Category Archives: How-to

Hey Adriana! Can we go thrift shopping? Whut whut whut whut

I am a bit of a thrift store aficionado. I can tell you the pros and cons of at least five different Seattle Goodwills and another three Value Villages. On any given day fifty to ninety percent of my clothing is used. I hand out Fossil wallets like Oprah because I just keep finding them.

A lot of people I meet say they have never had any luck at thrift stores and are astonished to find out that most of my clothing is, in fact, used. I get a lot of semi-serious requests to come along on shopping trips to share my mojo. As much as I wish my mere presence made pretty dresses magically appear, it’s really about certain habits.  I have to clear through a lot of junk in one sitting to find that diamond in the rough.

1. The “touch” test. 
Do the rows of knit short sleeve shirts seem to go on for miles? The easiest way to scan through miles of clothing racks quickly is to go by touch. Pull out what feels good. This is going to eliminate a lot of clothes that you wouldn’t be interested in wearing because they’re uncomfortable, and some cool-looking ones you might buy, but would never wear. By feel you can often learn the wear on the item, the quality, it’s purpose and more.

2. Try to get an idea of how clothes will fit by sight.
When I was a wee tween, I could not figure out jeans. I would try on five million pairs in five million different sizes as my body changed, and the hope of finding something mildly stylish that would stay on my butt while covering my ankles dwindled. Then one day I let my mom help. She gave me three pairs and all three fit. I was astonished and asked her how she did it–and she told me she just looked at the cut of the jeans before the size. I started studying my jeans and shirts to see how certain cuts fit better than others on my body. Get an idea of the length of the waistband. Look at the space between the back pockets to  see the size of the seat. Check the length of your favorite shirts. Looking at what fits you now can help you instantly eliminate things that won’t work. Since, at a thrift store, you’re looking at clothes from so many different companies, sizes mean less than they would in a department store or fashion boutique.

3. Don’t be afraid to modify.
I’m not talking major tailoring or completely reassembling clothing, but you can make simple changes to alter the look of an item. Blazer a little too ’80s? Consider cutting out the shoulder pads. That cool dress make you look like a sack of potatoes? Play with its shape; see if pulling it in at the waist (like a tie in the back would do) could make it more form-flattering. Tack on ribbons or a cord to add a tie. Don’t sew? Pair it with a belt!

4. Always, ALWAYS check the washing instructions.
If you know you’re never going to dry clean anything, make sure the item you are buying isn’t dry clean only (or, if it is, consider whether it is worth the money to try washing it and seeing if it holds up). This leads nicely into the next rule which is…

5. Don’t buy it unless it’s just right.
Cool fabric but it doesn’t fit quite right? Gorgeous dress but it’s made out of half inch thick polyester and you sweat enough to fill a small kiddie pool? Don’t go for it. I have made this mistake a billion times where I think an item is cool enough to overcome its faults. It usually isn’t, then you don’t wear it, and then you donate it right back.

6. You can pull off more than you think.
One thing I’ve found over the years is that a lot of items that I thought I might not be able to pull off because they were just a little too bold, odd, or out of fashion, were some that I got the most compliments on. If you think you look good in it, and you think you will wear it, go for it!

Happy thrifting!

Adriana is a microbiologist and aspiring medical illustrator in Seattle, Washington. She enjoys backpacking, hiking, belly dancing and wandering around Goodwills. She lives with her cat Melisande Shahrizai and her fiancé, whom she looks forward to marrying in a second-hand dress.

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