Thrift Shopping Beginner’s Mistakes I Have Made
I have a few regrets.
When I discovered thrifting at age fourteen, it was a revelation. My friend, a expert thrifter, introduced me to the art of combing the racks of clothes for deals and hidden gems, and it’s been a passion of mine ever since.
It’s been a decade since I entered the enchanted world of thrift shopping, and I’ve become a thrifting master. Clothes and accessories from secondhand stores make up at least half of my wardrobe.
Thrifting is a great way to save on clothes and anything else under the sun. But when I was just starting out, I wasted a lot of money making completely avoidable beginner’s mistakes. Learn from me and don’t lose money when you should be saving it.
Don’t buy clothes with holes and stains
I used to buy clothing with holes, rips, stains, or other defects thinking I could fix the holes and the stains wouldn’t be a big deal.
A dress might be really pretty. It might be from a great brand. But if it’s stained, it won’t serve you well and you should walk away. Sometimes you can salvage damaged clothing, but that’s something you should consider before you buy. I sewed holes, but a sewed hole still looks bad. It might even look worse if the hole wasn’t that noticeable before. With old stains, I attempted to get them out, but—of course—it didn’t work.
I could never really wear these clothes outside the house if I wanted to look presentable, and I sure as hell couldn’t wear them to work. I once bought a wool J.Crew cardigan at Goodwill that had a hole right in the front. I bought it because J.Crew cardigans are amazing and this one was cheap. I sewed it, but it still never looked nice. I ended up getting rid of that cardigan and all my other ruined thrift store clothes over the years.
Don’t buy clothes without trying them on first
The lack of dressing rooms is a major problem for thrift shoppers. Seriously, why would a thrift store that is 50 percent clothes not have a dressing room? If the store allows returns, you can always bring something back if it doesn’t fit. But sometimes thrift stores neither have fitting rooms nor allow returns and it’s just like… why do you hate your customers?
I’ve often regretted buying clothes I couldn’t properly try on. I’d try them on over my clothes or hold them up to my body, and then I’d get home and realize they didn’t really fit. I ended up with a lot of too-tight shirts this way.
Buying too many novelty T-shirts
Who doesn’t love a thrift store T-shirt with a random, amusing graphic? No one. Thrift shops are full of people’s unwanted custom shirts. Think: “Hanson Family Reunion 2008 Tulsa, Oklahoma,” “Little Shop of Horrors Wayne High School ’02,” “Harbor Point Summer Camp Counselor.” There’s also that type of promotional T-shirt featuring a brand’s logo that you can tell was definitely given out for free at some point. Then there are those truly inexplicable shirts that you have no idea what their design means (just make sure you Google any words on there to make sure it’s not the name of a cult).
Dazed by my new addiction to thrifting, I overdid it and purchased way too many tees. I had zero discretion, and a lot of my new shirts sat in my drawers unworn.
A lot of unique or novelty T-shirts are those unisex Gildan and Hanes tees—which are usually pretty boxy on women, but you should still make sure they fit before you take them home. I bought ones that were way too big for me and ended up using them as pajama tops, which is fine, but I didn’t need more pajama tops.
Buying VHS tapes
This one really makes me want to kick myself. I actually bought used VHS tapes from thrift stores after DVDs were invented.
I’m the kind of person who remains faithful to soon-to-be-obsolete technology like VHS players and iPods. In 2007, when I started thrifting, I still occasionally watched my video tapes. (It made sense; I didn’t own the movies on DVD, and we didn’t have streaming yet.) But buying more VHSs? Not my best move. Yes, I was drawn in by the cheap prices, but the concept of paying any amount of money for a VHS after DVDs became popular is generally kind of horrifying. I’m 99 percent sure I never watched any of the ones I bought.
Buying CDs I didn’t really like
Thrift stores are actually a great place to buy used CDs. It’s cheaper than buying a digital copy or buying new. Sometimes I found something amazing for real cheap, like Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans. But, more often than not, I would buy a CD from an artist that I barely knew just because it was $2.99, decide I didn’t like the album, and then let it sit on my shelf for the rest of eternity.
Buying too many old photos
The first time I walked into an antique store and saw a table full of strangers’ old black-and-white snapshots, I thought it was the most delightful thing in the world. It’s fun to sift through them, find a few cute or nostalgic ones, and take them home. Now I own more than I know what to do with.
Similarly, past me also spent money on yellowed old Playbills, even though I already kept every Playbill from every show I’d ever seen. I’ve since thrown them away because I don’t have the storage space for them, but it was really hard to convince myself to do that.
If you’ve recently discovered the world of thrift stores, I hope the mistakes I made will help you avoid similar costly blunders. Have fun! Make good choices! If you buy something you end up regretting, you can always donate it to another thrift shop!
Madeline Raynor is a New York City-based writer. She writes for Slate and has written for The Hairpin, New York Magazine, Splitsider, Electric Literature, and more. She loves all things Tina Fey. Her first name rhymes with “rain or shine.” Follow her on Twitter @madelineraynor_. Her website is madelineraynor.wordpress.com.