Thrift shopping has been a serious passion of mine for as long as I can remember. As much as I love luxury goods and fast fashion, nothing gets me quite as amped up as spending hours shopping at Value Village rummaging for treasure. The prospect of coming across one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that I’ll have forever ignites some kind of carnal female "gatherer" shit within me.
Since I was younger, I would go with my mom who operates the same way as I do once within the walls of a thrift store: shopping cart at the entrance, start from one end of the store until you make your way all the way through. NO SECTION GOES OVERLOOKED! This is NOT an activity I would ever partake in if under a time restriction. You’ve gotta go in knowing you could be in there for several hours. Pretty sure I have spent up to 6 hours in a Value Village. Is that wack?? Whatever, I’m proud of it. Through my many, MANY years of thrifting, I have picked up a ton of tips that I hope might help less-experienced and potentially apprehensive thrifters. This post is long overdue! Here we go:
-Like I said above, prepare to spend a few hours in the store. If you’re not in the mood to HUNT, don’t even bother. You really have to put in the time looking for the goods.
-There are “good” and “bad” Value Village (and any other thrift store, but I'm a V.V. girl) locations. In my experience, the farther into the suburbs you go, the better. Suburban Value Villages are goldmines and not at all picked over. The one by my parents place in Ajax is my JAM. If you’re in Toronto, the only location I have ever had luck at is the one on the Danforth. My Nonna used to live just around the corner from it so I have been going to this location since I was like?? 2 years old??? It still has a special place in my heart and I always find the best things there. Sorry to say, but the Bloor & Lansdowne location is awful.
-If you find something you love but it’s stained, ripped, or needs to be altered to properly fit you, just pass it up. It’s not worth it and chances are you’ll never get it altered (unless you have a tailor who you frequently go to).
-I don’t like to thrift items from stores that I normally shop at. Thrift stores these days have tons of items from Zara, Forever 21, Aritzia, etc. These are not things I typically like to go for. When I’m thrifting, I’m THERE TO THRIFT! Aka unique and/or vintage items only. If I do find something relatively current that I loooove and it’s in great condition, I’ll of course still pick it up, but this is rare. When I find an amazing item, I know I've really hit the jackpot when I look at the tag and it looks super dated with font from like the 70s.
-This one is imperative: go by yourself or with someone else who’s thrifting vibe will align with yours. For me, that means someone who wants to disappear into the Value Village vortex with me. My mom is the perfect companion, as are a few of my friends.
-Certain categories have much higher success rates than others. Blouses, sweaters, trousers, purses, blazers, leather/furs, and vintage tees are all good bets. Shoes can be tough because they take a beating so most are not in great condition. Vintage denim (like Levi’s etc) is such a hot item right now and that makes it really challenging to find because it’s what everyone is looking for.
-What clothing size are you?? Not anymore! Size means next to nothing when thrifting because of how many different decades the clothes come from. I’ve purchased trousers in size L that are probably from the 70s and they fit like a modern day size S. Also, things like blouses, blazers, and sweaters can still look great if oversized. So don't make the mistake of only looking in your usual size section!
-In that vein, make sure you take a thorough look through the men's and even kid's sections. Two of my fav finds ever (a double breasted mini houndstooth blazer and a vintage Clash tee) came from the boy's section. Menswear can have great sweaters and graphic tees. And don’t forget the seemingly random “fringe” categories for women’s like sleepwear (my #1 find EVER EVER EVER is a black and tan printed kimono-jumpsuit hybrid that came from the sleepwear section, they had categorized it as a “robe”), suits (they categorize most two piece sets as “suits”, including matching tops and bottoms), and gross as it may seem and not recommended for beginners, lingerie (silk and satin slip dresses are in abundance there).
-When it comes to styling thrifted & vintage pieces, it’s important to modernize the look and be creative. Remove the massive 80s shoulder pads from blazers and dresses. Pair a vintage blouse with leather skinny pants and white sneakers. Knot a shapeless shirt at the front and wear it with high waisted pants. Roll up/cuff sleeves that are too big and boxy. Artfully wrap and tie up big vintage scarves to make them into tops/skirts/hair wraps, etc. If you can’t think of how a thrifted piece would fit into your existing wardrobe and style, pass it up. It will just end up sitting unworn in your closet forever.
-Once you've made your purchases and arrived back home, keep everything in plastic bags until you are ready to wash or dry clean it. Obviously we all know that second-hand items are usually not freshly laundered, so don't mix your thrifted purchases into your closet just yet. It freaks a lot of people out not knowing where the items came from and I totally get that! The first thing I do when I get home is sort my purchases into "wash myself" or "take to dry clean" bags. With items I am washing myself, I make sure to use a mesh bag and wash on the hot/cold cycle to get the items really clean and sanitized. When taking more high maintenance items like silks or blazers to the dry cleaners, unfortunately you'll have to be prepared to likely spend more on the dry cleaning than you did on the item itself.
PHEW ok I think that's all for now! Honestly if I could leave you all with one final and very important tip it would have to be: don’t get discouraged if you don’t find much the first time you go. Give it a month and try again, or try a different location! It takes a while to find your thrifting groove and to start to have an eye for unique/quality/timeless/whatever-it-is-you're-searching-for pieces. The saying practice makes perfect is definitely true when it comes to thrift shopping! Good luck and please leave any of your own tried-and-true tips below!