embracing second hand

With thrift store shopping becoming widely acceptable, maybe you have recently discovered "new" treasures at very satisfying prices.  I certainly remember a time when it wasn't cool to be looking for a prom dress at Savers, but from a very young age my dad taught me that my dollar would stretch three times more there, than at Wet Seal.  I still remember the days when I would score an Express sweatshirt or an Esprit dress for $2.99.  The best!  I have to admit every time I see a pair of Guess jeans hanging on the Good Will rack, my heart skips a beat.

Today there is no shame in my game.  I proudly get myself into any thrift store I can get with in a mile of, buying up everything from hats to shoes (yes shoes), purses, linens, and dresses.  I've scored bedding, jewelry, books, belts, gloves, dishes, and more awesome furniture than you could imagine.    

Right now, let's focus on used clothes.  If you're a seasoned second hand shopper, you'll know what I'm talking about.  If you're new, welcome.  Here are my top 10 helpful tips.  I've been at this for 32 years and if there's one thing I know, it's how to pick over a thrift store.

This year's Christmas Card.  Everything we're wearing in this photo except my boots and jewelry came from a TS. ({Nino's} face is blurred for privacy purposes).

1.  Let go of prejudices.  Some people consider thrift stores and used clothing shops nasty, dirty places. Some are, but most aren’t.  Explore your neighborhood and find a shop or two that you like and you’ll be hooked.  Don't fixate on the fact that you'll be wearing clothes that someone else has worn.  Why do you think we have washing machines?  Pretty soon you'll be so happy with your good fortune, you'll get over it.

Recently I was a bridesmaid for my dear friend, {Nicole's wedding}.  I wore this dress I bought at Savers for $5. 

2.  Take your time.  At normal clothing shops, everything is neatly organized. Not so much at thrift stores. While thrifting, it’s important to be patient, to browse the racks methodically.  Go when you have a couple hours to kill and you're not in a hurry.  DO NOT take your small, hungry, tired children.  Doing so will suck the energy of the thrift store Gods right out the door. This is the last thing you want.

3.  Go with a friend.  Sometimes it's hard for me to judge if a piece of clothing is really good, or just the best thing I've seen all day.  It's helpful to have a second opinion. Your friend should have an eye for what looks good on you, and vice versa.  It's also good to have another mind to help you think outside the box.  For instance, Jilly might find an adorable shirt with a stain on the sleeve and rule it out.  But I might convince her it would look brilliant under a cardigan with a skinny belt.  That's what friends are for.

4.  Experiment.  I've brought home several items from a TS with the intention of re-purposing.  I cut the top off a dresses to make skirts, made several a pairs of boot cut jeans into skinny jeans or shorts, and I've taken in the seams of countless shirts for a tailored fit.  The good news is if you screw up, you probably only spent a few dollars.  Not the end of the world. 

My Easter dress I found at Savers for $5.99, taken in a few sizes.

5.  Watch for sales.  Almost every thrift store has it's weekly sales.  Our Good Will has 50% off day every other Saturday and always has 20% off coupons on-line.  Savers has a weekly colored tag on sale and dollar days.  Check with your local stores to see when they offer discounts.  The store might be more crowded than usual, but it's completely worth it if you have some time to stand in line. 

This outfit cost under $25

Citizens of Humanity Jeans- $10 St Vincent de Paul (Retail at Nordstroms for $172)
Chevron T- $4 Name Brand Exchange
Gray Cardigan- $2 Last Chance (Nordstroms return outlet)
Silver belt- $2 Good Will
Yellow Wedges- $6 Good Will

6.  Try things on.  Sizes vary widely between manufacturers and even by eras. (Today’s clothes have a looser fit).  Some places don’t have dressing rooms, so it’s smart to wear a modest, thin layer in case you need to strip down in the aisle.  I have no patience for returns so I try on everything from the waist down and I don't buy unless I know I'm going to keep it.

7.  Examine each item thoroughly.  It stinks to get home to find your new shirt has a hole in the pocket, or that the pants you thought were a steal actually have a broken zipper.  A few years ago, Jilly thought she'd found an authentic pair of Parada boots. Cinderella relentlessly tried to shove her size 7 foot into these size 6 shoes, only to look more closely and find they were a brand called Parade (made exclusively by Payless).  We laughed so hard our sides ached. 

8. Shop for accessories.  Why pay $30 for a new belt in a department store when you can get a better belt in your size for two bucks?  I shop at second-hand stores for hats, purses, jackets, wallets, gloves, scarves, jewelry, sunglasses, and shoes.  If I can't throw them in the wash, I use Lysol spray and Clorox wipes. 

9.  Get to know the sales associates.  If you go to the same store often, ask when they rotate stock and get their new shipments.  Most also have extra stock in storage. If you become friends with the owners, you might even ask them to keep an eye out for particular items.  Who knows, maybe the owner of Thrift Town is your new bestie.  

10. Make it fun!  Don't throw in the towel if you walk in to a TS for the first time and walk out empty handed.  Chances are you're not going to come upon the perfect dress for you daughter's Quinceanera the first trip.  Like any sport, this one takes practice.  Stop in and shop as often as possible to increase the chance of scoring deals.  I always go into thrift stores with an open mind and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

I cherish the memories of my three sisters, my dad, and I walking into the Thrift Center where we were cheerfully greeted by name.  Now it's so fun to take my own family treasure hunting on sale Saturdays. 

I can honestly say over 50% of my families wardrobe is made up of used clothes and accessories.  My man is thankful he doesn't have to work hard all day to spend his pay check on expensive jeans and I'm thankful to be stashing away extra money for a rainy day.  I'm grateful my dad taught me how to be resourceful, re-use, and re-purpose.  It comes in real handy when you're trying to stretch a buck.

Stay tuned.  Jilly will be posting all her best tips on thrifting furniture and home goods.


  1. Oh Mia, I'm so glad you wrote this. There still seems to be a bit of snobbery out there, concerning purchasing used clothing. Those same people will drag home a dresser that can potentially harbour a bed bug infestation, but recoil at the thought of wearing a blouse that someone else may have worn.

    It's easy to wash these items, not so much a dresser :)

    Over the years and out of necessity, the amount of thrift store clothing/purses/shoes etc. has increased to about 75% of my and my daughters wardrobe.

    I am going to give this some more thought and if you don't mind, make reference to your post if I write about my own experience.

    Have a great weekend.

    BTW, as a precaution, before I even wash used clothing it gets thrown into a hot dryer for a minimum of 20 mins. I don't want any of those nasty bugs in my washing machine :)

    1. Hi Mel, So happy to hear there are others out there who get it! I'd love you to do a post about TS shopping. Thanks for the dryer tip, I never thought about it before but now I'm going to do the same.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Love this! Just the other day my sisters and I decided to photograph all of our "treasures" from thrifting! We have so much fun trolling for goodies at the GW (Goodwill). Thanks for sharing these good tips!

  3. Fabulous post! I have been goodwilling (aka.....treasure hunting) for years looking for vintage and antiques. Over the years I have seen a great change in the clientele in the thrift stores. Yesterday I was in GW just perusing and saw a good many well heeled women trying on clothes. Love the outfit you showed with the expensive jeans. I would much rather buy my jeans at a thrift shop than an expensive store and the choices are endless. It's so much fun to find a high quality article of clothing that looks great on "you". I have also found several gorgeous beaded cashmere vintage sweaters. So much fun to wear with worn jeans. xo

  4. Great Advice! I cant wait to do some Thrift store shopping!

  5. What great tips! I am an avid thrift store shopper, too! Thanks for all the inspiration (and that outfit is adorable)!


  6. I shop at thrift stores all the time for furniture/home decor, but I avoided the clothes aisles. I finally took the plunge this week and found the perfect denim skirt I've been wanting for years! I think I'm going to be wandering over to the clothes section more often now.
    Thanks for your great tips and inspiration! Those yellow heels are to.die.for. :)

  7. Oh I just LOVED this post. I have been thrifting for the better part of my life and having four kiddos it comes in handy. Last night, my hubbie and I went on a date and we stopped in at Goodwill first thign! Also, we used to live in Arizona and my heart skipped a beat when I saw that sweater from Last Chance...do they still have you line up in front of the store and say "Walk Ladies" when they lift the gates to open?

  8. How I miss thrift stores! My husband and I currently live in Santa Fe, NM, and I can honestly say, there are no thrift stores! What is this world coming to?!

  9. Although my 14yo son hates how long it takes to find 'the finds' at TS (mom can spend hours), he has no issue wearing used clothing. He knows there is no better place to find vintage concert tshirts from band gigs he is too young to have been to (but oh so cool for him to appreciate!), and authentic broken in jeans. TS are the treasure chest for ironic tees too!

  10. Crud- I meant to add that my most fave pair of jeans ever came from GW. A pair of Express bootcut jeans, that I would never have afforded to purchase new- At a whopping $7. They have truly become a sisterhood of the traveling pants pair of jeans. As my skinny jeans, I wore them for years, and then passed them to my baby sister when she needed the perfect pair of jeans for her engagement photos. I dropped 15lbs while she was pregnant and they were mine again for some time...but alas, there are hers again! $7 for the most durable pair of jean either of us have ever owned...they are going on 6 years of use for us! ( I can't wait to get them back!!!). My BF also found an AR (advanced reader) copy of 'Twilight' at the GW. It's her most prized possesion.


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Mia & Jilly

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