Thrift This, Not That

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Thrift This, Not That

After college comes the realization that you cannot rely on thrift stores alone to build a wardrobe. There is a time and a place for thrift finds, and a solid closet should have a mix of both brand new and second-hand items to conquer every possible occasion. Some clothes age like a fine scotch, picking up new personality traits with every wear, and some you’re better off buying brand new.

What is worth thrifting and what is worth buying at full price? Here’s the breakdown:


Photo via Flickr User theogeo

Denim is far and away the best thing you can thrift. First of all, jeans have a notoriously high profit margin, so avoid paying full price for them whenever possible. Second, small damages can be repaired easily and cheaply. Third, denim ages remarkably well. Minor wear and tear on jeans is often unnoticeable, and may even look intentional.

If you’re new to thrifting jeans, you’ll probably hate it at first because you usually have to try on quite a few pairs on before you find the winner. But stick with it, and keep a positive attitude! Bring snacks, take an aspirin! First, look for your size range, and keep in mind that thrifted jeans might run bigger because they’ve already stretched out. Then, look for the wash you like (when in doubt, go dark—it’s timeless). Take a few pairs at a time into the dressing room, and make sure that the seams look good and the hem isn’t too short. Once you find a well-fitting pair for half the price you’d pay at a retail store, you’ll never look back.


Photo via Flickr User pittaya

A few among us still rock the thrifted band or novelty t-shirts we got from our college town’s local Goodwill. And that’s all well and good, as long as they are rocked in casual settings, like the gym, or the living room. Let’s face it, now that Forever 21 is selling Nirvana tees and Urban Outfitters has the market cornered on retro graphic shirts, thrifted t-shirts have lost their luster. And paying for someone else’s pit stains and frayed sleeves probably wasn’t the best idea we ever had anyway.


Photo via Flickr User Orin Zebest

I have only a couple requirements for thrifted shoes. Do the soles look sturdy? Are there any toe prints? Do they smell horrible? Do I love them? (Correct answers: yes, no, no, yes)

I like thrifting dress shoes especially, because I don’t enjoy paying a lot of money for shoes that I’m only going to wear a handful of times. There isn’t as much damage on dress shoes since they haven’t been worn very often, and they tend to smell fine (since people who are dressing up tend to be showered).

Thrifting sneakers rarely turns out well, although occasionally you can find some in excellent condition which have only been worn once or twice—you’ll be able to tell immediately. Women’s flats are also difficult to thrift since they mold quickly to a person’s foot, and they’re not going to re-shape themselves.


Photo via Flickr User puuikibeach

Most jackets and coats last for years and can be found easily in the chaotic racks of a thrift store. They don’t have to fit perfectly to look good, and you don’t even have to go into a dressing room to try them on! Thrifting for outerwear is indeed one of the more pleasant experiences one can have at a secondhand store, and Macklemore confirms it. Leather jackets, denim jackets, pea coats, and faux-fur coats are particularly durable.


Photo via Flickr User Jodimichelle

I have gotten three really fantastic dresses at thrift stores: 1. A silk red Balkans-inspired muumuu that surprisingly looks youthful and flattering with a giant leather belt, 2. A babydoll dress that makes me look like the French children’s book character Madeline, 3. A spandex minidress with a tiger’s face on it.

What is my point? My point is that you cannot go into a thrift store expecting to find a certain dress for a specific occasion; you can only hope to make serendipitous discoveries. Dresses are fun to thrift because they can be altered easily (either by a tailor or with a belt) and it’s always a thrill to find something unique and unexpected. You can get some really good deals on some great designers as well. Just don’t go in with high expectations.


Photo via Flickr User lion heart vintage

Leather accessories are the holy grail of thrifted items. It’s worth it to really take a look through wallets, purses, and belts for good-quality leather that is only going to get better with some age. If you’re on the hunt for a briefcase or purse, check a secondhand store first to see if any distinguished businessperson has recently gotten rid of their bag for your benefit.

If you have the patience to sift through a whole lot of gaudy earrings and cruise ship costume necklaces, you can find some real gems (pun totally intended) in your thrift store’s jewelry section. They can be cleaned with warm water and soap, and hardly ever show their age.

Hats are rarely sold at thrift stores for much less than you can get them at full-price. Fork over a few extra dollars for a brand new hat and put your head lice worries to rest!