Little Known Thrift Store Shopping Secrets!

by Faith Sugarman


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Truth be told, thrift stores are America's best kept shopping secret when it comes to finding fantastic bargains on both new and used clothing. With the right know-how, a little patience and just a touch of luck, you can acquire an amazing high fashion wardrobe on an incredibly tiny budget.

Believe it or not, I purchased three skirts, two blouses, a mini-backpack, a purse, four pair of brand name jeans, several sweaters, a pair of shorts, a designer silk suit and two pair of new shoes for a little over a hundred dollars.

Here's how you can do the same:

Make a point of going thrift shopping in November and December. Why? Corporate retailers tend to make substantial donations to large chain thrift stores at that time of year. In other words, they give large quantities of unsold clothing and accessories with the tags still on because the merchandise didn't sell at their store. By donating it to charity, they qualify for year-end tax write-offs. The thrift store resells the clothes at a massive discount and you get brand new, never-worn goodies from department stores at dirt-cheap prices. Not only is this a good way to expand your own closet, but it's an inexpensive way to obtain fantastic holiday gifts for friends and family.

Pricewise, I've found that the best bargains out there are often had at small scale thrift shops owned by hospitals, churches and other charitable causes. My favorite local thrift shop lets you fill a bag with clothes for $5. They also have half price days and rummage sales. Of course, it can be time consuming to go through the often-unkempt piles of everything and find exactly what I want. However, I look at it like it's a treasure hunt. Sometimes in those racks of outdated acid wash jeans and pink puffy paint sweatshirts emblazoned with kittens I can find a DKNY blouse that someone wore once and got tired of!

I also try to look for clothing that is out of season because it's usually on clearance. In June, no one is interested in winter jackets. More often than not, they'll lower the price just to get it off the rack, so they can add seasonally appropriate merchandise. Case and point? Last fall, I bought a few pair of CK and Ralph Lauren shorts for $1 per pair.

Finding the best brands is easier than it seems. Actually, it's all about location, location, location! Look for thrift shops in and around metropolitan areas where fashion conscious folks live and work. Invariably they tend to give their hand-me-downs to thrift stores nearby. Designer casual wear is often available in thrift shops near colleges where students may alter their wardrobes regularly to keep up the latest looks. If you are a student or know one, bring them shopping with you since a lot of places offer student discounts. Many also offer senior citizen discounts.

Another little-known secret? Occasionally NYC fashion designers are prone to giving their samples and runway fashion show leftovers to thrift stores! Usually they're stamped "sample" on the inside of the clothes, though sometimes they'll make a small cut in the fabric or cause some other minor damage to the clothes so they can't be resold as new. Most of the time this is easily repaired. The designer samples tend to be in the size four to eight range, though there are sometimes smaller and larger sizes, too. If you live in the area or find yourself there on vacation, make a point of visiting the large chain thrift shops to see if anything is currently available.

And here's a tip for petite ladies. Always check out the children's section for tops and shirts. Many times a girl's size 14 or 16 will fit like an adult size small. Most of the time, children's clothes are less expensive than adult clothes, so you get more bang for your buck.

Another fun idea for finding cheap clothes? Look in the yellow pages or ask friends where to find establishments that sell clothing by the pound. When you get there, seek out pieces that are fairly lightweight, like tee shirts, blouses, shorts and skirts.

Before buying anything, always make sure to check for stains, tears, rips and loose seams. Test the zippers to ensure that they're functional. Whenever possible, try the clothes on to make sure that they fit. It's always a good idea to stick with brands that you're familiar with and know to be of good quality.

Last but not least, shop often! Not every trip is bound to be fruitful, but when you hit the jackpot and take home bags full of beautiful clothes at unbelievable prices, it's all worth while.


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