How you can score at the thrift store

Editors' Note: Natalie Bell runs her own blog, BlogEverythingElse—she's also a high school junior! Here, she details all of her tried-and-true trips about shopping at thrift stores. 

If you follow me on Instagram, it comes as no surprise that I love thrift shopping. It's like a scavenger hunt for me, and I love scoring quality items for less! When I was little, my neighbor would bring garbage bags full of her old clothes for me and my sister to look through and ever since, I have loved secondhand clothing. I get lots of questions about how I find great items in the sea of clothing at the thrift store, so I decided to compile all my ideas in one blog post!


Why go thrifting?

  • It's budget-friendly: As a high school student without a regular source of income, thrift shopping is a great way for me to get "new" clothes while stretching my budget. My biggest Goodwill haul included 11 items, and I only paid $40. While $40 may seem like a lot, that would only get me one or two items at a regular retail store.

  • You'll find unique items: Thrift stores are a great place to find unique items because they are a cultivation of many styles. You are less likely to accidentally twin with someone at school if you are wearing something from a thrift store!

  • The pieces are likely to last: Items at a thrift store have typically gone through a lot before getting to the store, so there is a better chance that these clothes will last a long time for you, too! 

  • The selection is always fresh: Most larger thrift stores receive weekly (if not daily) donations, so you can go every week to find new items!

  • You can give back while you shop: Many thrift stores are non-profit and the money goes towards a good cause. For example, Goodwill provides jobs and offers job training and other services!


*Thrift shopping can be dirty, messy and unorganized!* Thrift shopping is really a scavenger hunt, and in order to find good pieces, you have to sort through the mess. If that intimidates you, or if you aren't used to the idea of used clothing, I recommend starting at a nice small consignment shop. Consignment shops buy clothes, and typically they only buy nice, stain-free items! They also tend to be very organized, much like a normal retail store!

General tips

  • Set aside time: It takes time to be successful at the thrift store. It's no coincidence that my most successful Goodwill trip was the longest time I was ever thrift shopping—two hours! If you don't have as much time, you can always prioritize sections or look thoroughly through one or two!

  • Have a vision: I love Pinterest, so when I'm at the thrift store I look for items that are similar to pins I've saved. This helps me feel less overwhelmed!

  • Have your hands free: This is totally optional, but a fanny pack is a great item to have while thrift shopping! I put my keys, phone, hand sanitizer and money in my fanny pack so that my hands are completely free to look through the racks. 

  • Notice deals: I am not the best at this, but it is helpful to notice the deal of the day or week at the thrift store you are in. Goodwill has a colored tag system where every Thursday through Sunday, whatever has the chosen tag color will be 50% off! You can shop with the sale in mind, or leave it up to chance like me. I get excited at the register to see if I got any deals!

  • Do not notice brands: It is great to notice familiar brands and buy them, but I urge you to not pass up an item just because the brand is not familiar to you! Many of my thrifted finds do not have familiar brands, but they are great pieces that I would have turned up if I thought the brand mattered.

  • Analyze each item: Once you find an item you like, or even remotely like, check for any stains, tears or weird odors. One time I found the *cutest* pea-colored suede jacket and I noticed a weird smell, but I assumed it could get washed out. It could not. Unfortunately I had to throw away the jacket because it smelled too strong. 

  • Try on items: Thrift store dressing rooms can be gross, but brave it anyway as you never know how an item will look on you! If you are willing to sacrifice a couple bucks, you can always buy items without trying them on first and donate them back if they do not work for you.

  • Wash right away: To kill any bugs, throw your clothes in the dryer first, then wash and dry them as normal. (*Do not do this if the item is dry clean only!*) I do this with any used clothes I buy.

What I look for:

  • Men's section: The men's section is the best place to look for oversized jackets, sweatshirts and sweaters. I recently found two men's large IZOD sweaters, and they have the perfect retro and oversized look!

  • Jeans: Look through ALL jeans! You never know what sizes will be where. I like to look for baggier, boyfriend-like jeans at thrift shops.

  • Dresses: As always, look through everything! I tend to look for spaghetti strap dresses that I can wear over a tee shirt.

  • Tops and T-shirts: I tend to look for cute graphic tees and statement tops. Thrift stores are great places to find unique and one-of-a-kind statement pieces!

  • $1 section: I look at everything in the dollar section because I never know what I will find. The other day I found a Billabong long-sleeve shirt in perfect condition for only a dollar!

  • Skirts: I tend to look for retro-looking tweed and corduroy skirts. I am still on the hunt for the *perfect* tweed skirt, though!

  • Jackets: I am a sucker for a retro, colorful and quirky jacket and I love pairing one with a plain tee, jeans and sneakers!

Have you ever been shopping at a thrift store? Let us know in the comments!

by Natalie Bell | 1/13/2020