thrift-shopping strategies. By now you should have a clear idea of the items you’re going to look for on your next thrift-shop stop, especially if you’ve already worked through the steps from last Monday (which apply to shopping as well as to sewing).

Next time on Thrift-Shop Thursday, in Part 2, I’ll go into details about assessing the value of the things as you run across them in thrift shops; would they require extensive repairs? Dry-cleaning? Alterations? Until then, you might want to think about an addendum to today’s list, something like, “Things I’m Willing and Able to Do with my Thrift-Shop Finds”. (For example, now that you know how to add new buttons, you won’t have to pass up an amazing deal like my Dior jacket. Sorry— am I gloating?)

Tip: Being ready to take these additional measures is an often-overlooked step in preparing for shopping, and one that also applies to shopping in regular retail stores; you may not find missing buttons on ready-to-wear (although I have), but there’s a good chance that alterations might be involved to make that garment absolutely perfect.

So give some thought to how you can go the extra mile for your clothes, and I’ll be back to talk it over with you on next week’s Thrift-Shop Thursday!

Author: Colormusing

I'm a writer, color palette creator, and designer of fashion, lingerie, graphics, knitwear patterns, and yarn.

6 thoughts on “Thrift-Shop Thursday: Shopping Strategies, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Thrift-Shop Thursday: A Postscript | Changing Your Clothes

  2. This is really good advice! A know a lot of my friends stay away from thrift shops because they are too overwhelming. Where does one begin? Having a strategy ahead of time like yours takes away a lot of the wasted time. I so agree with you that a lot of the dresses are of the tent variety or the too skimpy types. I tend to go for the basic separates and i always look at the label first and then the size. i haven’t been thrifting for quite awhile because of lack of time but hope to have some fun this summer! I will use your strategies next time! ~Thea

    • Wow, thank you for such a nice comment, Thea! I really do appreciate your feedback– these ideas have been developing gradually in my own experience, so until I put them out there, I really don’t know if they’ll work for anyone else. I’d love to hear about your own experiences if/when you do try these strategies!

      • Will do! I love thrifting but just haven’t had the time. A lot of my wardrobe is from gently-used clothing stores mostly because it is just fun to do. ~Thea

  3. Pingback: Thrift-Shop Thursday: Shopping Strategies, Part 2 | Changing Your Clothes

  4. Pingback: Thrift-Shop Thursday: Expanding the Definition | Changing Your Clothes

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