Monday, May 16, 2011

How to Shop: Goodwill Outlets

Be thee fairly warned: thrifting has never been for the faint of heart, but a Goodwill Outlet could still give you a coronary if you aren't prepared. For serious.

Few and far between, these establishments are basically where unsold merchandise gets one final go at being re-homed. There are no racks. There are no hangers. There are no "departments." There are no price tags or bathrooms or dressing rooms or mirrors. What they do have is giant bin after giant bin of unsorted, unwashed, pre-owned miscellany priced to sell by the pound. It's not a place where everyone would choose to shop -- and that's precisely the point. The crux of the matter is that Goodwill Outlets allow adventurous and industrious bargain hunters to trade in petty amenities for the one thing that matters most (at least on this blog): a better bottom line.

How it works:
1) Visually assess intimidating mound of clothes/shoes/whoknowswhat.
2) Snatch up anything that looks cute, and throw it in your shopping cart.
3) Grab an armload of stuff and shift it to the side, so that you uncover more stuff.
4) Repeat steps 1-3 until your arm/patience/nose gives out.
5) Assess stuff in cart for wearability/quality/fit/weight.
6) Haggle and pay.

A few tips for mitigating the peril:

1) Dress to dig.
The Goodwill Outlet browsing process is something akin to an archeological dig, and you should dress accordingly. Hands-free bags, ponytail holders, short or roll-up-able sleeves, and easy-moving fabrics are a plus.

2) Know your clothes.
This process goes a lot faster if you are the type of person can spot her go-to brand of shoes from across the room or recognize cashmere by touch. Get familiar with the look and feel of the things you love, and finding more things you love will get to be second nature. I only spent about ten minutes at the outlet this time around, and I left with one of my favorite brands of jeans for $2.50 and perfectly fitting leather boots for $4.

3) Figure out some fit cheats.
There are no dressing rooms or mirrors in the outlet, so you have to find other ways to tell if a garment will fit you the way you want it to. For example, I know that I like my jeans rise to go no higher than my hip bones, so I throw shame to the wind and line up the crotch seams of prospective jeans to the jeans I'm currently in to see how high the rise goes. I also know that I like my tops to define the area under my bust, so I usually lay tops over my chest and make sure the side seams wrap around my torso no farther than my armpits.

4) Don't be shy!
There is a chance that your outlet location will be filled with lots of other bargain hunters so eager to find their own deals that they will physically jostle you out of the way. Don't let yourself be run over! Put your head down and jostle them right back. And if the cashier quotes a price that seems too high for you, make a counter-offer. These leather boots were originally quoted at $5 but, because the soles are cracking a bit (an easy enough fix for me, but a significant shoe flaw nonetheless), the cashier let me have them for $4 -- Don't laugh! That dollar I saved could turn into an awesome swap meet purchase later!

5) Have fun!
You might not end up coming home with anything, so don't put pressure on yourself to find a diamond in the rough every time. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and quit when the thrill is gone. There are always more stores to browse, and new items are always arriving. :)


  1. This was so helpful! People always talk about these, and I had no idea about how they actually worked...I'm going to one today, so I'm glad I'll be prepared!

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  3. Great article, it is light, funny and to the point. I have been to an outlet before and it was a little overwhelming but I think I'm ready to give it another shot now. I didn't know you can sometimes haggle with them, that's pretty neat!