❤ Look to other blogs for inspiration!
Girls are always telling me how bad the thrift stores are where they live and how they could never even imagine finding vintage pieces in them. I used to feel the same way about thrift stores and felt that vintage stores were my only hope of ever finding a cute '60s dress or '30s blouse. It wasn't until I discovered blogs like Tricia Royal's Bits and Bobbins and her group Wardrobe Remix that I knew it was possible to find good quality vintage in everyday thrift stores.
❤ Go often
I never had any luck at thrift store shopping until I started to go on a regular basis. When I lived in Minneapolis for a time I'd visit 3 or 4 thrift stores a day over a period of just a couple months and was amazed by what I found-- '30s blouses, '40s dresses, little mini dresses from the '60s . . . The key is to visit the best thrift stores so often that the employees will instantly recognize you and maybe get a bit annoyed by the sight of you. But at least you'll be getting at the good vintage as soon as it hits the racks!
This depends on what you're looking for. I have the best luck in stores outside of the city--generally huge suburban thrift stores tend to have the biggest and least picked over amounts of vintage, but small town stores can be gems as well. Towns with large populations of elderly people can be vintage clothing goldmines (and I mean this in the nicest way possible!).
❤ Research the stores
When I go on thrifting trips I try to hit 3 or 4 stores at a time, so it helps to have done all of my research online
ahead of time. Search Yahoo or Google for nearby thrift stores, but you might want to try a phone book for more out-of-the-way shops. Be sure to check out local online classifieds and Craiglist for estate sales and garage sales that might have vintage clothing. Oh, and if you plan on hitting thrift stores and estate sales often you might want to consider investing in a G.P.S. system. I was given one as a gift and I can't tell you how much easier it's made shopping for me.
❤ Research the clothes
Read a couple of books or check out some vintage clothing sites online to give yourself a general idea of 20th century fashion history. Learn how to date pieces by reading up on which fabrics and fastenings and styles were used in which eras. This is also something you can learn just by thrifting often. Soon you'll be able to get an idea of a piece's value just by the feel of the fabric or the shape of the sleeve, and you'll be able to get through a big rack of clothing that much quicker.
❤ Be picky!
Avoid the temptation to fill your cart with pieces that you know you might never wear. Only get what stands out to you, what you know will look good on you. Also be sure to avoid the temptation to buy a piece just because it's vintage.
This is something I struggle with . . . Sometimes I'll come across a dress from the '50s or '60s and even if it
isn't the cutest or the most flattering of dresses I'll get the urge to buy it just because it's old. If you want to
know the truth, sometimes in these situations I imagine that Tim Gunn is standing and looking over my shoulder, and if I can picture him saying something like "Hmmm. . . that might be too much look," or "Hmmm . . . you might want to rethink that," then I put the dress away and forget all about it.
❤ Be creative!
This is where it would really come in handy to have an imaginary Tim Gunn shopping with you! Always check out the craft section for fabric trimmings and buttons that could be added to a dress to spruce it up a bit. Thrift stores are also a great source for vintage fabrics if you're into sewing your own clothes. But if you're like me and not the best of seamstresses, quick alterations can be done on wrong-sized or funnily proportioned items that catch your eye.
Skirts and dresses can be hemmed shorter, sleeves can be removed, too-large dresses can be taken in at the sides quite easily.
❤ Go at the right time!
Supposedly the best time to go is early in the morning, but I'm bad at waking up early so I can't confirm this, though it does sound like a good idea. For me the main thing is to avoid going on the weekends, when the stores can get crazy and picked-over. I avoid huge sale days for the same reason. For instance, our local Value Villages have an everything-in-the-store-is-half-off day once a month, but I never go to them anymore because I'd always walkout with a huge headache from all the people and the line-waiting. Plus I find it easier to shop with a clear head when there are fewer people and distractions around me.
❤ Bring a tape measure!
Not all thrift stores have dressing rooms so it's a good idea to bring a tape measure to find out if a
garment is going to fit you properly. Even if the thrift store you visit does have a dressing room you'll probably
find that doing a quick measurement of a piece rather than trying it on will save you a lot of time and trouble.
❤ Bring headphones!
This was suggested to me by a very smart person after he visited a thrift store with me, and I'm amazed I never
thought of it before. Maybe not all thrift stores are this way, but the ones around where I live are almost
always noisy and are bound to have at least one crying kid per aisle. They also have a habit of playing bad
soft rock music stations that you can plan on listening to for an hour before you will hear a good song (and it's
usually something by Prince). Bringing a little mp3 player will let you focus on the clothes rather than the
distractions, and it will give you a better chance of walking out of the store headache-free.
In case you want more Thrifting tips, check out this Guide to Thrifting.