Some women won’t enter thrift shops. I wouldn’t until I changed jobs, made much less money, and desperately needed clothes. A woman I knew shopped at the Salvation Army and always looked amazing. One Saturday, I stopped in. While softly asking God, “What am I doing here?” I looked through the women’s clothing and found unworn garments with price tags attached. There were several items I’d have bought at retail. They fit. For less than $20, I had much needed additions to my wardrobe.
Eventually, I discovered I could have a much better wardrobe for less money if I used thrift shops in addition to other discount resources. Over time, I learned a few important lessons:
- Dress so you can try on clothing and remain covered. Not every thrift shop has dressing rooms. Wear heavy tights or lightweight leggings and a close-fitting cami/tank under a long sweater or tunic. Wear easily removed shoes to make trying on jeans and trousers possible. You can pull a skirt or trousers under the sweater/tunic and fasten it while remaining covered. Remove the sweater/tunic to try on tops.
- Shop as if you’re at the most expensive shop in town. Have exacting standards. Don’t just buy a garment because it’s cheap. Buy pieces in good condition, of good quality, that fit and work for you. Just as you’d never waste $600 on a badly-made, ill-fitting jacket in an unsuitable colour, don’t waste $5 on a jacket that’s wrong for you. (Often, when we have only $5 for a garment, it’s $5 we can’t afford to waste.) Thrift shops get new items all the time. Be willing to leave with nothing and come again on another day.
- Try not to bring the kids. I think a great gift any woman can give another is to babysit her children so she can have an hour to shop. Or perhaps a friend could entertain the kids in another area giving their mother some time to shop. And there’s always dad.
- Remember, you’re wardrobe building. If you expect to find a black skirt or a blue shirt on a particular trip to a thrift shop, you’ll often be disappointed. Pray and ask God to lead you to what He has for you and then ask Him to help you remain open to whatever that is. (I’m not kidding.) Then look for pieces that will work with other items in your wardrobe. (A camera phone and little snips from existing clothing can be very useful here.)
- Keep an eye out for high-quality and/or vintage items! This is where educational shopping becomes invaluable. Once you’ve experienced beautiful, well-made clothing, pieces of similar quality will be easier to spot. When someone donates a shirt made in that silky cotton you discovered at Barney’s, you’ll know you’ve got a special piece. Thrift shops are also great places for vintage finds. A jacket from the 50’s that appears almost new will be of better quality (and way cooler) than almost anything manufactured today.
- Immediately wash or dry clean everything you buy. Feel free to use Dryel but turn the dryer to high and run it for an hour to kill any moths, silverfish or other pests and their eggs. (Place delicates in mesh bags first.) I air dry the clothing I wash, then place dry garments in a hot dryer for an hour to sanitize them. The dryer only shrinks wet clothing and, if items (especially delicates) are placed in a mesh bag, the dryer won’t cause fading or harm your things. (Dryer lint is actually a thin layer of your clothing.)
Thrift shops are great resources. Many areas have several shops with each attracting donors who bring similar merchandise. One shop may be great for children’s clothing, another for women’s wear. But even when only one shop is available, with a little care and attention, it can be one of the cornerstones of a great wardrobe.
Please use the comments to share your experiences buying from thrift shops. And stay tuned for more on having a great wardrobe even on a tiny budget.