Thrift shopping guide: vintage clothing

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a thrift store newbie, nothing feels better than finding a deal. We’ve compiled a few shopping tips from one of Canada’s top thrifty divas to help you navigate your local secondhand shop.

Recession or no recession, there is no woman (or man for that matter) who doesn’t love to get a great deal on fabulous clothes. With personal budgets still feeling the pinch of our slowly recovering economy it seems like more and more of us are looking for ways to stretch our pennies without sacrificing our individual style. With stylish second-hand consignment boutiques popping up all over the country, thrift store shopping has shed its ugly stigma and become recession chic.

Kelly Gadzala, creator of the Grunge Queen blog whose love for all things second hand began during her cash-strapped university days in Ottawa, has made it her mission to expose the joys (and sometimes the struggles) of being thrifty and stylish.

“Shopping thrift for clothing and accessories is a wonderful cost-effective way to either update key pieces in a wardrobe or even acquire some stellar statement pieces to build a wardrobe around,” says Gadzala. “The great thing about thrift is that you can find a whole range of stuff, like contemporary mass market labels, designer labels, retro and vintage pieces, so you actually have a lot of flexibility when it comes to defining or refining your look.”

Here Gadzala shares with us her secrets for how to become a successful thrift shopper with style:

Know your shopping personality

“Some people can’t stand the idea of wearing someone else’s castoffs,” says Gadzala. “Others get freaked out by the thrift store smell that seems to be in every shop.” For those who can’t brave the dust bunnies or the idea of digging for hours, Gadzala suggests trying a second-hand consignment boutique or even foregoing the whole thrift store idea and tackling the bargains at the mall.

Find a thrift-y target

Gadzala suggests that newcomers focus on a specific thrift store that suits their needs and preferred mode of shopping when they are first starting out. “If you’re more of a mass market label gal whose always out for a bargain, Value Village may be the place for you as [it] is a for-profit enterprise and as such it’s the company’s business to provide customers with popular labels.” Charity shops like Goodwill and Salvation Army will require a little more patience says Gadzala, due to the fact that these shops depend more on donations and therefore will require some digging to make a good find.

Avoid the overwhelming and start small

“Value Village and some Goodwill stores can be so packed with stuff it’s overwhelming to think about where to start,” says Gadzala. “If you think you’d feel more comfortable in a smaller venue try that thrift shop around the corner that’s not part of a chain like Value Village.” Wherever you choose to shop, Gadzala suggests first doing a sweep of the entire store to familiarize yourself with the setting and what each store has to offer. If you’re looking for something in particular try and hone in on a particular section (the jeans section, for example) and go from there.

Shop high on the food chain

“If I can get a dress at, say, Old Navy, for $29.99, why would I pay $15 for the same dress at Value Village?” says Gadzala of her “food chain” philosophy. “I look for great cuts, quality fabrics, good labels, and for minimal signs of wear and tear.” Steer clear of mass market labels made from cheaper fabrics and in trendy cuts, she suggests. Instead look for “good quality pieces, either current, designer, retro, or vintage”. Designer jackets, jeans (which she “never buys new”), jewelry, and handbags can almost always be found with a little searching and a good trained eye.

Build that trained eye

Learn the labels you love and always keep an eye out for them, and “always take a second look at something that says ‘handmade’, ‘Paris’, or ‘Italy’”. Don’t leave the store with an item unless you have tried it on and are being completely honest with how it looks on you. “If you’re not completely wowed, leave it there,” says Gadzala, since many thrift stores do not do returns or exchanges.

Get to know your shop keepers

Developing a relationship with your local thrift shops by checking in regularly and consistently donating goods can be extremely beneficial. “[It] can pay off in the form of discounts as places like Value Village give a 20 percent off coupon for a substantial bag of donated clothing, while the smaller places may eventually put stuff aside for you if they get to know your tastes,” says Gadzala. And don’t forget to ask when the shop puts new items out on the sales floor so you can be there when they do!

Make rules, but don’t be afraid to break them

“Every time I come up with a rule, I break it,” says Gadzala, as she explains how her ‘no-under garments’ rule went out the window when she discovered a striking green and turquoise negligee for $6.99 at a local thrift shop (she washed it really well!) and her ‘no-shoes-because-they’re-usually-stinky’ rule was completely forgotten on a great pair of $6.99 strappy wedge sandals “that looked practically new”.

However, her major “should-nots” include anything that’s outdated or too worn, pieces that don’t fit perfectly, and items that don’t fit perfectly with her lifestyle. “When you first start thrifting it’s way too easy to buy everything in sight because items are so inexpensive compared to shopping new. With time and practice you can really develop your thrift eye and become way more selective in what you buy, and I think that’s the sign of a good thrifter, to show a certain amount of restraint.”

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