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Successful Thrifting – It’s All About Strategy

Photos of stylish folks showing off their unique, thrifted or secondhand clothing finds are all over Instagram.  Some items are vintage, others are designer, and some are one-of-a-kind handcrafted gems.  These images can cause serious FOMO, and make you want to jump into that action. You make a decision to drop in on the thrift store one day, and come away empty-handed, disgusted and disappointed.  You didn’t see any of the cool stuff these bloggers are wearing, and the store was actually kinda gross.  That’s exactly how I felt when I first tried thrifting.

How could this be?  I know how to shop, and almost have a black-belt in shopping.  Thrifting is a form of shopping; therefore, I should be good at thrifting and able to find amazing stuff, right?  Wrong!  The truth is, thrift shopping is a skill that must be developed, and requires understanding of the environment, and a shopping strategy that is customized to your needs and preferences, and requires commitment.

The Environment

The first time I attempted to shop a thrift store, I was thoroughly confused. The Goodwill store had racks and racks of clothes, with no discernable organization. I had no idea how I was supposed to find something good in this hodgepodge of, what appeared to be, junk.

Developing thrifting skill will take time and patience, but begins with understanding how the store is organized. Thrift stores are more organized than they appear at first glance, and are typically organized by clothing type. Dresses will be together, tops together, pants together and so on.

Thrifted skirts and dress, easily found at Desert Industries, one of the most organized thrift stores I’ve ever visited.

Some stores will display clothing categories by color group as well, which is very handy when you’re looking for something more specific, and can save you time by not shopping through colors you do not like.  Others stores (though few) will actually have clothes grouped by size which can be helpful, but I recommended shopping all sizes because size is a false construct that varies widely depending on the brand and garment materials (that’s another topic another day).

The Strategy

Most seasoned thrifters advise you to keep an ongoing thrift wish list.  These are specific items you may be in the market for, such as wide-legged jeans, or a Black turtleneck. The list will help focus your search and attention when you shop and keep you from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of available merchandise.  The idea is, you make a beeline for the wish list items as you shop, and ignore other items that you don’t need or want.

My favorite thing to thrift is jackets and blazers, often from the men’s section.

I confess that I do not keep a thrift list because I don’t want to miss something cool that wasn’t on my list, and I am open to any item that will enhance my wardrobe.  My personal strategy includes first searching through my favorite categories of clothing me every time I go.  I love blazers and button-down shirts, so my search always starts there (in both the men’s and women’s sections).  When time permits, I go through every item on the rack.  If my time is limited, I skim the racks for fabrics, colors, and patterns I like, and pull those items for consideration.  Also, I pull everything that interests me and try it on after I made my rounds, then I eliminate items that don’t work for me.

The Commitment

This is the big one.  Most successful thrifters go shopping often because some days are better than others.  Some people go multiple times per week because thrift stores add new inventory on a daily basis. One day you might find a treasure trove of great stuff, but come up empty-handed the next.  Finding gems in the thrift store is a numbers game; the more often you go, the greater the likelihood that you’ll find something.  It’s really that simple.

The blazer. trousers, and sweater were all items I searched for over time, and eventually the hunt paid off.


Not all thrift stores are created equal.  There are some that live down to the thought that they’re full of junk, but more often than not there are gems to be discovered.  I’ve found that I gravitate to some stores over others, though I never rule out any store.  Certain Goodwill locations are better than others.  Many stores are affiliated with charities or other non-profit organizations you may want to support, so don’t rule out any store based on brand.

The day I found a full men’s suit that fit the way I wanted without alterations felt like hitting thrift store gold.

Also, thrifting while traveling is totally a thing now.  One of my favorite stores is Desert Industries in North Las Vegas, and I find myself researching thrift store locations as part of vacation pre-planning.  Considering that style varieties widely by region, you’ll find differences in merchandise which means you’ll find a lot of unique items you may not otherwise find.

Now that I’ve started thrifting, I know I will never quit.  It’s been a life-changing experience.  I’ll share more about that in the next article.

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2 thoughts on “Successful Thrifting – It’s All About Strategy

  1. You are so right, thrifting is a skill you acquire. Once you have ‘the eye,’ to sort through things effectively the more time you’ll save.

    1. Hi June,

      I wish someone had told me before I started thrifting…LOL! I though I was just going to walk in and come out with amazing stuff. I was so confused and overwhelmed. Had no clue where, or how, to start looking. MAJOR disappointment!!! I was determined to learn though.