I can't be the only one who does an affronted double-take at thrift store prices these days. $5.99 for used tank tops? Forever 21 has new ones for as low as $3.50! And they come in a bunch of colors! And all the colors come in your size! It's enough to elicit rude noises of disgust. For serious.
So why do I still thrift? And how do I leave with my dignity intact? There are many factors at work here, but here are a few of my personal strategies:
1) Dress to undress.
Thrift shopping isn't the time to break out your artful layers. If you know you will be heading to the thrift store before you leave your home, take a minute to make sure it involves easy-on-easy-off shoes and body-hugging separates. Sometimes, thrift stores do have dressing rooms -- but in my experience, it's always more trouble to hunt down a sales associate to unlock the dressing rooms than it is to assess fit by pulling a garment on over my clothes. Thin tees or tanks and jeans that are slim through the thigh work best for me, but you might also consider a long-is, full-ish skirt or leggings on your bottom half.
2) Identify the deals.
I don't know if this applies across the nation, but most of the thrift stores I frequent offer discounts on one or more type of item at any given time. Goodwill will post a sign at the entryway letting you know which color(s) of hang tags entitle you to 50% off. Salvation Army uses a similar system. Smaller, non-chain stores will often offer blanket discounts on "all shoes" or "all sleeveless tops." As you begin your search, tell your brain to zero in on these items, as you will get the best deals. Depending on what mood I'm in, sometimes I will not even look at an item unless I see the half-price hang tag dangling off it. Goodwill also has an option for their outlet locations on their locator page.
3) Focus on investment pieces.
Let's face it: hardly any of us have the time or energy to scour a thrift store from top to bottom and pull out every single gem the store has to offer. When I thrift, I usually only hit up the shoes, handbags, jackets/coats, and possibly the dresses or jeans. My theory is that these are widely considered to be "investment" pieces and, thus, are the most likely to be more expensive, high-quality, durable items that have been properly cared for... not cheap, kick-around clothes worn to paint the house and mow the lawn. Definitely skip out on items that typically wear very easily, such as knit tops.
4) Embrace your inner snob.
It's true that every single label out there is capable of producing a garment that fits you perfectly -- and in a retail setting, it makes sense to look at all your options. It may not make as much sense, however, to test drive the quality an obscure or unfamiliar label that's already on its second life (at least). I'm not saying you have to hold out for Burberry at the Goodwill (you will likely wait quite a long wait), but look for brands or manufacturing details (e.g. 100% leather for shoes or a "made in Italy" label for handbags) that you feel confident will hold up. A $5 handbag sure sounds like a good deal, but it's just a waste of money if its Chinese PU shell flakes off after a week of use.
5) Don't forget quality control!
It can be economical and fun to refinish an otherwise sturdy table or shine up cosmetically worn shoes, but don't go overboard. Even the best-reputed or most expensive piece is not worth the money if it is severely damaged, heavily worn, or ill-fitting. Be ruthless with items that don't pass muster. You'll be glad you did when a lovely, pristine item comes your way and you have funds waiting in the wings.
These are just some basic guidelines that help me stay focused amidst the onslaught of random items in a thrift store. What say you? How do you find the best deals?