A few days ago, I had an in-depth conversation with a close friend from Seattle about catching up, TV, and childhood. In between laughter and nostalgia was an unexpected compliment. My friend said she missed me so much that she relishes time with an acquaintance who not only acts like me but dresses fly like me.
I was surprised by the admittance since I never thought of myself as a trendsetter,but more of a goofy food blogger with a lot on her mind. Nevertheless, I guess I do live up to that compliment. I shop for fashionable threads–without murdering my wallet. Initially, I would frequent my local Marshalls/TJ Maxx and Google my clearance finds on my phone to see if they were carried at a high-end shop like Bloomingdales, Nordstroms and sometimes even Macys.
As haughty as this sounds, I do believe that the stronger the brand is, the better the quality. I rather have quality clothes that last for years than flimsy pieces that shatter in the wash. For someone living in the DMV, just paying 50% for top brands sounds like an impeccable deal , but, to me, I felt that was a hefty sum just for fleeting fashion trends.
TJ Maxx may have Michael Kors, Express and The Limited but they never have Banana Republic, J.Crew, White House/Black Market, and Ann Taylor Loft–for 75%-90% off. Places that do have the top-notch brands I heart are consignment stores and thrift stores. However, consignment stores mark up valued finds several notches up so I rather just explore different thrift store in affluent areas (it’s all about the zip codes, baby).
What inspired me to try “thrifting” is this serendipitous visit to Go Go Retread Threads. I was at the Towson Farmer’s market one day when I saw this colorful bus parked by the fresh produce. I was confounded by the sheer notion that there is this consignment store inside a bus that also includes a dressing room (and a pet dog to play with and cookies on random days). Naturally, I was nervous about sifting through someone’s hand-me-downs since it’s not something I go for.
For some odd reason or another, I enjoyed the treasure hunt and found a cute J.Crew Top paired with a vintage blazer from a fashion icon from the 80’s. I, literally, wear this gray blazer to every event I go to. Since Go Go Retread Threads doesn’t come up to areas I like to frequent, I had to scour for thrifting hot-spots.
Thanks to Place likes 2nd Avenue is not only a trendy thrift store but it also carries top brands at ridiculously low prices. I’ve also frequented Goodwill stores and the Unique Thrift store but 2nd Avenue tends to have more in season merchandise from stellar brands we know and love.
After reading countless articles and after teaching myself the tricks of the trade, I have thrifting tips that will guarantee you positive results.
How to Thrift Like a Pro
- Go to Thrift Stores in Affluent areas: If you want to get the best clothes, you have to drive over to the best parts of town. The more affluent the area, the better finds you will have. Upper middle class to richer demographics tend to spend a lot on current fashion. After the season is over they tend to donate it. You can be smart and get these same items for a fraction of the cost, in very good condition.
- Bring protein bars, water bottles, hand sanitizer, and stain removing pens: Thrifting is not for a lackadaisical shopper. In order to maximize finding treasures you need to use ample time to find the right item. It’s a tiring chore but someone has to do it. Protein bars can give you that extra stamina you need after a tiring thrift, plus you need to stay hydrated from all of the running around you will be doing. Finally, lets say you found the perfect dress from Saks 5th Avenue and you see you small ketchup stain? What will you do? You can clean it up! Right after you collect your finds, you can wash your hands since i’m sure some of these great finds have collected dust.
- Only get high-end name brands: There is a reason why people max out credit cards for high-end name brands–it’s because they last a really long time. Name brands use quality materials that ensure longer usage whereas lower end name brands use cheaper materials for shorter usage. Stick to brands to you see D.C yuppies wear and you will be fine.
- Do not buy stuffed animals, underwear, or safety equipment: Stuffed animals may have bed bugs, wearing someone’s underwear is gross and safety equipment (children, etc) has already been damaged—that’s why it was donated to Goodwill.
- Avoid cheaply made materials (nix the polyester, acrylic and anything that’s unnatural): Amateur thrifters usually go for whatever looks nice and don’t always examine what the item is made from. This blunder usually results in the shopper squandering x amount of dollars on a poor quality item that won’t last for awhile. A smart shopper (like you) will go for 100% cotton, silk, wool, etc., since you want high quality for less: Not less quality for even lesser.
- Visit trendy websites like Zara’s, White House/Black Market, Nordstroms to see what the latest fashions are before you thrift: Before I thrift like a boss, I surf online fashion stores like a CEO. I only pick items that would keep me abreast with current fashion trends and that I can reuse for future fashion trends.
- Dress for success by people watching successfully: The reason i’m a beloved fashionista with my circle of friends is because I people watch like a hawk. I observe how successful/unique women dress and I try to emulate it with my finds. For instance, i’ve seen an abundance of red peacoats across the area worn by trendsetters and was able to snag one for only 30$ (originally priced $135). I made sure my coat was high quality by reading the tag, examining for stains or smells, and by making sure that the brand I bought was high-end.
- Be friendly with the staff: It’s easy to do since they tend to be very helpful when you need to find a particular item. Start a budding friendship and you will be able to reap in insider thrift knowledge on hot finds that no one else knows about–except you!
- Only thrift on special discount days so you can save more: When I first started out, I didn’t know about special discount days. I wish I did because I would’ve saved ALOT more. Normally, on discount days, you get 50% off selected items. Keep in mind that thrift stores have new shipment every week so it’s not the same stuff you see on sale.
- Don’t stick to one store, try three in one day: Not every store will have what you want. The best advice is to try three+ different stores in one day to find what you are looking for. Maximize your resources wisely. For instance, spend 1-2 hours at one store, take a small break, then head on over to the next store.
- Make a list of what you want: You want to make sure that you look for treasures you need for the long haul. By making a list, you can narrow down your search and even save more money by preventing any outlandish splurges.
- Pre-plan how much you plan to spend: If you don’t set a price limit, you will easily go beyond budget and live to regret it since there are no refunds.
- Go between 9 a.m to 12 p.m on special discount days so you can scoop up the best finds: The early bird catches the worm. Smart shoppers wake up early on discount days and grab the best finds before everyone else. If you want to maximize your search than go between these hours on special discount days.
- Examine everything: Just because you found this lovely White House/Black Market top doesn’t mean you have to buy it. You need to make sure that it doesn’t look too old, it doesn’t have pieces missing, it doesn’t smell weird and that it doesn’t have any holes on it. Learn to feel, smell and look at it closely before you buy it. After awhile, this type of pinching and prodding won’t take long. You end up developing a faster habit for it.
- Try everything on: When you go to the mall, you know you fit into a size 2 comfortably. When you go thrifting, you never know if you fit in a size 2. You have to try everything on and be sure this is what you want. Just because it looks great on the hangar doesn’t mean it will look stylin’ on you.
- Be picky with what you get: I am usually all over the name brand too but you need to make sure the style fits what you want. You shouldn’t buy a pinstripe blazer from an awesome name brand if you hate pinstripes. Pick items that have a worthy brand and a worthy style that fits your personality. You want something that will keep you high-stylin’.
- Don’t get clothes that look old: Novice thrifters (often college-aged kids/ and high schoolers) purchase heavily worn out clothes with faded colors and aged lines. Please dont buy clothes that look old; it will only get worse in the wash when you buy them. Buy clothes that are gently used and as brand new as possible. You want to LOOK like you spent hundreds of dollars, when, in reality, you only spent $10.00.
- Check out the books/dvd and cd sections too: Even though technology surpassed the quotidian need for paperback books and for cds (Kindle/ ITunes are the bread and butter to many newer Millenials), you can purchase quality reads and songs for a fraction of the cost. Books at quality thrift stores are usually .50 cents to $1.00 while cd’s are often $1-2 dollars a piece. The cd collection is commendable since they often have: The Cranberries, Jewel, Puddle of Mud, Audioslave (90’s Treasure Trove). If you miss the 90’s and the 80’s, then enhance your collection at your local thrift store.
- Keep your eyes peeled for NEW items: Here’s a thrift store secret that you may not even know. Most thrift stores are 90% junk and 10% GOLD! High-end places like J.Crew, Banana Republic and even White House/Black Market dock out their clearance items to places like Goodwill. These items were never used and are often in-season.