Thrifting 101

You never know what you’ll find.

I’ve been “thrifting” since I was 5, but back then my grandma called “rummaging,” and it entailed a box of donuts, the Thrifty Nickel newspaper and a morning full of yard sales with a trip to the thrift store as an after-thought. Oh, the fun we had. And the things we found. With a lifetime of second-hand shopping experience, I’ve come up with a few tips for navigating stores with stapled-on price tags, my rules and regulations for “thrifting,” if you will.

Rule No. 1: Get moving. The early bird gets the vintage $10 Mara Hoffman. That happened to me once. In recent years, thrift stores have become uber popular. If you’ve ever been outside of the Red White & Blue Thrift Store on a Saturday morning for what I call “the people races,” you know what I’m talking about.

Rule No. 2: Note who you are shopping with. I’ve come up with terms for people who frequent thrift store. Here’s who to look out for:

Poachers—people who ruin thrifting by buying up all the good vintage and then taking it back to their ebay store or “vintage boutique” and marking it up 75 percent more than the actual cost (I hate those people).

Lurkers—those who follow you around to see what you put back so you can snatch it up. They are almost as bad a poachers. And most likely are poachers.

The Gaggle—a group of girlfriends who, like the poachers, snatch up everything. Be especially careful of these if they divide, it gives them more of a chance to conquer. They have a tendency to find things you didn’t even know you wanted, putting you in the lurker role.

Rule No. 2: Remember, cash is king. Surprisingly, a lot of thrift stores, like the Red White & Blue, don’t take credit cards. So grab a stack of cash. And prepare yourself for hefty price tags. The days of $1 items no longer exists. You’ll likely pay $20 or up for a snakeskin bag and as much as $99 for a swingin’ ’60s dress. But it’s still cheaper than buying a replica at Neimans and more affordable than paying a poacher’s mark-up.

Whoa. Now that’s ugly.

Rule No. 3: Just say no to Forever 21. Old clothes are not vintage. Vintage is a one-of-a-kind piece from the past. Shop brands you normally couldn’t afford (if you can find them, and you will if you look hard enough), or spend your money on true bygone-era wear.

Rule No. 4: Wear something tight-fitting. No, I’m not encouraging you to be sexy at the thrift store. But most places don’t have dressing rooms, so if you want to try it on, you have to slip it on over your clothes. I tend to thrift in my workout gear, because it’s body hugging and I can slip whatever on right over the top. The last thing you want to deal with is trying to slide a body-conscious ’80s dress over a pair of jeans. Then, having to pull down your jeans under your dress—hello, now you’re a spectacle. Thrift store entertainment. Trust me, wear leggings and a tank top.

Rule No. 5: One size fits all. There is no such thing as too big at the thrift store. If you like it, you love it, you want some more of it, take it to your seamstress and tell her to Tim Gunn that thing. I can’t tell you the number of vintage muumuus (several of which were Christian Dior) I’ve given the seamstress, along with a pattern, and requested a sundress transformation. A good seamstress can take a thrift-store find and turn it into fashion magic. However, a good rule of thumb, if you already have a huge alteration pile at home, see the next rule about adding to it.

Rule No. 6: Take the “Will I wear this test.” I don’t know what it is about the thrift store, but the more it looks like a halloween costume or an African muumuu, the more I want it. There’s something in my brain that detects funky, ugly and says, “Yes, that must come home with me.” It’s mad cow disease triggered by boho patterns. So, when shopping second-hand stuff, you must ask yourself this question: “Will I really wear this?” If your Jiminy Cricket tells you it will make the perfect Halloween costume (and it’s June), put it back. If you can picture it with shoes, a bag and a piece of jewelry of two, take it home.

My scores from my lastest thrifting adventure: a boho halter dress and a red, leather clutch with snakeskin detail.

Rule No. 7: Keep your eyes on the prize: Accessorize. Seventy-five percent of my jewelry box is vintage. I live for second-hand bangles and big boho necklaces. Why? Because they are nearly one of a kind. Plus, the mark-up on jewelry these days is cray. At least here you can find accessories for a decent price, expect to pay around $15 for necklaces, $5-7 for bracelets. And don’t even get me started on vintage bags. It’s the section I beeline to. $12 for a snakeskin clutch is the deal of the century. But beware the pochers. This is the area they live in.

Rule No. 8: Sanitize. I don’t know how my germ-a-phobia and love of thrifting co-exist, but they do. I’m the girl with an economy-sized hand sanitizer bottle stashed in my purse. And I slather that stuff from head to toe the minute my foot steps outside of the store. Upon arrival at my house, all vintage goods go straight to the wash. On hot. To get rid of mothball smells, wash your purchases several times with baking soda. Give your jewelry a bath in soapy water. And spray down handbags with Febreeze. I know your new purchase is as neat as neon, but who’s to say it wasn’t living at an interventioned hoarders house before it took a trip to the thrift store? Exactly. Wash that stuff.

And there you have it. My rules of the road for navigating the thrift store. As Granny Fulkerson would say, “happy rummaging.”

This clutch is, well, clutch.