Ashlynn Olson, a 17-year-old junior at Heritage High School walked the aisles of Goodwill like she usually does when shopping at the second hand store.
In the shoe aisles, Olson looked through the shoes multiple times. She looked through the heels, the sneakers, the flats, and the boots. After going back and forth a few times, Olson thought she struck her luck. Then she saw them.
Right in front of her eyes was a pair of knock off, maroon Dr. Martens boots for $8.
“I was about to go and buy Doc Martens,” Olson said. “Then I found these that are basically, exactly like the docs I was going to get.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to go shopping. However, as someone who loves to shop but keeps a tight leash on her wallet, I choose to go thrifting for clothes.
Thrifting is a shopping experience that involves scouring the racks of second hand or vintage stores for clothes. Yet thrifting is more than mundane transactions and musty threads. The experience saves money, reveals unique pieces, and helps protect the environment by reusing clothing items.
As someone who thrifts regularly, I either purchase great finds or great disappointments, whether it’s from the Goodwill Bins or a consignment store.
Here four consistent thrifters – a furniture extraordinaire, an overall thrifting enthusiast, a necessity-turned-addiction thrifter and a multiple generation thrifter – share five tips that can help you go from a beginner to a pro in the thrifting world.
Tip One: Have an idea of what you’re looking for.
I find I shop the best when I have ideas of articles of clothing I want, whether it’s a top, a pair of pants, or a specific accessory.
However, if you have no ideas, let the clothes speak to you!
Olson says that the key to thrifting is an open mind.
“Look through everything,” Olson said. “Even if you think you’re not going to find anything, look through every single shirt, every clothing item.”
Olson usually goes to Goodwill because of the affordability and as a way to lessen her carbon footprint as one would buying clothes from fast fashion.
Fast fashion is clothing that is cheaply produced in third world countries for an extremely low wage, and fits current fashion trends that go in and out of style at a fast pace. This leads Western consumers to purchase then throw out items quickly.
Olson mentioned that when looking at the shoe aisles, go back and forth through the aisles in case you miss something, like with the maroon Doc Martens she wore during our interview.
“You always find what you needed the fourth time you’ve looked through that area already,” she said.
Tip Two: Check for damages.
When thrifting and you find a piece you like, check if there are any damages. Are there tears? Rips? Missing buttons? Stains?
I once purchased a sweater from a local consignment store and later found that it was missing a button. You can never assume anything about clothes when thrifting.
The missing button might have been an easy fix, however I ended up paying more than I would have at Goodwill.
This doesn’t mean, however, that all second hand clothing should be examined through a pessimistic eye.
Christi Williams, the interim associate director of student care, conduct, and complaints at Clark, said that when items have a little wear and tear, it shows they were well loved.
An avid thrifter of mid-century modern furniture, Williams shops for things she used to see in her grandparents’ house.
“I like to find a good deal,” Williams said. “It’s the joy of the hunt and it just brings me joy.”
When you find a stain or a crack, Williams and I agree that you shouldn’t necessarily discard the item and move on.
“What I’ve done with pieces of clothing, that I really loved the pattern on, I will actually cut those down and frame them and put them on the wall,” Williams said. “So that’s one way to enjoy a sheet, piece of clothing that may not fit, or has stains.”
Tip Three: Check the brand.
Sometimes you find a brand you don’t know, and when you look it up on the internet, you find it’s a cheap brand. When you find something along those lines, check the price to see if it’s worth buying at Goodwill if you can find it new for the same price.
Each shopper agreed that a primary reason they thrift is because of the price.
Cath Busha, dean of student engagement at Clark, mentioned that their dad grew up during the depression era and carried on thrifting as a family tradition in their childhood.
“I have more money to spend on experiences instead of stuff,” Busha said.
Olson said she didn’t have money growing up, so there were few other options for back to school shopping.
I thrift to save money, but also because of the environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry.
Bella Scheidt, 18, also a Heritage High School student said that she really got into thrifting a few years ago and now her closet is almost one hundred percent thrifted.
“I’m really against fast fashion and sites like Shein, where it’s unethical manufacturing and selling,” Scheidt said. “I find it a lot better to go to Goodwill where even if I get those kind of things, it’s from a second hand place.”
When checking a brand in a thrift store, make sure to be mindful of where the clothing item came from, and consider not only the price match of the brand directly, but also if you are indirectly contributing to fast fashion and the environmental impacts along with it.
Tip Four: Ask yourself if this is a piece you will wear.
Can you imagine what you’d style it with? Is it worth the price for how much you’ll wear it?
This part can be tricky. I usually find pieces that I adore, but don’t fit well with my closet or my style.
Other times, I find things unexpectedly that fit in my wardrobe and end up being one of my favorite things to wear.
When shopping, Williams said that she and her close friend apply this step before purchase.
At the end of their shopping excursion, Williams and her friend go through the cart to decide what items they do or do not want.
This step can be applied to either clothes or furniture. I often use this technique when shopping to make sure I’m not overconsuming, which is a common trap in the fast fashion industry.
Scheidt, even with her largely thrifted closet, cautions shoppers to watch what they buy.
“I would also encourage people to shop in their size,” Scheidt mentioned. “Shopping in larger sizes takes away from people who wear larger sizes.”
The oversized look is very popular among different age groups, and with the popularization of thrifting, there is often a scarcity for people who can only afford to shop in their size.
So while many love thrifting because it is sustainable, there are a number of side effects that a good thrifter should think about.
Tip Five: Ask the store for their return or exchange policy.
I’m sure we’ve all made the mistake of purchasing an item that didn’t fit correctly, or turned out to not fit you, so then you just end up returning the item.
When something like this happens, knowing about the return and exchange policy is important.
Olson recounted how she once went thrifting at a Goodwill Bins, the outlet version of Goodwill, but came home with pieces that didn’t end up fitting because there were no changing rooms.
“You get items you think will fit, then they don’t, and you can never return them,” Olson said.
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes as well. I went to one of my favorite thrift stores in Portland, and found a dress that looked good, but I wasn’t sold on. Unsure, I left it behind.
But as I drank a smoothie a few blocks away, I couldn’t help but reconsider. I really wanted this dress and felt it was a great price.
I walked so fast to get back to the store that I broke out in a sweat. Elated to find that it was still there, only later after buying and taking it home did I discover that a section of the design was missing.
By then, it was already too late to return it.
With knowledge about their return policy, I would have been more skeptical of the dress before I bought it.
With the right attitude, thrifting is an exciting and satisfying experience. You can go home with great finds that you’ll keep in your closet for years to come.
But like any shopping escapade, it requires skills and knowledge about what to look for.
When in doubt, Williams encourages thrifters to ask themself one important question.
“Does it make your soul sing?”