THRIFTING TIPS & TRICKS: Thrifting at Large Brick & Mortar Thrift Shops

Many of you know me from my plus-size, online thrift shop Cat’s Closet. I started selling my clothes online last year but quickly ran out so I began posting fab items I found at thrift shops! Now, I have a whole operation going. I visit thrift stores regularly and find items to share with other plus-sized women. I style them in outfits so other fatshionistas can get some styling ideas and see how the clothes look on someone else. Then, I post them on my shop website and ship nationwide.

Because I have so much luck finding great items at thrift stores, lots of folks ask for advice! So, I wanted to share some thrifting tips and tricks for those of you who are interested in doing some thrift shopping.

Before You Shop 

Get in the mood and set out some time. Plan to spend a few hours thrifting. Rarely can you just pop in for a few minutes and find a quality item that’s perfect for you. Also, I have experienced some intense lines on Half-Off-Saturdays!

Be open! Similar to shopping in retail stores, I rarely find the item I’m looking for. So, you might have some items in mind but part of the beauty of a thrift shop is being open to multiple items, styles, and looks.

Find shops. You can find some thrift stores pretty easily – google, yelp, etc – but rarely do the best ones have websites. Ask around and keep an eye out if you’re driving in new or different parts of towns.  I’ve found a few thrift shops while simply driving through an area I haven’t explored yet.

There are some nicer second-hand stores and consignment shops. These shops can be lovely but also tend to be more expensive. This post refers to my experiences in larger thriftstores!

Be Prepared

Once you’ve visited a specific thrift store, you’ll have an idea how it operates. Here are some things to be prepared for: 

Organization: Like the Target clearance section, thrift shops run the gamut from wonderfully organized and sized to hot messes. 

Fitting Rooms: Some thrift shops don’t have fitting rooms. And, oddly, some that do close them really early. (Maybe it’s just a New Orleans thing? But the Salvation Army store closes fitting rooms at 5PM although the store is open till 7PM.) I suggest wearing leggings. Only one thrift shop I’ve ever visited didn’t have a full length mirror.  (I’m looking at you, America’s Thrift in Baton Rouge!) So, I suggest leggings and a tank top so you can slide things on over your clothes. I’ve found that, as I thrift more and more, I have gotten pretty good at guessing what will work for me without trying items on.

Cash Only: My favorite shops are cash only. Some accept cards – but you might want to have some cash on hand the first time you visit a new store. 

Deals: Many stores have deal days. This often is a flat-rate discount or based on a tag color. Here are some examples based on stores I frequent: Salvation Army store has 50% off all items on Wednesdays, The Red, White, & Blue thrift shop offers 50% off a different tag color each day but on Saturdays all tags except for one color (the most recent arrivals) are 50% off, and Goodwill Stores in the area have 15% off every day for senior citizens. (You better believe I had my mom help me out with that when she visited!) 

Develop Your System

Although my plan of attack varies a bit based on store, let me share my general system. I always get a cart. (Sometimes I bring an abandoned one in from the parking lot to ensure that I have one to use.) In stores that have a specific plus-size women’s section, I head there first. The best stores also have women’s plus size dresses separately, too. If not, that’s where I head next. I usually go through the blazers and swimsuits in the women’s section. And, I sometimes look for flannels in the men’s section.

Most places have items divided by gender and type. Sometimes within those sections they will be sized or divided by color.

If you want to find good stuff, you really have to commit to digging through the racks. At each section, I try to shove everything to one end to give mysef a little wiggle room as I look at each item individually and slide it over. Unfortunately, sometimes the racks can be jam packed (F21 style) and you can barely squeeze things in or out.

I haven’t had a lot of luck with bags or shoes, but I know some folks who find a lot of great accessories at the thrift store. Sometimes I might also walk through the home décor or book sections if I have time, too!

I usually fill my cart based on preliminary impressions. Especially on a busy Saturday morning, I want to claim my items before someone else does! (Sometimes I separate the items in my cart – like one side probably yes’s and the other side maybe’s.) Once I’ve perused all of my sections, I go to the fitting room or take my cart off to the side somewhere quiet. I try on some items and inspect them all. Here are things to look for:

Are there any stains on the items? Is the item dirty? Are there original store tags on the item? (Cha ching!) Are there zippers? Do they work? Any buttons missing? Rips or tears? If so, in a mend-able area? Does it smell funny? Do you think the smell can be washed out? (Seriously, y’all, I have put back so many items based on smell. Ick. I just can’t deal sometimes. . . ) Some of these things can be easily fixed – it’s just good to know what you’re getting into.

Also, I look at price and identify if the item is on sale. (Note that some stores won’t sell an item if it doesn’t have a tag on it. I’ve had to part with some beautiful pieces because of this rule. Always give it to someone who works there to save the next thrifter from the disappointment!)

That’s my general system. I wanted to share specifics so that if thrifting is new to you – this will give you an idea of where to start. As you frequent thrift stores, you’ll learn which ones are worth your time and those that might not be. And, you’ll develop a system of your own!

For Plus-Size Fashionistas
I have two pieces of additional advice for us larger ladies out thrifting! 1) Always look for a plus size section. My favorite shops have plus sizes separated which saves so much time and disappointment. Don’t be afraid to ask!  2) Don’t just buy an item because it’s in your size. When you’re on your 6th rack of dresses and have only found 2 size 18’s, it’s really tempting to snatch anything up just because it’s in your size. But if it’s not cute, don’t go there!

Benefits of Thrifting 

I see multiple benefits of thrifting! Of course you can save money and acquire unique items. It’s also better for the environment because you are reusing items instead of purchasing newly produced ones. And, many thrift shops have a philanthropic component to them. I like to investigate this. I’ll go anywhere, but I prefer to spend my money at places that have a mission that aligns with my values.

Before we go, let’s talk about cost! I usually find items for $2-$6. If it’s more than $6, I really think about it. My fav thrift shop regularly has items that are $12.99+ so I usually wait till they’re half off unless it is a truly amazing garment!

If the thrift shop is a bit nicer, I might pay more but that will also come with a better shopping experience. Nicer, boutique thrift shops usually have price-points from $12-$24. Oh, and when considering cost, sometimes it is worth it to get something that might need to be dry cleaned or mended before you can wear it as you are paying so little for it in the first place.

Let me know! 

Was this info helpful? If you have other thrifting tips and tricks, share ‘em in the comments below!

If you’re a New Orleans local, stay tuned for a specific New Orleans thrift shop review that I plan to post in the upcoming months! And, for those of you in or around New Orleans, consider scheduling a Style Session if you'd like to go thrifting with me so I can give you my personal attention! 

Happy thrifting!