Thrift store shopping has always been popular among frugal consumers, but in the past few years more people seem to be browsing. The hipster look and even pop culture moments such as the Grammy-winning "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have made buying secondhand items at the thrift store, well, cooler. So how can shoppers make the most of thrift stores now?
GO IN WITH NO EXPECTATIONS
The thrift store is the place to update a wardrobe cheaply, but the selection depends on what's available for the store to buy and resell at any given time, and displays can be haphazard. The best strategy for finding good buys is to approach thrift store shopping without any expectations -- that is, don't go with a list or a particular item in mind, but with a flexible attitude that allows for serendipity.
DON'T SHOP BY SEASON
Some of the best thrift store finds surface when items are out of season. Shoppers eyeing summer or fall clothes right now should look out for bonus winter and spring wardrobe updates, as well.
BROWSE THE WHOLE STORE
There's a very good chance that women's apparel may be mixed in with men's, or a men's blazer may be a better fit than the jacket found in the women's section. Give the entire place more than a quick once-over. (Just ask Macklemore. He doesn't only rap about thrift stores, he shops them regularly, saying in an interview with GQ that of more than 3,000 thrift store purchases, the best have come from the sections that weren't meant for him.)
LEARN A STORE'S SCHEDULE
Frugal consumers recommend chatting up thrift store employees to find out when new inventory hits the floor and when sales happen. If there's a good thrift shop nearby, make a habit of visiting often to learn its schedule.
HIT THE 'HOT SPOTS'
According to Woman's Day, newly stocked racks can be spotted when employees push them out onto the sales floor. Swoop in on them first, because the best goods and squarely in-season items are the first to go. Another smart location to check is the rack right outside the dressing rooms. This is a gold mine for in-season duds and other items in mint condition that were discarded because they didn't fit someone else.
Not having much luck with clothes on a particular day? Don't leave a thrift shop without combing through the accessories. A thrift shop find can make or update an outfit for cheap. A cute spring purse, light scarf or skinny belt, a gently worn watch, or a few wrist bangles may be waiting to be snatched up. A thrift store can also be just the place to find pieces to make your own DIY accessories.
EXAMINE ITEMS CAREFULLY
It goes without saying that thrift-store shoppers should examine closely whatever they plan to buy. If it's stained, ripped, discolored, or overly worn, it's probably unwearable. But if a problem seems fixable, go for it -- assuming the repair cost doesn't unwind the thrift store shopping bargain. A chic pair of pants with a ripped seam can be patched at minimal expense, but a grease stain down the front of an otherwise perfect summer dress is likely to be there forever. With proper care, even secondhand items can provide years of use.
PICK YOUR SPOTS
It's no secret some brands of clothing hold up better than others. Check the labels of potential purchases and make sure they're worthy. Thrift store shopping is also one of the best ways to freshen up a child's wardrobe or a spring maternity wardrobe. Such items typically aren't worn out because kids outgrow them quickly and pregnancies last only so long.
KNOW WHAT TO AVOID
While the lure of the thrift shop is strong, there are some types of clothing to never buy used. Socks and underwear come to mind for sanitary reasons. Shoppers may also want to think twice about hats, boots, and shoes during a thrift store shopping spree.
SEARCH FOR NEW SOURCES
There's a lot of advice floating around on the web about the best thrift stores and when to shop them. Need help finding one nearby, or want to branch out and find new stores to check out? One place to start is The Thrift Shopper. Just put in a ZIP code and it pulls all the surrounding thrift stores with their addresses and hours -- sponsored stores at the top, with a more complete, geographic listing below.