My 7 Biggest Thrift Store Fails and the Vintage-Shopping Advice I'm Following from Now On

The key to thrifting, according to my little sister, is a sense of optimism and a willingness to try new things.
Avatar:
Kathleen Braine
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
206
The key to thrifting, according to my little sister, is a sense of optimism and a willingness to try new things.

My younger sister is really good at thrift shopping. Whenever she’s wearing something cute and effortless, I always ask her where she got it (because I shamelessly steal her style all the time). Half of the time, her answer is something akin to, “Oh, this old thing? I got it thrift shopping!” I’m constantly in awe of her ability. I’ve just never been that person who is able to find those awesome, diamond-in-the-rough, perfect thrift and vintage shop finds easily and without any stress.

Thrifting Maryanne and Kathleen

She was always more stylish than I was, as evidenced by the fab checkered skirt.

Thrift stores to me are often vaguely ominous places. You know that scene in Broad City where Abbi and Ilana try to sell clothes back to the bitchy thrift store purveyor with the cute hair and lipstick? That’s spot-on how I feel whenever I’m in a thrift store. And unfortunately I haven’t had my cathartic Pretty Woman montage moment yet (still waiting on that one). To add insult to injury, thumbing through the racks never seems to yield any great “eureka” moments for me — though I keep trying nonetheless. However, I’m a stubborn person by nature, and thus far I’ve had a select few thrifting finds — brief and shining — that have given me hope that I too can become a thrifting savant.

Therefore, in order to course correct my inherent thrifting failings, I’ve cataloged my seven worst thrifting mistakes and enlisted my little sister, very cool hipster photographer Maryanne Braine, to give me some of her thrifting tips as to how I can do better in the future.

Thrifting text message

Maryanne being confused as to what on earth I am asking her.

Mistake One: I am always swayed by expensive thrift stores with great visuals.

I’m a sucker for some nice packaging. It’s a constant issue. The number of beauty brands I like for their packaging over their attributes is staggering. 

With thrifting, if a store has a great layout and a lot of highly styled mannequins in the window, as well as a cultivated air of “expensive.” This has led to many mistakes in the past, notably me buying stuff that is name brand just because it is name brand and 75 percent off, and not because I actually like it. My Thredup bag is always full of such offenses. The worst one? I bought a James Perse shirt in a size XS (note: I am not a size XS), because it kinda sorta fit and it was a James Perse shirt. I could barely move my shoulders. 

Maryanne says the key is not to fall for the overpriced and trendy places. She thinks if a place is too showy, the costs will be inflated in a way that doesn’t always match the selections.

Thrifting Maryanne

Maryanne dressed in some awesome thrift store swag.

Mistake Two: I’m always after that “perfect” find.

When you’re too hyper-focused on finding something specific or exact, you’re going to run into trouble at thrift stores. The key is opening your mind to different types of clothing options so you aren’t blind to what else is available. This happened to me when I was thrifting for my Halloween costume in 2014 (Sanderson Sisters for the win). I was looking for something EXACTLY like what Sarah Jessica wore in the movie, and I was so myopic about what I wanted that I spent a day in different stores without finding anything. Ultimately, I ended up buying a corset and a cape from different costume stores, which looked great, but it meant I spent money I didn’t need to spend.

Mistake Three: I never want to try things on.

This is a mistake that I think everyone can understand in some ways. It feels kind of gross to try on thrift store clothes before you wash them (and it arguably is actually gross). I’m not afraid of most gross things, but I do have really sensitive skin, so I’m usually afraid that I will get some sort of rash from whatever the clothing has been sprayed with. However, this resistance to trying on thrift store clothing has led to some unfortunate misfires. I actually did try on the James Perse shirt mentioned above, but there have been multitudes of other times that I have not. 

I once bought jeans from a thrift store without trying them on. They were my size, but the second I washed them and tried them on back home I realized that they barely went over my thighs. Not a good look. Be wary of labeling on thrift store items (which is why it’s even more important to try things on). I recently grabbed a pair of Dolce Vida suede booties that looked just like my all-time favorite boots. They were labeled as a 10, but as soon as I got them home, I realized, when I tried to put them on my feet, that they were definitely a 9. My sister, with her comparably daintier feet, scored herself some free shoes because I was an idiot.

Thrifting boots

Sooooo not a 10.

Mistake Four: I get lazy.

I've mentioned this before, but I can definitely err on the side of lazy. I love staying in bed late on the weekends, I hate carrying my laundry up my stairs, and I often cannot muster up the gumption to seek out multiple thrift stores for what I actually want. This has led to many years in which I have 100 percent failed at getting Halloween costumes together that actually work, solely because I'm too lazy to put my feet to the pavement and hunt for the right finds.

Mistake Five: I'm occasionally a germaphobe.

I live in NYC, so I like to believe that I am ever-so-slightly rational about this, but there have been definite times that I've been grossed out by the stuff I've found in thrift stores. My sister, who is always practical, insists that to avoid being grossed out, you just have to make sure to wash everything you buy before you wear it, and if you are purchasing anything that seems like it might be super dirty (especially shoes), it might be wise to give up on that particular purchase.

Mistake Six: I am not great at bargaining.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but in some places the key to getting a good thrifting deal is bargaining or haggling. This usually applies to flea markets or yard sales, but when you're given the opportunity to bargain or haggle, the key moves are apparently starting low, sticking to your guns, and not being afraid to walk away.

My biggest problem is that I have virtually no poker face, so if I am utterly in love with a piece (i.e., a vintage leather Prada purse that I couldn't possibly leave behind), I will be hopelessly useless at bargaining and will agree to pay much more than I originally wanted to. Whoops.

Mistake Seven: I’m scared of the unknown.

The key to thrifting, according to my little sister, is a sense of optimism and a willingness to try new things. You think that shirt looks bad on the rack? It might look great on you if you give it a chance. In the past, I have approached thrifting with trepidation and a reluctance to try on things that I don’t immediately like. This may work in a department store, but it doesn’t work in thrift shops. 

Case in point: My sister got these pink patterned shorts at a thrift store in Indiana. When she brought them home, I saw them in her closet and was initially all like, “Oh, I would never wear those; I don’t get those at all.” Then, one night when I was low on clothing (laundry day, you know), I asked to borrow something for a dinner, and my sister tossed me her pink shorts. I was skeptical, but I put them on and was immediately thrilled. I would never have picked them out myself because I would have been too scared, and that is a definite fail.

Thrifting Kathleen pink shorts

Me, wearing the shorts and looking great.

Bonus thrifting tip: My sister highly recommends Goodwill. It is highly variable depending on what city you live in, of course, but my hip, thrifty sister says it’s all the rage.