Changing Your Clothes

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

Thrift-Shop Thursday: Shopping Strategies, Part 2


Previously on Thrift-Shop Thursday, in Shopping Strategies, Part 1, I suggested developing your shopping strategy before going to a thrift shop; this boils down to getting as clear as possible about what you want. Today, I’ll continue with Part 2, in which I’ll take a sample shopping trip and see how well my Part 1 strategy works (or not)!

In my own Part 1 strategy, I decided that I was going to continue looking for Take Tango to Work! items. However, since this week’s Makeover Monday, where I took the collar off a shirt to use as an accessory, I’ve been thinking about all the possible variations on this theme, so I’ve revised my plan. Here’s my new shopping strategy for this trip, condensing the 3 steps from Part 1:

Pick a priority, make it as specific as possible, then pick a store. My new priority is to find shirts with (a) a collar plus a collar stand, and (b) some sort of visual interest in the collar. This could be just a beautiful color, unusual fabric, or embellishment, like beading, embroidery, or trim. The Value Village store that’s closest to me is enormous, and has a large selection of button-down shirts, so I’ll go there.

Tip: Take a tape measure with you! In thinking about my collar project, I realized that it wouldn’t have to be garment-size-dependent. In other words, I could take a collar off, say, a size 20 shirt (equivalent of XXL), and it would still work; it would just be looser around my neck. (This would make it lie more like a necklace, actually, so if you happen across a beautiful beaded collar on a garment that’s way too big for you, don’t pass it up!) So before I left for Value Village, I measured around the inside of my Makeover Monday collar, which was 15″ when buttoned. This is close-fitting but not tight on my neck, so I’m adding bigger-then-15″ to my strategy.

Off to shop! Here’s what my Value Village store looks like:

Value Village

My local Value Village store. Enormous, non? And this photo doesn’t even show the furniture, housewares, books, etc. Now we can see the value of going in with a plan! (Click on the photo to find your Value Village.)

Good thing I made a plan, right?

Some days I’m in a thrill-of-the-hunt mood, when I’m happy to browse more or less the whole store and see what pops up (hello, Christian Dior!), but not today. Since I’m looking for great-looking collars, I’m targeting one section only: Blouses & Shirts. In this store, this part is further divided into short-sleeved and long-sleeved sections, as well as by size, so I’m still facing at least 5 or 6 long racks, like this:

Blouses & Shirts

Blouses & Shirts at Value Village. Note the size section, referring to the tape-measure Tip (above).

There’s still a daunting amount to get through, so as I start looking, I’m narrowing the choices even more: I need fabrics with body, great color/print/texture/embellishment (at least one of the above), minimum 15″ around when closed, and something that would be fun to wear as an accessory. That eliminates probably 98% right there. Here are some contenders:

4 possible collars

4 possible collars. #1 is nice cotton chambray, but kind of dull. (This isn’t a color I ever wear.) #2 is an interesting sheer burnout fabric in a beautiful color, but it’s pretty limp. #3 is pretty white cotton eyelet, but the collar stand is cut in one piece with the collar, meaning it doesn’t have a built-in fold line, which is a problem for me. And #4 has great contrast top-stitching, but I can’t handle the embroidered flower.

Every one of these shirts has something about it that I like, or I wouldn’t have looked at them long enough to take their pictures. But in each of these 4 cases, the cons outweighed the pros, so I let them go.

Tip: It’s easy to be so dazzled by the low prices in a thrift shop that your entire inner pro/con dialogue can get lost; don’t let this happen! Even a couple of dollars spent on a shirt is too much if you just end up giving it back to the thrift shop. (Yes, I’m speaking from experience.) Stick to your strategy.

Then I ran across this little number:

Wrap shirt

Wrap shirt. Great collar with collar stand, in a nice crisp cotton/linen fabric, BUT it doesn’t button! However…

… This makes me wonder if I could make an even more interesting accessory out of this non-buttoning collar. What if I added one of those sweater clips I’ve been seeing, like this?

DIY sweater clip

Sweater clip; this could connect the 2 sides of that non-buttoning collar! I would connect it to the collar stand, rather than the collar points, though. And here’s a DIY bonus: click on the photo to go to Refinery29’s tutorial to make this clip yourself! (Photo courtesy of Refinery29.)

Tip (more like Note to Self): Keep an open mind! Surely a strategy is still a strategy, even if it needs the occasional tweak. (Wait, isn’t that in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Love is not love which alters, when it alteration finds… Well! Bet you didn’t expect an English-lit reference in a post about thrift shopping!)

I have now seen at least 200 shirts, and am pretty sure this section has yielded its all, so I’m going to think outside the Blouses & Shirts section, and try Dresses.

Nope, in spite of an amazing amount of hyper-embellished Dynasty-wear, I didn’t find any dresses with usable collars. Hmm…

At this point, I think I need to add a Step 4 to Part 1 of my shopping strategy, thus:

4. Be prepared to ditch your original plan!

I promised last week to show you how to evaluate the things you run across in your thrift shop, to determine if they’re worth the effort and/or additional expense of altering, repairing, removing stains, refashioning, etc. Since my collar-shopping strategy has been a bust (except for that sweater-clip idea), I’ll show you a few more things I considered, and explain my decision-making process, in the Skirt section.

Embroidered skirt

Embroidered skirt, very cute, my size, possibly even dance-able. BUT… look at all the lint this fabric picks up! Sorry, cute skirt, you’re just too high-maintenance for me.

2 more skirts

2 more skirts. The one at left turned out to be 100% virgin wool jersey (ding ding ding!). As far as I could see, there were no moth holes, snags, or runs in the knit fabric. BUT I don’t know how this color will fit into my wardrobe. It’s a sleep-on-it item. The skirt at right is made with a substantial, slinky jersey knit in a beautiful wine color, BUT it’s too long, so it would need to be shortened. It’s also going on my sleep-on-it list.

When you think about it, shopping at a thrift shop is really not that different from shopping at any other store; the primary difference (besides the prices) is that you won’t find an item available in multiple sizes. So if you already have a general strategy for clothes shopping in a “regular” store, such as making a list, having a budget in mind, and figuring out what stores are most likely to give you the best chance for success, why not apply that same approach to thrift-shopping?

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 2

  1. Thank you for addressing the concept of garment size dependent. Although it pains me to have to go up a size or two in a thrift store I have learned that is the best strategy for finding hidden treasures. I suspect the clothes has been donated because it once fit but because of poor laundering practices it does no fit the previous owner anymore. That is how I have found my best fitting jeans. Your tips are fabulous. Thank you! ~Thea

    • Thanks, Thea! If nothing else, it’s always possible that things get put in the wrong section, so I regularly browse through sections other than “my” size. And I know exactly what you mean about shopping for sizes other than what you’re used to (ugh). Sometimes it’s hard to remember that sizing inconsistency has more to do with the manufacturers than it does with our bodies. In the end, perfect fit is a huge component of looking our best, so I tell myself that’s worth whatever the number on the label says! (This is one major advantage to making my own clothes– no size label!)

  2. Thrift shopping is such fun – thanks for the great tips to make it fun and a successful find!

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

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