How to Shop at Thrift Stores: 10 Tips for Finding the Hidden Gems

10 Thrift Shopping Secrets for Finding the Hidden Gems

The thing about personal style is that it doesn’t have much to do with money. Some of the best-dressed people I’ve seen have also spent the least amount of money on clothes, so in the interest of saving monies, today I’m advocating the virtues of thrift store shopping.

For me, a love of thrifting was born out of practicality. When I was 12 years old and had no money, buying my clothes thrift stores kickstarted an interest in style, and when people from school started complimenting my outfits.

But even now that I have the means to buy everything new, I still love browsing thrift stores– the thrill of possibly finding a treasure never went away. Besides that, there are so many good things about thrifting:

It’s a way to buy better quality, develop a unique sense of style, and hedge your bets (and your wallet) trying out new looks. All at a fraction of the price of clothes you can find at the mall.

And if you feel nervous about the stigma of shopping secondhand, here’s something I’ve noticed: lots of people who I’ve seen drop thousands of dollars on new clothes also still buy used, either through online consignment shops or digging for their own finds at thrift stores. It’s not uncommon in New York to see someone pairing a Celine bag with a vintage blazer.

I used to thrift as a hobby, but also as a way to make money, so in this post I’ll show you some of my favorite finds, plus tips for how to increase the chances of finding awesome stuff at your own local store.

My Favorite Thrift Finds Ever

Nowadays, most of what you can find at thrift stores are H&M castoffs from two years ago, but if you take the time to search, you can find the gems. My main objective is to seek out true vintage and unique items versus secondhand modern clothes. I’ve found countless treasures over the years, but here are a few favorites that have survived many closet purges.


Fashion is always referencing the past, so buying vintage from thrift stores is like going directly to the source. You know how there is denim that is sold pre-worn-in with holes and sandblasting? Well, what if you want the real thing? Authenticity (overused word, I know) is something I value, and it’s neat to know that while lots of people have denim shorts, they aren’t the same exact same pair as mine. I knew the second I felt these Levi’s shorts on the rack that they were special. With the higher waist and faded red tab, they were older than the “vintage” 80s and 90s shorts you see being sold everywhere today. I fell down the research rabbit hole last night, and judging from the care tag and single stitching, I think these are from the early-to-mid 1970s. That means I have a pair of wearable shorts that are 40 years old. And they cost just $4 from Goodwill.

Vintage Levi's 505 denim cutoff shorts

I bought these vintage kid leather gloves for $6. I’m not sure which decade they are from (would guess 60s), but the leather is thinner yet higher quality than lots of the gloves I see being sold today. Plus, the dainty little wrist tab is too cute. Leather gloves make me feel a little more put together, and these come out often in the fall.

Vintage black leather gloves

Higher Quality for Less

There had been a hole in my closet for quite some time: I didn’t have a fuzzy sweater. If I bought an angora sweater in a regular store today, it would most likely cost over a hundred dollars new. Thankfully, I found this not-quite-vintage one for about $6. Whenever I wear it, someone ALWAYS comments on it. It’s made in Hong Kong, and I see lots of sweaters today that say ‘Made in China’, but never ‘Hong Kong’. Brands are constantly cutting corners when it comes to quality, so even if something is from the 80s and 90s, there’s a higher chance it will be better quality than what you can get today.

Vintage black fuzzy angora sweater

Rare and Unique Items

My funnest finds have been the dresses! The thing that makes vintage dresses special is the prints and the material. For example, polyester dresses are pretty easy to find, but a crepe one with a unique print is a rare find. I sold the dress on the right and that decision still haunts me.

Vintage floral dresses

10 Tips for Finding the Thrift Store Treasures

As people have gotten savvier with resale businesses, it gets harder and harder to find true vintage these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems to be had. I used to thrift hardcore as a hobby, and I’d almost never leave the store without something good, and I realized it’s mostly about creating your own luck. Here are 10 things to keep in mind if you want to shop like a pro.

1. Go in with the right mindset—it’s about finding a treasure.

The #1 rule is to go in with an open mind. People who think thrifting is gross or beneath them tend to never find anything. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ve got to be able to touch the clothes and not get the heebie jeebies.

And if you’re looking for a specific item, say, a pair of black skinny work pants, you can be setting yourself up for disappointment. For me, thrifting has always been about finding a treasure, and that mindset has made a huge impact in what I’ve been able to find. Knowing that there’s possibly a needle in the haystack makes me more motivated to keep digging through everything.

2. Look through everything.

I’ve noticed that people who only look at couple of things on a rack don’t find anything. If you’re not a patient person, and won’t put in the time to browse, then you won’t find stuff. There is a competitive nature to thrifting, so simply outworking other people by being thorough can yield some major rewards. When my best friend and I hit up a thrift store together, we can easily end up spending over an hour going through everything. Even though there’s two of us. And we both can comb the same exact rack and end up selecting different stuff.

When it comes to prioritizing which departments to look through, I always browse dresses first. Dresses are the most desirable, so I make sure to look through them as early as possible.

And don’t forget the racks right outside the dressing rooms! These can be a treasure trove for cool items that someone else found first but discarded.

3. Know your fabrics.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by racks of clothes, and looking at everything by pulling each item off the rack is way too time-consuming. “Pros” take shortcuts by quickly assessing fabrics or prints. They can quickly filter out the crappy stuff by touch and feel, and only pull out the clothes that interest them from there. If you’re shopping for quality and true vintage, look for the natural fabrics like silks, wools, linens, 100% cottons and leathers. If you see a 70s psychedelic print, then skip over it, unless that’s specifically what you are looking for.

4. If it looks even remotely interesting, throw it in the cart.

Some clothes don’t look like much on the rack, but are actually flattering once you put them on. And vintage sizing is all over the place, so you can’t judge if something will fit by looking at the size tag. Again, keep an open mind.

5. Assess the competition.

When you’re in the store, look around and see who else is shopping. If you see someone who has similar style to you, they’ll probably gravitate toward the same items as you. Considering that thrift store merchandise is usually one of a kind, sensing competition is a cue that you need to move more quickly.

You also can’t assume that putting items on the rack–even temporarily–will guarantee that they’ll still be there a few minutes later. I’ve hung clothes on a rack to try on in front of a mirror and have had people come up to me trying to “poach” my stuff. One girl even got mad that I even had the nerve to put items I had been considering on a rack. She thought that if the clothes were on a rack, even if I was close by, that that meant the merchandise was up for grabs.

6. Go often, and right when the store opens.

Going often is the key, because merchandise changes daily. In my heyday I lived a 5-minute walk from a great thrift store, and I dropped by several times a week. It’s not a coincidence that I always found tons of awesome stuff there. I created my own luck by showing up all the time.

I also like to hit up thrift stores right when they open. I like shopping in peace, and early in the day it’s more of a zen vibe without people milling about around you.

7. Don’t forget the men’s or kid’s sections.

Don’t be afraid to shop other departments. Unlike regular stores, clothes in a thrift store aren’t always where they belong, and people tend to hide or discard their finds on random racks. And it’s not intuitive, but you can find higher-quality, oversized sweaters in the men’s section, and if you’re small, I’ve found some of the best dresses hiding in the kid’s section.

8. Get off the beaten path.

If you go to the less-obvious stores, or the ones that are out of the way for most people, the less likely they’ll be picked over. For me, thrifting with my best friend is a social activity, and when I visit her in Boston, going out of our way to browse thrift stores is an adventure. Think mom and pop shops over chains. Here’s my thrift store order of operations: Mom and pop indie stores → Church thrift stores —> Salvation Army —> Goodwill (or other chain stores).

9. Wear outfits that are easy to layer over.

Many of the best thrift stores don’t have dressing rooms to prevent people from stealing. Or if the dressing rooms are full, save yourself some time and frustration by trying things on over your clothes. If you wear leggings or dresses, you can easily try on skirts or pants without needing a dressing room.

10. Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap.

I used to come home with a thrift store haul and think, ‘Hey, I only spent $13.” But this is a dangerous line of thinking, because you can start to overbuy and accumulate stuff you don’t need. I’m just finally getting the hang of moderation when it comes to thrifting, and it’s taken me years to become OK with not buying something beautiful, even if it didn’t fit at all. When I was in LA, I found two adorable, high-quality sweaters, but I let them go, because I knew I’d never end up wearing them. I’ve also passed up a Jil Sander trench coat, because it wasn’t flattering on. Remember, just because it’s an amazing deal, doesn’t mean it belongs in your closet.

Who’s in the mood to hit up the thrift store now? What have been your favorite finds?

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