With these tips, you’re bound to find the perfect piece.

The Urban Dictionary defines thrifting as follows: When one visits several different thrift shops, second-hand shops, and vintage clothing stores in the hopes of buying several items of cheap and unusual clothing and other items. One usually does this with friends.

Yep, definitely me! I go shopping in search of cheap and unusual clothing. Even in my earlier days of shopping at the mall, I wanted things that not everyone would like or wear. I always tried to be different and look differently. Then, I was introduced to thrifting and that was a game changer. Granted, I was extremely late to the thrifting party compared to others, but I’m making up for lost time.

Model: Nikki Ellis | Photographer: Alex Murg | www.alexmurg.com

Thrifting has taken my personal style to a whole new level, and for that, I am super grateful!  I’m not sure how to explain it, really.  Finding such unique pieces pushes your creativity when determining your sense of style.  For the most part, there are no mannequins or salespeople to assist you.  You are on your own when deciding how to put your outfits together. But never fear; I am here to give you a few of the tips that I’ve learned the hard way. Hopefully, my tips will spare you a little bit of time and trouble.

Model: Nikki Ellis | Photographer: Alex Murg | www.alexmurg.com

The Game Plan

When I go into a thrift store I do not look at every piece. That would take forever. I typically know what I am looking for. I like dresses, skirts, vests, long sleeve blouses and blazers --  ok maybe the entire store, don’t judge!  

I scan the racks looking for interesting colors, prints, or anything that catches my eye. I do the same thing for skirts and blazers, only looking at interesting prints, colors, or textures. I only scan. If nothing jumps out at me I move on. I do thoroughly look through the dresses because you never know where a jumpsuit could be hiding (I’m a bit of a jumpsuit addict) then I hit the jewelry, and I'm DONE!

Thrift stores have great costume jewelry. I find the smaller church thrift stores have the best selection. Check the pieces for missing stones, working clasps, clip-on backs, etc. If you are buying clip-ons make sure they actually clip; I bought a pair that did not clip securely and they fell off, so into the trash they went. Another tip, I don’t discriminate when it comes to thrift stores. I am an equal opportunity thrifter. If it says thrift store I try it at least once. You name it I shop it. Big stores, small stores, and so on.  Don’t be afraid to venture out and try them all!

Having a strategy is key, especially if you are new to thrifting; without one, your trip could seem overwhelming at first. Don’t go in with a specific item in mind. You may not find that right away on your first visit, but you may find it on your next visit.  You have to be patient when you are looking for specific items!  I wanted a purple blazer and looked for two years before I found one that met my needs for size, color, shape, and so forth.

Model: Nikki Ellis | Photographer: Alex Murg | www.alexmurg.com

Buttons, Stains, and Holes, Oh My!

I can speak from experience on this next tip. Examine your pieces THOROUGHLY before you pay for them. Check the buttons, check all the seams: shoulders, backs, bust, hips, side seams and so on. I once purchased a piece with a hole in the shoulder that could not be repaired; I was crushed when I noticed it. So, again, into the trash it went.  Ensure that beads or sequins are intact. Really look at the area behind the zipper, neckline and the under arms. Beaded and sequined items tend to be priced higher as well, so spend the extra time inspecting them.

While you are inspecting your pieces, take the time to check for food stains and spills. Some stains can come out with a little Dawn dish soap (yes, it’s a miracle) or some laundry stain spray, but when it comes to stains you aren’t sure of, it’s a gamble but it’s your call. I tend to take that gamble if the price is right!

Whiff thrifted shoes and pieces that tend to reek of musty odors. If the garment smells old or has any sort of smell, pass on it! It’s not worth taking the chance, even if you do have a bottle of Febreeze at home. One time there was this AMAZING dress that I had to have, but it smelled so badly. I went to try it on hoping it would work out, but I had to stop because of the smell. I had to pass! There are ways to get out smells, but it’s typically not worth the fuss.

Model: Nikki Ellis | Photographer: Alex Murg | www.alexmurg.com


Inspect all pieces of hardware before making a purchase, including zippers, buttons, hook & eyes, snaps and anything else that could potentially need replacing. I recently purchased a pair of shorts for 80 cents (yes, 80 cents!), and didn’t notice that the zipper wouldn’t stay up. The new zipper only cost 15 dollars, so it wasn’t awful, but I learned my lesson: inspect everything!

What to Wear

I wear leggings and a shirt so I can easily try on clothing in the aisles. Most places will not let you bring your cart into the fitting room, so I try on as I shop so I’m able to narrow my choices easily!

Sorting Your Finds

As I’m trying on my finds, I make two piles -- one for clothes I love, and the other is my “maybe” pile. Whittle down your purchases before you head to the register. If something is in the maybe pile and is a good deal or on sale, it may make its way over to the LOVE pile.


I fell into this next trap, and that’s why it’s a tip. When I first started thrifting several years ago I was sucked in by the cheap price tag.  I literally bought everything! As you can imagine my closet was bursting at the seams.  So heed this warning: do not buy it just because it’s four dollars or 50 cents!  Really ask yourself: Is this special? Do I really love this piece? Because you can easily go overboard and end up with way too much stuff like I did!

Model: Nikki Ellis | Photographer: Alex Murg | www.alexmurg.com

Final Thoughts

Go often!  Thrift stores receive merchandise DAILY, so new and fresh merchandise will be available. I do a rotation every few weeks. It’s also valuable to know the store sale days – like 50 percent days!  Salvation Army does Half-Price Wednesdays and will make big sales on certain holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day. Smaller thrift stores will offer things like a 50-cent week or 60 percent off. Getting familiar with the sale days can really pay off.  When you shop in thrift stores you may have to shop out of season. I read this once and it made sense; people get rid of what they do not want at the end of each season. I buy numerous sweaters in the spring/summer -- crazy, but true!

I hope my tips helped. Happy Thrifting!

Written by Nikki Ellis

Having dreamed of pursuing a career in fashion, Nikki Ellis is a creative and fashion-forward Stylist in the Central Florida area. Studying Fashion Design and Marketing at the International Academy of Design and then an internship in London for Polish Designer Katarzyna Szczotarska is where Nikki’s creativity for dressing flourished. After 10 years in the fashion industry, Nikki decided to start her own company offering Fashion Styling and Wardrobe Consulting to clients under the name Style Rehab. She has also started a fashion blog Style-Rehab.com to share her creative voice with the fashion world.

Share this post