When I was a kid, my dad braked for every yard sale, so that’s probably where my strange compulsion started. There’s a feeling that creeps up in me, it’s an urge, really. It’s the need to thrift. And it’s thirsty.
The loot I’ve scored along the way has only fuelled the fire—an authentic Hermès coin wallet (for $2!), new Dr. Martens boots, a Le Creuset kettle and a bountiful collection of Finnish Iittala crystal (if you’re Nordic you know those candle holders are what’s up).
Thrifting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but descending upon a thrift store doesn’t have to be daunting. Instead, think of it as rack upon rack of opportunity, a place to nab a one-of-a-kind piece, save some coin or be a better planeteer. Here’s my no-fail guide to conquering Value Village like a pro.
The first rule of thrifting is to spend actual time thrifting
Sure, you might be able to pop your head in quickly and find something cool, but the coolest things are found when you sink your teeth in. Make an afternoon of it.
Make a plan, then attack (and always grab a cart!)
My logic? Go for the goods that are easily seen first. For me, that means a sweep of housewares, bedding/furniture, shoes and purses before setting my sights on clothing. Don’t dismiss an area because it appears to be filled with creepy porcelain clown faces, do a scan of the shelves (up top, too) and don’t be afraid to squat or reach behind things. Lurking among the junk might be teak bowls, a piece of Pyrex or some studio pottery.
If you’re having feelings for something, put it in your cart. You’re not committed yet, it’s just casual. At the end of your shop you can decide if it’s worth taking home.
Bedding is an easier sift because you can scan it from afar. (Tell me it’s gross, but those are used sheets you sleep on at bougie hotels, friend.) This is also where you might find sweet vintage blankets and textiles. Furniture is a quick poke around, too. Shoes, belts and purses need a bit more of your attention. If you’ve got time, go deep (hey, my Hermès score was tucked in among the backpacks.)
Go in with an idea of what you want
Before you dig, take some screenshots or save some pins of looks and design elements you’re after. For me, it’s ’90s Princess Di—so, basically, anything currently at Zara. Break down the elements of your desired look, and you’ll see it’s not really so hard. Plaid blazer in outerwear, white blouse in long sleeves, loafers in the shoe department. If it’s a certain fabric or colour you’re after, scan the aisles for that alone. Don’t feel defeated if you don’t find the perfect thing every time. Enjoy the hunt.
Don’t be afraid to shop in the men’s section
I’m almost reluctant to give this tip because I’m greedy, but ladies, the good vintage Levi’s are in the men’s section—and they’re priced way cheaper.
Try things on
This is important, okay? A vintage size 14 might not fit your current-day size-eight bod, so my rule is to Always. Try. It. On. Slipping into something can also reveal if there is any damage you may have missed. And don’t be weird about germs, there’s this cool thing called soap that you can put on your body when you get home.
Shop at the right time—and try out a few different locations
Try to go earlier in the day. By evening, some locations can be picked over. This is especially true during 50 percent off sales (which can be chaotic, you’ve been warned). To get access to those special prices a day early, sign up as a member and receive email notifications ahead of time.
Location hop to get a feel for which Value Villages you prefer, because sizes and selection vary by store.
Alter and repurpose things
You don’t have to be a seamstress or spend all your money on alterations, I’m talking simple practices. Those men’s Levi’s? Cut the bottoms to reveal an on-trend raw hem. Love a blouse but it’s a bit too big? Leave the bottom buttons undone and tie it at the waist a la Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. Wearing trenches and vintage jackets inside out can be pretty killer. Tea cups can house succulents and a hanging basket could be just what your kitchen needs to hold your snacks.
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Quality control (AKA, your handy guide to inspecting the goods).
I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but the more you thrift, the more comfortable you will get with sniffing things in public. Here’s how to weed out the bad eggs:
Look for like-new shoes. Make sure there aren’t any feet indents (gross), assess the soles, pulling on them gently, to ensure that they are secure. Do a little snifferoo.
Check all the zippers, even the pockets. Mostly, I only bring home quality pieces made from materials like leather, linen, silk and cotton. If you love something that is a blend or not as well made, do a thorough search for holes or runs. Also, just because something has a highbrow label doesn’t mean that it’s good quality. Unless it’s Talbots—always buy Talbots.
Look inside kettles for rust, don’t be afraid to test an appliance or electronic at a designated outlet station and inspect pottery and dishes for any hairline fractures. You can smell things here, too, like baskets.
Furniture and bedding
Of course you’re leery of bedbugs, but so is Value Village. Give items a good inspection to make sure you don’t see anything weird and to suss for damage. Your nose will guide you on these items, too. Many vintage blankets (read wool) are dry-clean only, so keep that in mind before committing. If something feels threadbare, leave it behind.
Don’t be a hoarder
Or do, I don’t know your life. My rule is for everything I bring home, one thing has to go out in its place (back to V.V. because: The Circle of Life). Once you start finding the goods, it’s easy to accumulate too much stuff. Adopting this habit will keep you accountable.