So you wanna go thrifting?

My take on the way it’s changed over the course of my lifetime.

If you’ve been reading this blog (or following me on social media long enough), you’ll probably know that I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. And while I was quite cognizant, from a very young age, we’d be living with fairly tight belts, it made for being creative — a learned trait I’m super proud of to this day.

It’s also extended to other parts of my life: if I wanted a manicure, I needed to learn how to do my nails and not go to the salon. (That was easy, because my aunt always painted her own nails and would offer tips and tricks to keep ’em polished.) If I wanted to dye my hair, I was going to have to do it on my own. (This actually pissed my mother off a lot, especially when I tried for mustard yellow streaks in my hair.)

As a kid I usually wore the crap out of my clothes before I ever replaced them — which, 9 times out of 10, was happily done with a stop at the local thrift store in North Burnaby. (It was the thrift store on the corner of Hastings and Gilmore, for those of you that live in or know the Burnaby Heights area!) It was always an adventure for me, though like most other children, I went through the phase of allowing kids to get to me because I’d shop at the thrift store. Honestly? Who the f%$k cares?! (Though, it took a while for me to get to that point.)

These days people are far more open-minded about what you can nab at the thrift store. Sometimes I find more there than I do at the mall. I’ve had some really great years at the thrift store, but my favourite year was this year: I found a wool coat (it’s pictured below) with the tags still attached; it was likely made in the late 90’s or the early 2000’s. Such a coat would probably go for far more than $150-$200 today, but I got to take this one home for a whopping $23.

Thrifting is also a great option if you’re looking to be more eco-conscious. It’s actually disturbing how much goes to waste in the fashion world. In Canada, the average person throws out about 81 lbs. of textiles each year, with much of this discarded material meeting the requirements to be used again. Giving clothes a second chance keeps garments out of our landfills longer — and every little bit counts.

I love going to thrift stores because, aside from getting my daily walking requirement in (some say shopping is a form of cardio, just saying) I find all sorts of neat things to look at. If you’re planning to make a few hours (or a full day) of it, here are some tricks for success.

Be open to possibilities

I keep a running list of things I need to buy just in case I happen to run into something during a visit to the thrift store. I scope out all the racks: jeans, coats…you get the idea. Sometimes you need to go back more than once, because thrift store stock changes so quickly — and it’s rare you’ll ever see more of one specific item. (I’m talking about clothing that comes in through donations.) My previously discussed wool coat, for instance, was on the rack when I went in to go look for a few books to read. At first I dismissed it as being too long or too bulky, but after trying it on I realized how wrong I was. I’m not saying to try on every freaking thing in the store, but don’t narrow your search parameters too much.

The necessities: eat, drink, and use the restroom

There is nothing more annoying than your stomach growling, getting thirsty, or needing to find a washroom to use in the middle of your hunt. Frankly, I hate distractions — so eat before you go, keep some water in your purse/bag, and use the washroom before you arrive so that you’re not having to abandon your great finds. (Only to have someone take them and put them back once you’re done using the facilities.) I also like to bring a small snack, because I get hungry fairly easily.


Bring your own hand sanitizer and bring your own bag(s). Some places will actually give you a discount if you bring your own bag! While I know thrift store staff do everything they can in their power to provide a clean environment, shit happens. For instance, things can, uh…be discovered growing on clothing, if the breeding grounds are “right.” (I will save you the grossness of the story.) You get the idea.

Score a find? Use your senses to scope it out

When I first started thrift shopping, I’d be so stoked to find a great pair of trousers or a blouse…only to realize that it had a rip in the thigh area, or a stain from wine or bleach. Use your senses to make sure the piece can come home with you; this is especially important if you don’t have (or don’t want to put in) the time to make big fixes.

  • Sight: watch for pilling, fraying, spills, stains
  • Sound: does it make out-of-place rattling noises when you shake it? (Great for beaded/fringe items, or buttons with a bit more dimension to them);
  • Smell: does the garment smell weird? Pay special attention to places where seams join, like the armpits. Yes, I know it’s gross, but nothing is worse than when you bring a great item home only to find that it smells;
  • Touch: run your fingers/hands over the garment to see if there’s anything out of place

…I wouldn’t recommend tasting your purchase, unless you like eating ’em. In which case, I’m not judging.

Definitely try it on

Don’t eyeball your find. While some stores have a decent refund policy, most people end up throwing out the article of clothing…which only adds to the unnecessary amount of wasted clothing in our landfills. Plus, you won’t waste your hard-earned cash on a find that ends up being a bust…all because you tried it on.

Are there any other tried-and-true tricks you have for shopping at thrift stores? Leave them in the comments section!


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