Let me tell you a dirty little secret. It can be challenging to be a fashion student. Beyond the obvious struggles of our curriculum and the many assumptions made about fashion students, both of which I’ve delved into in the past, fashion students can also face an additional pressure of always looking put together for class. In a world where we are expected to keep up on all of the latest collections and industry developments, there can be added pressure to constantly dress the part, embracing and adopting the latest styles to be shown across fashion week, all while living on a college student’s budget.
Fortunately, there exists a mythical business where customers can choose among a copious array of merchandise, all priced at reasonable costs: Thrift Stores.
For fashion students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, these stores hold with them untapped potential for truly environmentally responsible, unique clothing at impossibly low prices. Ask any fashion student, chances are they’ve frequented these establishments on more than one occasion, in fact they may have already planned their next excursion to their nearest consignment store.
After spending countless hours perusing the racks of our favorite Goodwill, Salvation Army, Buffalo Exchange and Arc Thrift Stores, most fashion students have picked up the art of thrifting by second semester of their sophomore year, however, for those of you who haven’t gained the knowledge that comes with years of scouring over merchandise at your local thrift store, here are a few pointers for channeling your inner Macklemore.
1. Find your store.
In order to begin thrifting you need to have an actual store where you can shop. Most of the hardcore thrifters I know have one or two particular stores that they stop in regularly. Although you can usually find good deals in any thrift store, some shops are better than others when it comes to pricing, selection and convenience. There is one small non-specialized store where I have found everything from a new Marc Jacobs sweater with tags, a Lily Pulitzer top, again brand new with tags, to a vintage Givenchy dress.
A lot of best thrift stores tend to be located in remote areas without much foot traffic, or in bustling areas in a constant state of frenzy, respectively. Either option ensures that there will be merchandise, since items are rarely picked up, or constantly reintroduced, thereby increasing your odds of finding the perfect item.
2. Get inspired.
Do some research online before you begin your thrift shopping endeavor. Look on Instagram, Pinterest or wherever you draw your outfit inspiration before setting foot in the store, that way you can have an idea of what styles you like and can look for similar garments or colors during your time in the store
3. Research the store's schedule before arriving.
When does the store receive most of its new merchandise? Although many thrift stores put out new merchandise perpetually throughout the week, some put out new merchandise on specific days. Know these days. If you go to the store on the first day merchandise has been introduced, you'll have the first pick of the goods, rather than only being able to select from clothing that has been on the racks for a while.
4. Look for color and textiles first when scouring the racks.
This is one area where fashion students have an unparalleled advantage over non-fashion majors. Chances are every fashion student has had to take a textiles course over the course of their academic careers. As a result, most can identify a garment’s overall quality by merely looking at the garment’s material.
That being said, looking at color and textiles are a good way to begin selecting merchandise for anyone. If a color or pattern sticks out, pick it up. If a fabric looks like it’s well made, try it on. It might be the dream find.
5. Examine the label.
Chances are you will find at least a dozen fast fashion items throughout your search. If you spot the dreaded Forever 21 label, avoid it. Most fast fashion retailers focus solely on providing trend items to customers immediately at a low cost. Since quality tends to be overlooked in this rapid production process, the garments are not likely to last long once you take them home. Plus, the trendiness of the item will likely subside quickly. On top of everything, these garments tend to cost less at retail new, meaning that you may only be saving a few dollars buying the garments from a thrift store rather than in the original store itself.
Nevertheless, if you fall irrevocably in love with a fast fashion find, you should undoubtedly buy it.
6. See the potential.
Sometimes you find the perfect garment only to learn that it’s five sizes too big. Maybe you find a fabric you love but are put off by the silhouette. Whatever the reason, sometimes a thrift store find isn’t just right. Fortunately, there are professionals who can tweak any garment to make sure it fits you and your tastes perfectly. Tailors are your best friends when thrift shopping. Although they can add onto the price of a garment, getting an item altered ensures that you have access to nearly custom apparel at a cost that is still cheaper than buying clothes new.
7. Follow your instinct.
Say you find a garment fall in love with it, but aren’t sure whether your friends will like it. In those moments, you should buy the garment anyway. The biggest part of being fashionable is being confident. If you like something wear it. If you think your friends would appreciate something, but you aren’t a fan, leave it. Buy whatever makes you happy, and rock it.
8. Try the garments on before leaving the store.
Since most thrift stores do not accept returns, you should have an idea of how each purchase will look on your body before committing to the garment. All clothing looks different on the hanger than on a human form. You should have an understanding of how those garments will look before taking the plunge.
9. Don’t overlook the denim section.
The jean section tends to be abundant and highly populated throughout most thrift stores. With the resurgence of trends such as the flare, destroyed denim and the mom jean, chances are many of the styles that may have sat on the rack for years are now back in fashion. Embrace the resurgence of these trends and look through the pant section fully.
10. Make time for thrifting.
Unlike most stores, thrift stores are stocked with fully individualized, poorly organized items. Sorting through this wide array of merchandise can take considerably more time than it takes to shop in most stores. Although the actual amount of time it may take to work through the merchandise can vary according to the size of the store. Nevertheless, the process can take hours even when done effectively. Carve out time in your day to ensure that you can explore each of the items being sold fully.
11. Be persistent.
Thrifting is like fishing. Sometimes you get lucky and find the dream buy, other times there's nothing. Much like fishing, patience is essential for thrifting success. Even if you don't find the perfect vintage Givenchy dress this time, doesn't mean it won't be there the next time you go out. Remember that it is really just a game of chance and to keep looking. You never know you'll find the perfect garment.