Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thrifted Thursday, Hard Core Edition: Secrets of the Hunt, Pt. 2

Hi everyone! I hope you all are ready for the second installment of this series, Secrets of the Hunt. This is going to be centered on thrift stores! Maybe not all of you are interested or able to do yard or rummage sales (part 1), but I think just about all of us have a thrift store somewhere in our area. I'll try not to be as verbose as the first part and show more photos (I had a great thrift shopping day yesterday!) so hopefully I won't lose any of you along the way ;)

Many of the "rules" (hey, I'm not big on rules for anything, so take that with a grain of salt...) are very similar to part one. And remember that I buy for resale, so if you only buy for yourself, some of this won't apply, but much of it will, I hope!

1) Location!

I find that the most productive thrifts for vintage shopping are the smaller thrifts. The big boys, like Salvation Army and Goodwill, seem to get the "bottom feeders" of the donation world, like broken toys and 1990s clothes. They get the yard-sale leftovers and the college dorm furniture that no one knows what to do with- just get rid of it by giving it to Goodwill. Don't get me wrong, I've scored my share of vintage clothing and housewares from GW and Sally Ann over the years, but much of the time I spend a lot of time digging and come out with relatively nothing. Especially lately!

I think people who shop at smaller thrift stores prefer to make their donations to those same stores. I know I do! And the people that shop at the smaller, church- or charity-run stores are usually the people that donate the things we want to buy. The older couples or the middle class bargain-hunters shopping in the store are the ones that end up bringing in Grandma's wedding china or 1930s dresses when they are left with them. Almost all of the better vintage I have found has come from a few small thrift stores.

2) Be thorough!

I primarily buy clothing for myself and to re-sell in my Etsy store . My general rule of thumb is, if it's in good condition, buy it. If it fits and I like it, I keep it for me. If not, it goes to the store. I buy things regardless of size and gender, because I am buying for resale. In order to stock my store, I have to scour the entire thrift store. I look through every section, mens, womens and childrens. Usually, if I have enough time, I look at almost every item in the store, even if it's just a quick perusal.

Two places I especially look is in the misses/juniors section and the men's section. I guess this may seem odd to some of the staff or shoppers in the store, but I could care less. I look in the juniors section because, as those of us "modern-sized" (LOL) gals are well aware, ladies were a lot smaller in the 40s and 50s. Many thrift store staff see a 1950s skirt with a 24 inch waist and automatically put it in the juniors. Same with a teeny tiny 1930s suit that to them looks remarkably like a shrunken/cropped Abercrombie jacket.

I shop the menswear section because a lot of men's vintage is more valuable than ladies (who would've thought!) if you can find the right items. I personally have never found a pristine 1940s sharkskin suit, but I have found several pairs of mens shoes that I have sold for 50-100 times the price I paid. And just like ladies, men were smaller then too- some of the smaller men's items (like size 8 shoes) I can also sell to women.

3) Think outside the box!

I also always search through the "active wear", as icky as that can be. Did you know that some guys will pay through the roof for a 1920s-1950s sweatshirt? Me neither, until I really tried to educate myself on men's vintage. And I'm still kicking myself for not buying a pair of 1980s deadstock KangaRoos sneakers- remember the zipper pocket on the side? Not my style, but I probably could have made some money on them.

Another place I have had good luck is the "costume" section. Do not miss this section in early fall, especially! Many 1950s prom dresses or two tone shoes end up in the costume section, and you would hate to have someone unwittingly buy those and trash them for Halloween!

One of my favorite sections is the place where staff stick the miscellany they don't know what to do with. Sewing and craft supplies, small tools and small appliance parts can be very valuable to someone who is looking for an accessory to their 1946 Sunbeam Mixmaster for example.

4) Dress appropriately!

For the most part I hold true to my reasoning in part one. But occasionally wearing vintage to a small thrift store can pay off. Especially if the owner or manager gets to know you. I once had a manager give me a better deal on a stack of 1950s vintage little girls' dresses because she knew I was going to have my daughter wear them, and not just re-sell them (tho I will do that eventually). I wouldn't bother dressing for anything but getting dirty when I go to a big Goodwill or Sally Ann, though!

5) Timing is everything!

In part one, I said "don't shop on the weekend!" That is definitely true with thrifts. Most of the donations come in on the weekend, or on Mondays after a weekend cleanout or yard sale. By the time they get processed, they hit the floor mid-week. That is the best time to shop. And don't be afraid to go to the same stores every week. New things are coming in all the time and if you want to get the good stuff you have to be a regular. If you aren't, other pickers are, and that cool 1950s Western shirt will not sit there for a month until you come back. I guarantee it.

6) Pay or walk away

Now, I haven't talked much about price in either of these tutorials. Those of you who are long-time readers know that I am the ultimate cheapskate. For the most part, things have to be cheap for me to buy it. I automatically assess an item before I buy by what I think it's worth in resale. If it's not for my personal use, I won't buy it unless I think I can at least double my money. I almost never pay over $10 for anything. But fortunately most thrifts can accommodate this rule.

If they have a "vintage" section I generally avoid buying them (but I look anyway ;) because that means the items are priced at a resale level already, and it's probably 1970s/80s stuff anyway. The good vintage usually gets mismarked into the juniors section, anyway! The only time I buy from this section is when it's something I am going to keep and wear myself and I think it will be worth it.

So on with my finds! I bought all of these things yesterday at a thrift store I try to stop at every Wednesday. It's a small, charity-run store with an upper-middle class older female clientele. Most of the things are modern, designer items (Jones, Lizwear, Chicos) that appeal to that clientele, and are donated back by them. But occasionally those donors throw in "that old stuff that Mom had back in the 50s", and that's when I'm a buyer!

This sweet Western shirt is not that old, but it has a great two-tone look. It's a size large and should fit my husband. Western wear is probably the vintage look he feels most comfortable in. If he says no, watch for it in the store.


I'm wondering if this brown floral day dress was meant to be part of a "his and hers" outfit with the shirt. I didn't realize it until I was photographing it today that the brown tones are almost identical. That might not be a coincidence- rule #6) If you find something great in a thrift store, keep looking for more. Chances are there are more items from that same donor and you might find them in other sections. It's brown cotton with pockets and a back zipper, and doesn't look like it was ever worn. Wish it fit me, but it doesn't. Now it can be yours!

And lastly, I found a pair of cat eye glasses. I've been looking for some new ones ever since my daughter snapped 2 pairs (!) in half when she was little. These are metal so it shouldn't be so hard for her (or I, LOL) to break them. Now I just have to get the right prescription put in. These were a little more than I usually pay (marked $15, but with 25% off) and I can remember buying the now-broken frames for next to nothing, but still a pretty good deal for something I will use. The cherry handkerchief  was only $1, and cute, so I picked that up to tie up my hair in the summer.


  1. Those are great tips. I wish I had someone to go thrifting with here that knew all the best places but Ive been learning where to go on my own little by little with trial and error. The bad thing about here is there are ALOT of antique shops but they are all ridiculously high and doesnt seem to be alot of actual thrift stores.

  2. Love the advice! I find the best stuff in the misc areas...the staff way underprice things like sewing notions IMO but that's great for me!

  3. Looks like you found some great items. Thanks for the tips. It's always nice to learn new ideas. I forget about the little shops.

  4. Once again some great tips! I'm crossing my fingers that there aren't many "pickers" around my new place...more for me! All I have to do is find out where the good thrift stores are first!


  5. Great tips and great finds! :) Love the glasses and the cherry handkerchief!