We know what you’re thinking: thrift shop? Isn’t that a song? Well, yes, it would seem that Macklemore has a knack for snagging your grandpa’s style (and even won a Grammy for his earworm of a hit song), but actual second-hand shopping is having a moment. In the name of style on a budget, it’s is a fun and often rewarding way to find amazing deals on classic pieces. Here are a few tricks of the trade to ensure you’ll stay focused on finding the treasures and won’t end up spending all your coffee money on old duds.
1. Look for structured pieces and quality fabrics
Before you head to the store, look through some magazines and scour the Internet to get a sense of the trendiest shapes of the season. This will help you zero in on pieces with similar silhouettes and score an amazing deal. When going through the racks, use your keen eye and sense of touch to help guide you. Skip over the ratty old T-shirts and hunt for pieces that are well made with good structure. Things like jackets, blazers, tailored shirts, pants and skirts are all good areas to focus on. Also, keep an eye out for quality fabrics that wear well. Silk shirts, wool trousers and tweed blazers — these kinds of items are pricey to buy new and, if they’re in decent condition, will likely be a good investment.
2. Always check for holes, stains or other defects
Once you’ve selected something, the next (and obvious) step is the visual scan. Give the garment a good once-over and pay close attention for rips, tears and lingering stains. Many non-oil-based stains can be washed or dry cleaned out, but buying something with an obvious stain is always a gamble. Small holes or rips are usually easily mended with a needle and thread, but they may be an indication of the general condition of the item. If you’re not confident in your sewing skills but really love the piece, a professional tailor can help with major problems.
3. Look for items that can be easily altered, if necessary
In the world of thrift-shopping, your tailor is often your best friend. When picking items, never be deterred by the length of a skirt or a loose waist; these issues are simple to alter and will allow you to customize a high-quality piece to your body. If you’re concerned about the overall fit of something like a dress or jacket, consider having it taken in or how an accessory (like a belt) would help achieve the fit you’re after. Remember you can also layer pieces and incorporate other pieces from your existing wardrobe to create your perfect look. Make sure you take notice to the seam construction of a piece if you’re considering alteration and think about how it would be taken in. Flimsy fabrics and seams don’t make ideal candidates, while heftier fabrics and well-sewn items will offer more leeway.
4. Check zippers and stress points
Does your item have a zipper? Snaps? Buttons? Make sure you test all the working parts of your piece and identify any problems. Broken zippers can sometimes be mended or replaced and buttons are easy to change or sew back on (if you’re missing one, check the item for labels on the inside-seams — there might be an extra button included for cases just like this). You should also check out the stress points of your garment. Knees, elbows and underarms are all places of extra wear-and-tear and should look and feel sturdy. Check the seams to make sure the thread isn’t about to give way and, if it is, assess if it’s something you can fix. The best part about finding fixable flaws is that you can ask for an extra discount at the register.
5. Be prepared to try an item on and always check for fabric care instructions
Always try on whatever it is you’re thinking about buying — that means really seeing how it feels and fits. Does the fabric irritate your skin? Does it ride up when you walk? Can you sit down in it? There’s nothing worse than picking something out and getting it home, only to realize it isn’t quite what you thought you were buying. Even though you got it second-hand, if you’re never going to wear it, it is always a waste of money. Make sure you look at the care instructions on the tag, as well. Is it going to be easy to clean or will you have to invest in dry cleaning every time you wear it? These will all factor into your purchasing decision, and you don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised once you’ve spent all your pocket change on an item you thought was perfect.