As a poverty-stricken college student, half of my clothes came from secondhand shops, but no one ever seemed to notice. In fact, more often than not I would find myself asked about a particular jacket, dress, or pair of shoes as a prelude to a compliment -- but many thrifty shoppers find the prospect of "thrifting" to be daunting. There's so much junk to wade through ... how does even the most thorough shopper ever find anything good in all that garbage?
Unfortunately, as is true of so many things in life, ninety-five percent of everything in any given thrift store is going to be one hundred percent crap. It is up to you, as optimistic bargain-hunter, to sift out the remaining five percent. It may be time consuming, and you may not always hit fashion pay-dirt, but your first big score will make it all worthwhile.
Be prepared: bring cash
Major chains like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and America’s Thrift Store will take most major credit cards, but smaller groups often do not. Local church organizations that run mini-flea markets out of the basement will be happiest with bills.
Scan for prospects
Drag your eyes (and/or fingers) across a rack without sifting through every single article of clothing. Instead, stop only when you glimpse a color, texture or pattern that really catches your eye. More often than not, your best bet is to stick with solid colors, but this is not a universal truth or anything -- just a good rule of thumb. Fashion trends may come and go, but that paisley skort set is unlikely to return to hipness.
Examine your finds
When you do snag a potential purchase, check it over thoroughly to make sure it doesn't have any stains or holes. Some imperfections might be fixable if you feel motivated -- for example, a tear along a seam, or a slightly undone hem are easily enough corrected. But before you buy a flawed item, see if you can't haggle a little. Point out the imperfection, and some places may come down a buck or two. This often works particularly well at flea markets or yard sales – especially if the sale is for a church or youth group. More often than not, these groups are unloading donated goods to raise funds, and leftovers are merely going to be turned over to Goodwill anyway.