January 28, 2011

I’ve been scowering thrift stores for  +10 years. I’ve travelled from coast to coast and explored MAJ-R Savers, Salvation Armys, Goodwills and many more. I’ve traveled to all over the U.S. and been to thrift stores in nearly all of my cross-country road trips, weekend getaways and family vacations. From large cities on the coasts to small towns to suburbia,  I’ve been fortunate enough to go to various locations and finally used my experiences to make this guide. This is my HOW TO: Thrift guide.

1. Know what businesses/companies are around the area: If you’re in a blue collar small town, you’re probably going to find a lot of workwear and uniforms. If you’re in a small town with nearby clothing headquarters, like outdoor gear, you’re probably going to find a surplus of said goods there. If you’re in an urban environment with a trendy downtown area, you’re probably going to find a hip-resale shop, like Plato’s Closet, that has already taken all the tween garb. The businesses in the area and class of the denizens will play a factor in determining what the thrift store is going to have.

2. Know what day: During the week, Salvation Army usually has pretty great sales on clothing with 15-50% off certain tagged clothes. Know what items you like with respective tags and what day is the best to go and snag them. Some stores have entire store sale days, typically Sunday, so find out when you need to grab an item that is not usually on sale (like furniture).

3. Know the quality: Know what brands and sizes fit you, but be wary of vintage items because their sizing is usually off from today’s sizing. Always try the garb on if their is a fitting room available and make sure there aren’t any rips that can’t be repaired nor stains that could not be removed with a simple wash. However, if there is a stain on the item, it’s probably permanent. Don’t thrift just to grab clothes you don’t know, thrift with an idea of what you could use but could use with a little mileage on it.

4. Know “the Cardigan theory”: Chances are that the brands that will last the longest are the ones in thrift stores.  In my made up thrifting theory, a majority of garments that are in thrifts have been donated as a result of someone dying. Thus the garments donated have stood the test of time longer than you’ve probably been alive. For example: as far as shirting goes, Brooks Brothers, Pendleton, Woolrich and Gitman are the ones I see semi-often and covet the most. Why? I find these shirts at a thrift store that is near a wealthy part of an older neighborhood where the population is dying off. Plus, these older men didn’t just wear t-shirts underneath their cardigans, they wore dress shirts. Mighty fine, well-fitting dress shirts. This same thrift store also has a surplus of cardigans and loafers. Old men love cardigans, dress shirts and loafers. This is good news for me because so do I.

The Cardigan Theory hypothesizes: 

If there is a surplus of cardigans, leather dress shoes and superior dress shirts at said local thrift store, then there is likely an older and wealthy neighborhood nearby.  Thus if there is a surplus of cardigans then, there is also a supply of dress shirts and loafers to accompany their swagger.
I know this is sad, but that generation of men bought quality over quantity. Ask your grandpa if he is still alive and look in his closet, a couple of his Sunday best and afternoon finest lay there in impeccable shape. 

5. Know who is around: If you’re in a city with a large public university with the majority of undergraduate students coming from larger cities and varying demographics, you’ve probably hit a gold mine. Students needing extra cash will dump their duds in their dorm, greek house, or local donation center for philanthropic endeavors, or for that six pack (of beer).  If you’re in the Southwest or South(east), snowbirds will ditch their designer goods just to get rid of them or horde them until death. If you’re in a hip part of a downtown district, the designer and quality goods have probably been picked up and had their prices knocked up a few units at the local “resale” or “vintage shop.”

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