6 Crucial Tips on How to Unearth the Best Stuff at Thrift Stores

Sick painting of dogs playing poker, my dude.

In the hierarchy of annoying *fashion* things, getting to say "It's vintage" when someone asks where your jacket is from falls somewhere between getting to say "It's Comme des Garçons" and "It's Acne." But while any of those phrases might get you punched in the nose, the first one, in contrast, suggests you worked for it, and not just in a grinding-at-my-job-and-eating-canned-goods sort of way. Thrifting is an art. It is war. And it is inexact science we will humbly try to elucidate below using some photos of Jenny Walton, because she seems to be really great at it.

While some of the most precious items are gotten simply by declaring that you "want the weirdest thing in here" and sticking your hand in a T-shirt rack (true story), it is far smarter to go in with a plan. Otherwise, your head will be turned by so many folderols and gewgaws, you'll leave with nothing at all. You don't have to get as specific as "bakelite bracelets produced in the southernmost region of Pennsylvania between September and October 1983," but it's helpful to keep a running Notes entry to reference so you don't forget that you're still on the hunt for the perfect workman's jacket as you look at what the universe has to offer to you that day.

Walk in with an Idea, Less Vague, of How Much You're Willing to Spend

Because it is easy enough to wind up carting a wheelbarrow full of thrifted stuff home without bankrupting yourself, a budget works two-fold: 1) it keeps you from bankrupting yourself, and 2) it keeps you from wheeling too big a load of junk into your house/onto your floor. Altogether, thrifting is still far better for the environment and your finances than buying new, but even $5 T-shirts add up—as do regrets. 

Ask, and You Shall Maybe Receive

The dream is to befriend the staff at your faves so you can gain access to the inner sanctum with all the best stuff—I have been told this is false, but that's what they *would* say—but even before that, a pleasant demeanor can earn you primo intel, such as what days new merch comes in, or whether you can put in a request for something specific for the store to source for you. Helps with the haggling bit, too, if you're bold enough.

Shop While You See the World

"The Randomer the Place, the Higher the Potential for Good Shit: A Theory." Maybe because you're trying harder to find something, anything to take home. Maybe because this weird little town has a high population of childless country club doyennes with no relatives to pass their Chanel couture suits onto. Score! Either way, keep an open mind, because you never know what's out there, even in the middle of nowhere.

Shop Online from Wherever

IRL is always better so you can try it on and inspect it for damage that could a few bucks knocked off the price, but on the World Wide Web, nobody knows you're a dog there's so much inventory available for the cost of shipping. From swap.com., the world's largest online consignment and thrift shop, to the most specific etsy.com search, it's all out there for the taking—if you do the following...

Bide Your Time

Both during the physical act of searching—that's why it's a great hungover-Sunday activity—and the longer game of incorporating a new-old tweed blazer might fit into the grander scheme of your style, like a Scarlett Johansson movie in which her consciousness transcends her corporeal form and it looks like a glittery nebula floating around. Or the Zach Galifianakis math meme. Just like that. The standard fashion advice might be to avoid buying anything before you've come up with three different ways to wear it, but we say if you're drawn to it, throw caution to the wind, and let your brain take over. You is smart, after all.


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Assistant Editor

Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at Marie Claire. She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.