A guide to thrift store clothes shopping

A Great Budget Wardrobe

by Tricia Goss

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Building and replenishing your wardrobe with thrift store finds is a great way to save money. But maybe you're new to frugal living and don't know where to begin. Or perhaps you're a veteran tightwad who never got into buying second hand clothing. There's an art (or maybe it's a science?) to thrift store clothes shopping. Once you have mastered this, you'll likely find yourself reluctant to return to department store shopping.

First, change your mindset about purchasing used clothing. Stop thinking that second hand clothing is "icky." It's highly unlikely that someone died in that outfit (admit it, you've thought that!). Chances are that the previous owner simply cleaned out their closet and discarded things they didn't wear. And realize that even when buying clothing brand new, you have no way of knowing how many people before you tried it on. Simply give your purchases a good washing and you've got nothing to worry about!

Your next step is to find the best stores. You should window shop, scanning the layouts of several. The ideal stores will be very clean and organized. Look for well-stocked racks sorted by articles of clothing, sizes, and colors, and all facing one direction. While this might sound trivial, it is especially important for newbie thrift shoppers, as it will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

Once you've earmarked stores to shop at, your next step is to find out about any specials they offer. For example, some thrift stores will give you a coupon towards your next purchase when you donate a bag of clothing. Others have certain days when you pay one price for whatever you can stuff into a shopping bag, or they may have specials such as "Half Off Blue Tags." Once you know who offers what and when, you can plan your shopping trips. Ask if there is a mailing list you can get on or check the store's website for an email subscription. These will often alert you to some great specials others might not know about.

So you know which stores you're hitting today, and you have your budgeted funds and any coupons in hand. Your next step is to learn how to actually shop at thrift stores. It can be quite different from department store shopping. At department stores, a rack usually holds merely variations of sizes and colors of the same item, but at thrift stores, every single piece is unique. You need to really hunt or you might miss a great find! This is where it gets fun. Start by heading to your size of a particular item of clothing and find out which direction they face. Start at the front and push the items back away from you. Pull them toward you one by one, waiting for something to catch your eye. Don't worry if you don't see something right away. Ideally, you'll be hitting at least one store a week. Some days you might come home with one cute top, other times you'll hit the mother lode. Once you do see something you like, first check the price tag and make sure it's worth what it is marked. Next, check the tag inside the clothing to make sure it is the correct size (once in a while something will be tagged wrong at the store) and what the care instructions are. Try to stay away from dry clean only or you might negate your savings! Then look the article over carefully for any stains or holes. If it is a great buy and has a hole where a thread came loose at the seam, it might be worth fixing. But if it has a mysterious stain that you may or may not be able to get out, keep looking. Just because you're buying used clothing doesn't mean they should appear used. The point is to have an eye-catching wardrobe while staying within your means.

It's imperative that you know what looks good on you. If there's a dressing room, use it. If you have a fashion-conscious friend who's willing to shop with you, bring them. Don't worry about walking away with "outfits." You're building and refreshing your wardrobe. Focus on basics like a great-fitting pair of jeans or a nicely tailored pair of slacks in a flattering shade. Look for colors and styles that compliment your build and complexion. By sticking with what works for you, you'll soon find that many pieces of your growing wardrobe are interchangeable and will provide you with many different, becoming looks. If you happen to get home at the end of a shopping trip with a complete outfit, consider it serendipity. Before you know it, people will begin asking you how it is that you're always wearing something new. What you tell them is up to you; it'll be our little secret!

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