How to Find Hidden Gems in Secondhand Stores: Best Thrifting Tips

Are you determined to master the art of thrifting like a pro? To help you take your secondhand shopping game to whole new heights, we created the ultimate thrifting tips guide for beginners. Here’s how to find unique, one-of-a-kind gems in second-hand stores. 

A rack of clothes at a thrift store or flea market.

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Thrifting is, by no means, a recent phenomenon. On the contrary, this creative pursuit has been thriving for years. Vintage shopping enthusiasts have long been transforming pre-loved garments into bespoke, upcycled masterpieces. But in 2023, as more and more people are becoming aware of the extremely unethical nature of fast fashion, this sustainable style movement has exploded onto the scene. 

Fashion activists and eco-conscious trendsetters – aka “granola girls” – don’t shy away from sharing their eco-friendly thrifting wisdom and enviable secondhand hauls, redefining fashion, one pre-loved gem at a time. 

So, it’s hardly a surprise that, In 2022, the global market for secondhand apparel skyrocketed to a staggering $182.4 billion. What’s more, forecasts predict that the thrift store industry is primed to rake in a whopping $11.0 billion by 2023. The era of accessible, wallet-friendly sustainability is in full swing.

A thrift shop sign outside a building.
Photo: rusty426 at Deposit Photos

The Difference Between Thrift and Secondhand Explained 

Before we start spilling all our thrifting secrets, let’s first explain the difference between thrift and second-hand shopping.

Thrift Stores 

Thrift stores primarily operate on donated goods, with individuals contributing clothing, accessories, and household items they no longer require. These donations often serve a charitable purpose, as many thrift stores are affiliated with non-profit organizations. The proceeds from sales at local thrift stores often fund charitable initiatives, job training programs, or community services. Thrift stores tend to offer items at more budget-friendly price points, reflecting the donated nature of their inventory. 

The variety within thrift stores is vast, ranging from vintage treasures to contemporary pieces, resulting in an eclectic shopping experience. However, due to the donated nature of items, the quality can vary widely. While hidden gems are certainly discoverable, shoppers may encounter a mix of well-preserved pieces and items showing signs of wear. 

Secondhand Shops 

Secondhand shops, in contrast, often specialize in consigned and resale items. Individuals bring their pre-owned goods to these shops, with the shop selling the items on their behalf. Sellers typically receive a portion of the sale price, maintaining a stake in the transaction. Items are chosen based on their condition, quality, and relevance to current fashion trends, resulting in a higher standard of quality assurance. 

Consequently, the pricing at second-hand shops is often higher compared to thrift stores. However, it still remains more affordable than purchasing brand-new items. These shops often have a specific focus, catering to shoppers with particular tastes, whether it be high-end fashion, vintage clothing, or luxury accessories. So, the selection is curated to maintain a consistent level of quality and style.

A rack at a secondhand store with a variety of jeans.
Photo: narimbur at Deposit Photos

Why Do People Love Thrift Shopping?

Thrift Shopping is Synonymous with Sustainability 

Thrift shopping isn’t just a personal sartorial choice; it’s a powerful statement in support of sustainability. By opting for secondhand items, you play a crucial role in diminishing the demand for new product manufacturing, thereby reducing waste generation and conserving precious natural resources. After all, this is exactly what sustainable fashion is all about. 

Thrifting is Super Affordable 

What drives most secondhand shopping aficionados to thrift stores is their ability to offer an array of goods, spanning from clothing to accessories and household items, at prices significantly lower than those found anywhere else online or in physical stores. Who doesn’t love a bargain? Gen Z is showing the world that experiences are more important than things and that there is no shame in shopping secondhand.  

Thrift Stores Offer Unique Gems 

Step into a thrift store, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a treasure trove of amazing items, each with its own story to tell. From vintage clothing that exudes a timeless charm to retro home decor pieces that transport you back in time, and even rare and exquisite jewelry, thrift stores are a treasure hunter’s paradise. If you couldn’t uncover it in your parents’ attic, rest assured, your local thrift store is likely to hold the key to your quest for one-of-a-kind items.

Secondhand Shopping Contributes to the Reduction of Clothing Waste 

The fashion industry churns out an astonishing amount of waste, contributing significantly to our planet’s environmental woes. But you can play a vital role in mitigating this issue by choosing to purchase secondhand clothes instead of brand-new ones. So, every time you opt for pre-loved fashion, you help curtail the flow of clothing items into landfills.

Making a Positive Social Impact 

Many thrift stores are associated with charitable organizations. So, when you’re thrifting, you’re not only treating yourself to fantastic finds but also supporting a cause you deeply care about. It’s a win-win situation that lets you shop guilt-free, knowing that your purchases are making a difference in the lives of those in need while you score great deals and unique treasures.

Colourful shirts on a rack at a second hand shop.
Photo: marytmoore at Deposit Photos

What is the History of Secondhand Thrift Shopping? 

The concept of thrift, in its essence, has been around since medieval Europe. It was a time when garments were painstakingly handmade, and the value of clothing extended far beyond mere aesthetics. People cherished their apparel, often repairing and repurposing them to maximize their utility. Waste was a luxury no one could afford, and the frugality of this era laid the foundation for what we know as thrift shopping today. 

However, the term “thrift store” was first coined in the 19th century, as industrialization began to take hold in Western societies. With the emergence of a consumer culture, cast-offs and hand-me-downs became more common. It was during this period that charity shops, which sold second-hand items to raise funds for charitable causes, began to sprout across England and the United States. These shops provided a double benefit: helping the less fortunate while allowing others to buy affordable pre-loved goods. 

Clothing on racks in a vintage clothing shop.

The Roaring Twenties witnessed a surge in thrift shopping, partly due to economic hardships caused by World War I. Thrift stores saw an uptick in popularity as people sought ways to make ends meet without compromising on style. This era also saw the advent of consignment stores, where individuals could sell their gently used items and others could purchase them at a fraction of the original cost. 

Thrift shopping truly thrived during times of economic crises. The Great Depression of the 1930s saw thrift stores becoming lifelines for many struggling families, providing access to clothing and household essentials at affordable prices. 

Fast forward to the 1960s, and thrift shopping underwent a revival, driven by the counterculture movement and a rejection of mass-produced fashion. Vintage, with its unique charm and character, became highly sought after, and thrift stores were treasure troves of retro finds. 

In 2023, secondhand shopping become a lifestyle choice driven by eco-consciousness. With the fashion industry’s environmental footprint under scrutiny, thrifting is championed as a sustainable alternative. It’s not just about affordability; it’s a statement in support of reducing waste and reusing what’s already available. In the digital age, thrift shopping has also found a new platform. Online thrift stores and resale platforms have emerged, making it easier than ever to buy and sell pre-loved items. With a few clicks, you can uncover vintage store gems or give your own gently worn pieces a second life. 

So, the next time you step into a thrift store, remember that you’re not just shopping; you’re partaking in a rich and enduring tradition that spans generations. Who knew!?

A rack full of various jeans at a thrift shop.
Photo: narimbur at Deposit Photos

What are the Different Thrift Store Types? 

Each type of thrift store offers a unique tapestry of possibilities, promising an array of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.  

Charity Shops 

Charity shops are the warm and welcoming heart of the thrift shopping world. These stores, often operated by nonprofit organizations, are a beacon of community support. When you walk into a charity shop, you’re not just searching for unique gems, you’re contributing to a worthy cause. These stores are brimming with donations from the local community, and you’ll often find a mix of items, from clothing to household goods. Hidden gems here can range from vintage fashion to quirky collectibles.  

Consignment Stores 

The Curated Collection Consignment stores are a curated treasure trove. Unlike traditional thrift stores, where donations flow freely, consignment shops offer a curated selection of pre-owned items. People consign their gently used clothing and accessories, and the store sells them on their behalf. This means you’re more likely to find high-quality pieces in excellent condition. Hidden gems in consignment stores can include designer labels, barely worn luxury goods, and statement pieces that have been meticulously cared for. 

Vintage Boutiques 

The Time-Traveler’s Paradise If you’re on a quest for a taste of the past, vintage stores are your time-traveling companions. These stores are a carefully curated window into bygone eras, offering a curated selection of items from specific decades. Whether you’re longing for the elegance of the 1950s or the free-spirited vibes of the ’70s, vintage boutiques have it all. Vintage items in these establishments are the epitome of nostalgia – think hand-sewn dresses from the ’60s, leather jackets that have aged like fine wine, and accessories that transport you to another time.  

So, now that you have a pretty good idea of the basics, let’s move on to the ultimate list of tried-and-true thrift store shopping tips for beginners. 

Unique clothing on a rack at a flea market or thrift store.
Photo: narimbur at Deposit Photos

The Best Thrift Shopping Tips for Buying Secondhand Like A Pro

Plan Ahead Before You Start Browsing 

Thrifting is an adventure, but it’s easy to get carried away with impulse buys. Stay focused and on budget by jotting down a list of the essential items you’re hunting for. This way, you’ll remain on course even when surrounded by tempting finds.

Arm Yourself with a Lot of Patience 

When seeking hidden gems in thrift stores, patience is key. Scan the aisles meticulously, as the best treasures might be concealed beneath stacks of vintage goodies. Remember, practice makes perfect in the world of thrifting.  

Understand the Value in Cost-Per-Wear 

One of the top thrifting tips for beginners is to calculate the cost-per-wear of an item. Before checking out, you have to ensure that your purchase adds value to your wardrobe by dividing its cost by the number of times you plan to wear it. This way, you’ll know if it’s a worthwhile investment.

ALWAYS Inspect Quality and Condition 

Here’s the thing – thrift shopping is a final sale, so meticulous inspection is crucial. Don’t be afraid to take your time to scrutinize each item for small imperfections like holes or stains to avoid any post-purchase regrets.

Check Labels and Fabrics Before You Commit 

Not all fabrics are created equal. Prioritize quality by checking labels for materials like silk, cotton, leather, wool, and cashmere. These premium fabrics not only feel great but also hold their value if you ever decide to resell.

Woman browsing a vintage clothing store.

Choose Timeless Styles 

Thrifting pros always opt for classic styles that withstand the test of time. Think white t-shirts, crewneck sweaters, trench coats, and tailored trousers. These wardrobe staples ensure longevity, even in the ever-changing world of fashion.

Sizes May Vary From Brand To Brand 

Don’t be constrained by size labels. Brands have varying size charts, so be open to trying on sizes that might not seem like an immediate fit, especially for items like outerwear, sweaters, and relaxed silhouettes.

Consider Finding a Tailor to Do Alterations 

Thrift stores offer great deals, but sometimes the fit isn’t perfect. Don’t hesitate to visit a local tailor if you stumble upon a piece that’s worth a little investment to make it fit like a glove.

Spot the Best One-of-a-Kind Gems 

Among the many perks of thrift shopping is the joy of discovering one-of-a-kind pieces. Keep an eye out for exquisite textures, handmade items, and vintage treasures that are waiting to be cherished anew.

Consider Your Own Thrifting “Uniform” 

Since thrift stores often lack fitting rooms, dress in form-fitting attire like tank tops and leggings for a quick try-on experience. This won’t only minimize your time inside the store so you won’t be waiting in line for fitting rooms but also help you make confident choices.

Shop Off Season 

To maximize savings, shop off-season items. Consignment stores operate much like regular ones, which means that out-of-season items are often discounted due to lower demand. For example, look for linen shirts in winter and coats in summer.

Time to Embrace Upcycling 

Thrift store finds are excellent canvases for creative expression. Transform an oversized denim jacket into a trendy crop top or repurpose an old t-shirt into a stylish tote bag. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy the Hunt 

Thrifting is an exciting journey filled with surprises. Not every quest will end in a spectacular find, and that’s perfectly fine. Have fun, be patient, and relish the thrill of the hunt; your next treasure is just around the corner.   

Sell Your Pre-Loved Items to Make Money and Minimize Waste 

Pay it forward by selling your pre-loved items to consignment stores or online platforms. This not only keeps your pieces out of landfills but also extends their lifecycle by a lot! 

Denim jackets on a rack on a yellow background.
Photo: kokoshay at Deposit Photos

How to Find Quality Clothes and Accessories While Thrifting? 

Thrifting is an art, and when it comes to discerning quality among the diverse array of clothing and accessories, it can take some practice.

Fabric is Fundamental! 

Start by understanding the fabric. Natural fibres like cotton, wool, silk, and linen often signify higher quality due to their durability, breathability, and comfort. When you touch the fabric, look for a soft, smooth texture, free from pulls or pilling. If you are lucky, their labels will still be on, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Stitching Secrets 

Take time to examine the seams and stitching closely. High-quality garments boast even and tight stitches, while loose or uneven stitching may suggest lower quality. Don’t forget to look at reinforced areas, like the crotch and elbows. Reinforced stitching or patches in these areas are good indicators of durability, which is crucial in assessing quality.

Hardware and Zippers Speak Volumes 

Don’t overlook the hardware. Test zippers and buttons; quality zippers should glide smoothly, and buttons should be securely attached. Pay attention to the finish of metal accents like zippers, buckles, and buttons; well-finished, rust-free hardware often accompanies quality items.

Lining and Interfacing 

If the garment features a lining, assess its condition. Well-constructed linings are indicative of attention to detail. In blazers and jackets, good-quality interfacing adds structure without feeling overly stiff.

Brands and Labels 

While a brand name isn’t the sole determinant of quality, it can be a starting point. Research brands that are known for craftsmanship and longevity. Also, consider the “Made in…” label; items made in countries renowned for their textile traditions may signify better quality due to stringent manufacturing standards.

Care Labels Hold Clues 

Don’t forget to read the care instructions on the labels. Items that require special care or dry cleaning may be of higher quality, as they’re designed to withstand specific maintenance routines.

Vintage Charms 

When delving into vintage finds, take into account the fashion norms of the era. Older pieces may boast unique features like hand-stitched details and quality craftsmanship that are highly sought after.

ALWAYS Inspect For Wear and Tear 

Thrifting 101: Thoroughly examine garments for any signs of wear, tear, or stains as closely as possible. Small flaws can often be repaired, but extensive damage might not be worth the investment. 

Woman looking at jeans at a vintage clothing store in Paris.

FAQ About Secondhand Stores & Thrift Shopping 

How can I find the best thrift stores in my area? 

Discovering the ultimate thrift store gems starts with a bit of sleuthing. First, consult trusty Google Maps, and search for “thrift stores near me.” You’ll likely find a range of options. Then, dive into the local scene. Ask friends or join thrift-focused Facebook groups in your area for insider tips. Don’t forget about thrift store apps and websites, like Yelp and Thrift Shopper, which offer reviews and ratings to guide you to the hidden treasures waiting to be uncovered near you. 

What’s the best time to go thrift shopping for hidden gems? 

Early birds, take note: The thrift shopping magic often happens in the morning. Thrift stores usually restock during weekdays, so hitting the aisles on a weekday morning can give you first dibs on fresh inventory. But remember, the hunt is an adventure, and gems can be found at any hour. Sometimes, the unexpected is where the real treasures lie. 

What should I bring when thrift shopping? 

To thrift shop like a pro, you’ll want to be prepared. Start with a shopping list to stay focused and avoid impulse thrift store purchases. Tote along a reusable bag to carry your finds in the most eco-friendly way possible. Keep hand sanitizer handy for on-the-go cleanliness. And don’t forget cash; while many thrift stores accept cards, some may prefer cash for smaller purchases. With these essentials, you’re armed and ready for thrifting success. 

How can I clean and sanitize thrift clothing and items? 

After a successful thrifting spree, it’s time to give your finds a little TLC. Launder clothing and wash items according to care instructions. Delicate or dry-clean-only items might warrant a trip to the dry cleaners. For items that can’t be washed, like shoes or accessories, disinfectant sprays and wipes can work wonders. A little extra care ensures your thrifted treasures are fresh and ready to wear. 

What’s the difference between thrift stores and consignment shops? 

Thrift stores and consignment shops are both havens for pre-owned treasures, but they have distinct differences. Thrift stores typically sell donated or purchased items at lower prices, while consignment shops sell items on behalf of individuals who receive a portion of the sale price. In thrift stores, you’ll often find a wide range of items, from clothing to household goods. In consignment shops, expect curated selections of higher-quality items, often in excellent condition.  

What are the popular thrift store chains in the US? 

The thrift shopping scene in the US is as diverse as the country itself. While local thrift shops offer unique finds, some popular thrift store chains span multiple states. You might have heard of the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Savers, which are well-known and have numerous locations across the nation. Everyone has their favorite thrift stores. But don’t stop there; explore local, independent thrift stores too, as they often hide some of the best-kept secrets waiting for a new home. 

What are some common mistakes to avoid when thrifting?

One common mistake when thrifting is buying items just because they’re cheap, even if you don’t really need them. It’s also important to thoroughly check items for damage or wear before purchasing them.

The Best Thrifting Tips for Secondhand Shopping 

From spotting hidden gems in the clothing racks of thrift stores to deciphering the quality of pre-loved items, we hope you’ve discovered some tips to thrift shop like a pro in this article. Remember, secondhand shopping isn’t merely about discovering unique finds; it’s a conscious choice to reduce our environmental impact and promote a more sustainable way of living. We can make fashion more than just a statement; we can make it a force for positive change in our world and hopefully minimize our already heavy impact on the planet.

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Bella Bucchiotti

Bella Bucchiotti of xoxoBella is a storyteller, food lover, dog mom and adventure seeker living on the Pacific coast. She shares her passion for recipes, dogs, sustainability, adventures, travel and philanthropy, in hopes of encouraging followers to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places and stand for a cause. Bella lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.

Bella Bucchiotti is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer for MSN and the Associated Press Wire.


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Leave a Comment

  1. Carrie P wrote:

    Thanks for the great ideas and tips.

    Posted 4.15.23 Reply