How and Why I Shop at Thrift Stores

I still remember the day when, in 8th grade, I discovered how much I love thrift stores. Wandering through Boston’s massive Goodwill headquarters, I found myself deftly flipping through rows and rows of items, scanning for the perfect fabrics. I left, triumphant, with a sack full of new clothes, including my first ever Little Black Dress.

To this day, about a third of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores. Remember this Anthropologie dress, this Talbots pink walking coat, or this vintage floral tea dress? Thrifted, thrifted, aaaand thrifted. Many of my home décor items have been thrifted as well.

This past weekend I had an especially good haul, which included a Zara blazer with tags ($12), a Theory blouse ($5, compared to $250 retail), a 1950s wicker suitcase ($1), a J. Crew button-down ($2), a Lucky Brand sun dress ($10), a vintage blue and white lamp ($5), a crystal bowl ($2), six carved candle votives ($3), two carved wooden frames ($4), a vintage beaded coin purse ($2), and two milk glass bowls ($6). With that inspiration in mind, I thought now would be a great time to make a case for why you should shop at thrift stores, if you don’t already, and to share my best shopping tips with you.

Why Shop at Thrift Stores

1. Thrift store prices are unbeatable.

Where else will you get a Theory blouse for $5? Nowhere, my friend. At any other kind of store you need to choose between quality and price, but at thrift stores, you can find “investment” pieces that will last you years for as little as $2.

2. Thrift shopping makes your style more unique.

While I love to buy a trendy piece from time to time, I also really appreciate that thrift stores make my wardrobe impossible to fully replicate. Whether a Banana Republic blouse from six seasons ago or a lace gown from six decades ago, the pieces I buy always have a unique flair.

3. Thrift stores are the most ethical place to shop.

It’s not uncommon to hear that a favorite fashion house or furniture designer has human rights or environmental violations somewhere along its supply chain. Even when companies try to make improvements, they are frequently surprised at the persistence of problems in their manufacturing. Especially given that brands source their products from a wide range of countries and factories, it’s a Herculean task as a consumer to decipher what is and isn’t produced ethically.

When you shop at thrift stores, however, you can rest more easily. Whatever brand you’re buying, your money isn’t supporting their labor practices, however good or bad they may be. Instead, it’s going towards the thrift store, which, more often than not, donates its revenue to a worthy cause. My favorite shops, for example, devote what they make to helping children and families in at-risk circumstances, providing accessible job training, and supporting people with AIDS.

To make it even better, when you buy at thrift stores, you are purchasing clothing that was already made and transported to your area. This really helps to reduce your environmental footprint.

*4. Donations are tax-deductible.

This isn’t necessarily a reason to shop at thrift stores, but it’s important to know! As I mentioned, most thrift stores are nonprofits. When you donate clothes to the thrift store, you can ask for a donation form. Then you create an itemized list of your donations and their value. When tax season rolls around, you can count your clothing donation as a tax write-off!

How to Shop at Thrift Stores

1. Focus on location.

Over the years, I have found that the quality of a thrift store depends less on the thrift store brand (e.g. Goodwill, Boomerangs, HousingWorks) and more on the store’s location. In wealthier neighborhoods, you’re more likely to find high-end clothes. In hipster neighborhoods, you’re likely to find that the stock gets picked through more quickly. Ideally, you’ll find a couple of favorite thrift stores that receive a lot of great donations and don’t get heavily picked over.

For those of you in Boston, I recommend Boomerangs in West Roxbury, the source of this post’s haul. For those of you in New York, I’ve had some good luck at Unique Boutique on the Upper East Side.

2. Find out when your favorite stores restock.

In general, thrift stores have a certain day and time when they put out all their newly priced merchandise for the week. Find out when that is, and plan your visits for shortly thereafter, if you can.

3. Visit periodically.

Some days you might walk into the thrift store and leave with nothing. Others, the stock is unbelievably good (around when people do spring cleaning, for example). Check in to your favorite store periodically to increase the chances you’ll find great items.

4. Hone your tastes.

Finally, if you improve your knowledge of what items and brands are valuable and fit your taste, then you’re more likely to notice fabulous pieces as you quickly scan through inventory. I love to use Pinterest to gather inspiration and cultivate my sense of style.

Do you like to go thrift shopping? If so, do you have any favorite strategies?

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