Getting Thrifty

Last month (and in March too), I talked about capsule wardrobes and budgeting for new clothing pieces, so if you read that then you might remember that I said to really weigh the benefits of thrifting and potential money saved against the investment of your time.  It's absolutely okay to spend more on a (perfect for you) item instead of trying to save some dollars by spending an entire Saturday in a handful of thrift stores attempting to hunt it down.  Because thrifting is not the easiest process.  That said, thrift stores can be a really fun adventure and save you a lot of money.  It's a fun way to bond with a friend, too, especially when you're both on a budget and usually enjoy shopping.

I usually visit thrift stores with my friend Courtney.  We have a great time together and it's a very cheap way to hang out.  Plus it's air conditioned, you know how I hate summer heat.  I know a lot of people can feel overwhelmed by the entire idea of visiting a thrift store and really don't think it's worth it to spend all that time searching the racks, but I have a few tips and tricks we've picked up to make the whole process more exciting, fun, and fruitful, in case it's something you might want to try soon.

1. Devote the Time.  I think a lot of the 'thrift shop overwhelm' feelings comes from the idea that you're going to be able to run in and find what you want and go on with your day.  That's definitely not the case.  There are so many sections and racks and options that are rarely perfectly organized.  It's going to take a couple hours to really find the great stuff, which is why I like going with a friend and treating more like a friend bonding time than a get the necessities and get out time.

2. Have a Goal.  The other part of the overwhelm is shopping without a purpose.  Since I hate clutter and love planning my wardrobe, I don't shop unless I have a specific item in mind I'm looking for.  Courtney doesn't do it this way.  She may have an item in mind, but sometimes it's just a feeling of needing more summer tops or even just wanting to get out of the house and have a fun afternoon.  If the idea of thrifting overwhelms you, start by just having one single goal piece in mind.  Once you're feeling more adventurous, you may just want to see what sort of treasures you can find, like Courtney does.  (She's the designer finding queen.)

3. Check the Whole Store.  While they're never perfectly organized, the stores are sorted at least by women's clothes versus home goods versus little kid clothes, etc.  From there, some stores sort the women's section by type of clothing (sweaters in one section, dresses in another) and some sort by size, sometimes both.  If you're just starting out, it's fine to concentrate on your section.  But if you have more time to spend, know that these organizational systems aren't closely maintained.  You'll find tank tops in the sweaters, size 12 in the size 2s, and skirts in the men's section.  By checking the whole store, you won't be missing out.

4. Sizes are Arbitrary.  I think you already know that sizing is arbitrary across brands, so don't limit yourself.  Also remember that really good, high quality pieces are worth taking to the tailor if they're too big, so if the fancy work pants are otherwise perfect, just pay a tailor to adjust the hemlines.

5. Wear the Right Outfit.  In order to fully embrace that 'sizes are arbitrary' tip, you need to try stuff on.  Thrift stores either don't have fitting rooms or they have just one and it's crowded.  Don't bother.  Wear something super easy to try on clothes over, like leggings/yoga pants and a tank top with a cardigan over it.

6. Shop More Than One Store.  There is constant turnover at every location and some stores may have more of what you're shopping for, so it pays to stop at more than one place.  In Chicago, there's usually more than one thrift store in a relatively close area, so if you're making it an afternoon of shopping anyway, you might as well try various stores.

7. Know the Differences in Location.  Thrift stores in the city are not the same as thrift stores in the suburbs.  The closer you are to downtown Chicago (or any city), the more likely the store will have trendy pieces and designer items.  But the prices tend to reflect that, say like what you would find at a Buffalo Exchange.  If you move away from the city, the prices get cheaper but the selection is less trendy.  I prefer the locations away from the city because the selection is better and I like basics and staples over trendy pieces anyway.  I don't need designer everything in my wardrobe.

8. Buy the Right Items.  Which is not fast fashion.  If it's from Forever 21, just pass on it - it was cheap to begin with.  I mean, if you love it and it's only $2 then you do you.  I don't think fast fashion items last very long, so to me they aren't really worth it at any price point.  I look for things that are made from better fabric, from better brands, and have stitching that looks study and well made.

9. Notice Sales.  Many locations have sales every week or every day.  Like, 50% off or more.  It's usually by color of the item (all black clothes 50% off on Wednesdays) or by the tag color (all items with a red dot on the tag are 50% off on Mondays.)  If you want to start thrifting more and saving serious money, visit on sale days!

10. Wash Everything.  I feel like this is a rule about shopping for clothes in general but yes, wash everything as soon as you get it home.

It really is a great way to save money and save the planet, because you're preventing things from going to a landfill (and decreasing the demand for new items to be made!)  I'm a fan, as long as you don't go crazy and bring tons of clutter home, of course.  Do you regularly shop in thrift stores?  Any tips to add to the list?

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