Guide to Thrift Store Shopping

As you may have noticed Baltimore, Spring is here. Like for real. Like actually happening out the window right now! We know you’ve noticed, because we watched you walk around all weekend having weathergasms all over the place; cameraphones in hand, flip flops and the whole nine.

And as such it’s high time the Chop got our wardrobe together for the season. So today we’re making the big circuit, hitting up most of the area Goodwill stores, Salvation Army shops, and even Value Village. We may not be the best dressed man in Baltimore, but we’re always the best dressed in our price range.

We didn’t get there easily though. It takes a lot of work, patience and knowledge to wade through other people’s crap in search of something of quality. There’s also the risk of coming out of the store looking like you shop exclusively at a thrift store. Even if you do, you shouldn’t look the part. Save that for the Hampden Hipster Welfare Queens and MICA sophomores. No, you want to look good this spring, and the Chop is here to help with our two part guide to thrift store shopping.

Shopping at Goodwill doesn't mean you have to look like this.

Half the battle is waged before you even get into the store. If you just dive headfirst into a sea of textiles, you’re probably going to drown. finding quality vintage clothing isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack; its much harder than that. It’s like finding one particular needle in a stack of needles. People who run higher-priced vintage clothing boutiques know this, and they’re skilled at it, and it’s a dirty little open secret that many of them pull stock from the sales floors of the big three. So today we’re going to focus on what you need to know before you go:

>>> Know Your Sizes. This is the single biggest way to save yourself time and hassle when shopping anywhere. It will kill you to find the perfect jeans in your size only to find out that your size isn’t actually your size. It’s the size you were in high school, or the size you wish you were, or the size you guessed at. If you haven’t shopped for clothes in a while, you might not be the size you think you are. Before you bring those jeans to the fitting room, make sure there’s a decent chance that they will actually fit. If you really have no idea what your sizes are, have someone measure you. Failing that, go to Macy’s and have them measure you. Seriously, it’s that important.

>>> Take Stock of Your Wardrobe. The general rule of thumb is that if you haven’t worn it in 12 months, you shouldn’t have it in your closet. There are plenty of articles online about how to clean out your closet. Once you’ve done that you should have a good idea of what you need the most, so that when you get into the store you already have priorities. You’ll also have a bag full of clothes to donate and a good deal of extra space in your closet.

>>> What to Wear on a Shopping Trip. A little thinking ahead about what you’re wearing to the store can save you significant time if you’re trying on more than one or two items. The Chop always makes a point to shop in a v-neck tee, our everyday jeans, and slip-on loafers. This way we can try on shirts right in the aisles, shoes come on and off easily when trying pants, and we know what does or doesn’t work with our favorite jeans.

>>> Watch the Sales. A little clicking around on the links above will tell you when the sales are going on, or you can be sure to ask a clerk when you get there. The last Saturday of every month is Goodwill’s Super Saturday, when everything is half price. the only thing better than a $4 shirt is two shirts for $4, but beware; little old ladies come out of the woodwork. Super Saturdays and midnight madness can spawn hour-long lines, trashed sales floors, and ugly fights over crappy garments. Our advice is to shop just before the sale starts, or right at the tail end of it. A YSL necktie isn’t worth civil unrest.

>>> Go back often. Thrift stores rotate stock much more quickly than department stores or even discount stores. It’s worth your while to ask the clerks when stocking days are, and to check the stores closest to you as often as once a week. If you follow the advice here it will only take a few moments to scan the entire store.

Tomorrow: How to tell trash from treasure. The Chop talks Labels, material, tailoring, accessories and more!

Read the second part of this post here.