How to Thrift for Menswear
Part Three: Getting the Good Stuff
So: you’ve got your locations scouted and you’re repeating our thrifting philosophies in your head. What about picking the good stuff?
Thrift stores are full of high-quality menswear. Menswear is relatively timeless. Women shop for men, and they make mistakes - sometimes expensive ones. The kind of men who buy high-quality clothes don’t want to be bothered with selling them. The stuff is out there.
Here’s eight tips on how to pull in the cream of the crop:
Know your fit. If you don’t try things on, you’re begging for a disaster. Learn what can be altered, then stick to stuff that will fit perfectly.
Buy it when it’s there. Every thrift store piece is one in a million. Maybe more. Don’t put it back on the rack and go get lunch or even walk around the store thinking about it. If it’s right, buy it.
Time your visits. Thrift stores keep regular schedules - new stock goes out at specific times. Either observe the patterns or simply ask politely when new stuff goes out. You can also try to hit sales, but at thrift store prices, getting something great is much more important than saving $5 or $8.
Touch and stare. Perfect the thrift cruise. Run your hand across the shoulders of the garments while inspecting as carefully as you can. You’ll feel the good stuff as much as you’ll see it. 
Look for damage. Look carefully for damage. CAREFULLY. There’s nothing worse than losing $25 on a jacket with moth holes you missed, or a big stain. Hold pieces up to natural light to help spot holes, and check for stains - pants lining could be yellow (eww) or collars could be soiled. If you’re willing to put in the time and resources, you can fix these things (I’ve had pants linings replaced before), but factor that into your cost.
Know your brands. Your goal should be to identify quality by sight and touch, but you can also cheat with a brand list. Of course, even pieces by fine brands can be sub-par, damaged or out-of-date, but it’s a start.
Watch out for licensees & diffusion lines. If you find a piece by a well-known brand, but it’s not great quality, it’s probably a licensee or a diffusion line. Just as Ralph Lauren makes everything from Purple Label to J.C. Penney’s American Living, many brands offer goods at a variety of quality levels. Many fashion houses also sell or have sold their names to low-quality makers in their non-core businesses (like menswear). You can read our fuller piece about menswear licenses and thrifting, but suffice it to say: if the label says Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Givenchy, Lanvin or Christian Dior, it’s probably a piece of crap.
eBay is your friend. If you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got a way to identify the value of that piece in your hand. Search for completed auctions on the web or in the eBay app and get a sense of the market. Some brands fly under the eBay radar, but for larger brands, it’s an easy way to distinguish between Brioni (primo) and Baroni (junk).
One of the great pleasures of thrift store shopping is the opportunity to put your hands on all kinds of clothes - from the best to the worst. There are innumerable signs of quality, but here are a seven basic guidelines.
Look for trousers with details that mean quality. Split waistbands, pick stitching in the fly, a belt loop, suspender buttons and a closure with a generous tab are good signs of a quality piece.
Look for shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons. They’ll look more lustrous and feel cold on your lip. They’re more expensive and prone to chipping, so they’re only used on high-quality shirts.
Look for fully canvassed jackets. Better jackets will have three discrete layers in their chest - an outer, a lining and a canvas in between. Use the pinch test to distinguish. If you only feel two, they canvas and outer are glued together, a sign of a lower-quality jacket. 
Don’t by corrected-grain shoes. Shoes that have a shiny, plasticky look are made of "corrected" or "polished" leather. Because of imperfections, they top layer is sanded off, then replaced with a plastic coating. This is cheaper than picking undamaged hides, so it’s most of what you’ll find on the thrift store shelf. They’re not worth your time or your $10.
Never buy synthetics. I’ve been trying to think of a good reason to buy a piece of clothing with any synthetic fiber in it at all. All I can think of is a trench coat, which might have some synthetic for warding off rain. Otherwise, if you see polyester or nylon, put it back on the shelf.
Don’t buy third-world-made goods. With the exception of basics that you need at that moment (say a perfectly fitting Brooks Brothers oxford - the classic thrift shirt), there’s no reason to buy clothes made in the third world. The words “Made in England” (or Italy or the US or Canada or Switzerland or Germany) don’t guarantee quality goods, but the words “Made in Bangalore” generally do guarantee something that’s mall-quality at best.
Of course, you’ll gain knowledge with experience, and you’ll make mistakes along the way, but I think you’re ready to get out there and shop!
Read the two other articles in our series: Thrifting Philosophy & Finding the Best Thrift Stores.

How to Thrift for Menswear

Part Three: Getting the Good Stuff

So: you’ve got your locations scouted and you’re repeating our thrifting philosophies in your head. What about picking the good stuff?

Thrift stores are full of high-quality menswear. Menswear is relatively timeless. Women shop for men, and they make mistakes - sometimes expensive ones. The kind of men who buy high-quality clothes don’t want to be bothered with selling them. The stuff is out there.

Here’s eight tips on how to pull in the cream of the crop:

  1. Know your fit. If you don’t try things on, you’re begging for a disaster. Learn what can be altered, then stick to stuff that will fit perfectly.
  2. Buy it when it’s there. Every thrift store piece is one in a million. Maybe more. Don’t put it back on the rack and go get lunch or even walk around the store thinking about it. If it’s right, buy it.
  3. Time your visits. Thrift stores keep regular schedules - new stock goes out at specific times. Either observe the patterns or simply ask politely when new stuff goes out. You can also try to hit sales, but at thrift store prices, getting something great is much more important than saving $5 or $8.
  4. Touch and stare. Perfect the thrift cruise. Run your hand across the shoulders of the garments while inspecting as carefully as you can. You’ll feel the good stuff as much as you’ll see it. 
  5. Look for damage. Look carefully for damage. CAREFULLY. There’s nothing worse than losing $25 on a jacket with moth holes you missed, or a big stain. Hold pieces up to natural light to help spot holes, and check for stains - pants lining could be yellow (eww) or collars could be soiled. If you’re willing to put in the time and resources, you can fix these things (I’ve had pants linings replaced before), but factor that into your cost.
  6. Know your brands. Your goal should be to identify quality by sight and touch, but you can also cheat with a brand list. Of course, even pieces by fine brands can be sub-par, damaged or out-of-date, but it’s a start.
  7. Watch out for licensees & diffusion lines. If you find a piece by a well-known brand, but it’s not great quality, it’s probably a licensee or a diffusion line. Just as Ralph Lauren makes everything from Purple Label to J.C. Penney’s American Living, many brands offer goods at a variety of quality levels. Many fashion houses also sell or have sold their names to low-quality makers in their non-core businesses (like menswear). You can read our fuller piece about menswear licenses and thrifting, but suffice it to say: if the label says Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Givenchy, Lanvin or Christian Dior, it’s probably a piece of crap.
  8. eBay is your friend. If you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got a way to identify the value of that piece in your hand. Search for completed auctions on the web or in the eBay app and get a sense of the market. Some brands fly under the eBay radar, but for larger brands, it’s an easy way to distinguish between Brioni (primo) and Baroni (junk).

One of the great pleasures of thrift store shopping is the opportunity to put your hands on all kinds of clothes - from the best to the worst. There are innumerable signs of quality, but here are a seven basic guidelines.

  1. Look for trousers with details that mean quality. Split waistbands, pick stitching in the fly, a belt loop, suspender buttons and a closure with a generous tab are good signs of a quality piece.
  2. Look for shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons. They’ll look more lustrous and feel cold on your lip. They’re more expensive and prone to chipping, so they’re only used on high-quality shirts.
  3. Look for fully canvassed jackets. Better jackets will have three discrete layers in their chest - an outer, a lining and a canvas in between. Use the pinch test to distinguish. If you only feel two, they canvas and outer are glued together, a sign of a lower-quality jacket.
  4. Don’t by corrected-grain shoes. Shoes that have a shiny, plasticky look are made of "corrected" or "polished" leather. Because of imperfections, they top layer is sanded off, then replaced with a plastic coating. This is cheaper than picking undamaged hides, so it’s most of what you’ll find on the thrift store shelf. They’re not worth your time or your $10.
  5. Never buy synthetics. I’ve been trying to think of a good reason to buy a piece of clothing with any synthetic fiber in it at all. All I can think of is a trench coat, which might have some synthetic for warding off rain. Otherwise, if you see polyester or nylon, put it back on the shelf.
  6. Don’t buy third-world-made goods. With the exception of basics that you need at that moment (say a perfectly fitting Brooks Brothers oxford - the classic thrift shirt), there’s no reason to buy clothes made in the third world. The words “Made in England” (or Italy or the US or Canada or Switzerland or Germany) don’t guarantee quality goods, but the words “Made in Bangalore” generally do guarantee something that’s mall-quality at best.

Of course, you’ll gain knowledge with experience, and you’ll make mistakes along the way, but I think you’re ready to get out there and shop!

Read the two other articles in our series: Thrifting Philosophy & Finding the Best Thrift Stores.

How to Thrift for Menswear 
Part Two: How to Find the Best Thrift Stores
Thrifting is an immensely rewarding hobby, and a great way to find great clothes on a budget, but it only works when you’re visiting the right stores. Yesterday we covered the basic philosophy of thrifting. The second part of our three-part series on thrift store shopping for menswear is all about finding those stores. Here are eight tips to help you find the best thrift stores.
Good neighborhoods mean good thrift stores. Generally speaking, the more affluent and deep-rooted the neighborhood, the better the stock. Your best bet are older, richer neighborhoods with long-standing residents. There are good thrift stores in lousy neighborhoods and lousy stores in good ones, but you want to go to where people who can afford to donate good stuff will go to do their donating.
Ritzy charities have ritzy thrift stores. Most thrift stores are non-profits that benefit charities. Look for stores that benefit local charities with a moneyed donor base. Local institutions like the opera or symphony are good bets, as are private schools or civic organizations. Richer people give better stuff, and if people are donating because they care about the organization, they give more freely.
Avoid the cool kids. Any area with a large student population or a lot of young creatives will have less stock in stores. In short, they’ll be picked-clean. 
Look for stores that rotate their stock. When you visit a store a few times, notice how much their stock rotates. More fresh stuff means more chances to find something great.
Avoid for-profits. Many parts of the country have been infected with for-profit thrift chains like Savers. The quality of merchandise is lower (people are giving simply because their stuff has no value to them, not to benefit a charity), the prices are higher and you won’t get the satisfaction of helping a non-profit.
Ask about stock distribution. Some chain thrifts put out stock solely from in-store donations. Some have centralized distribution of stock. Ask a clerk where the stock comes from - you’ll know how much to consider the neighborhood.
Look for clusters. Thrift stores tend to cluster on high-traffic, low-rent streets. Look for these clusters and use them to your advantage when shopping. I’ve got a couple of “routes,” and they’re all based on these clusters of shops.
Follow your instincts, but check them, too. Usually bigger stores have better stuff (it’s a numbers game), and usually nicer stores do, too. Don’t just trust your first impression, though. Look through the merchandise on a couple of different days. Even if you don’t find something perfect for you, you should be able to get a general sense of quality.
Ask a friend. Strangers on the internet won’t share their secret thrift store hot spots with you, but a friend will. Share information with your thrifting buddies, and if they give you a great tip, grab them something nice while you’re out.
Use the internet & make a map. A search with Google Maps or The Thrift Shopper will turn up thrifts wherever you are. I use Live Maps to make a map of all the thrifts in the region, and leave it in my car for when I’m out & about.
Read the two other articles in our series: Thrifting Philosophy & Getting the Good Stuff

How to Thrift for Menswear

Part Two: How to Find the Best Thrift Stores

Thrifting is an immensely rewarding hobby, and a great way to find great clothes on a budget, but it only works when you’re visiting the right stores. Yesterday we covered the basic philosophy of thrifting. The second part of our three-part series on thrift store shopping for menswear is all about finding those stores. Here are eight tips to help you find the best thrift stores.

  1. Good neighborhoods mean good thrift stores. Generally speaking, the more affluent and deep-rooted the neighborhood, the better the stock. Your best bet are older, richer neighborhoods with long-standing residents. There are good thrift stores in lousy neighborhoods and lousy stores in good ones, but you want to go to where people who can afford to donate good stuff will go to do their donating.
  2. Ritzy charities have ritzy thrift stores. Most thrift stores are non-profits that benefit charities. Look for stores that benefit local charities with a moneyed donor base. Local institutions like the opera or symphony are good bets, as are private schools or civic organizations. Richer people give better stuff, and if people are donating because they care about the organization, they give more freely.
  3. Avoid the cool kids. Any area with a large student population or a lot of young creatives will have less stock in stores. In short, they’ll be picked-clean. 
  4. Look for stores that rotate their stock. When you visit a store a few times, notice how much their stock rotates. More fresh stuff means more chances to find something great.
  5. Avoid for-profits. Many parts of the country have been infected with for-profit thrift chains like Savers. The quality of merchandise is lower (people are giving simply because their stuff has no value to them, not to benefit a charity), the prices are higher and you won’t get the satisfaction of helping a non-profit.
  6. Ask about stock distribution. Some chain thrifts put out stock solely from in-store donations. Some have centralized distribution of stock. Ask a clerk where the stock comes from - you’ll know how much to consider the neighborhood.
  7. Look for clusters. Thrift stores tend to cluster on high-traffic, low-rent streets. Look for these clusters and use them to your advantage when shopping. I’ve got a couple of “routes,” and they’re all based on these clusters of shops.
  8. Follow your instincts, but check them, too. Usually bigger stores have better stuff (it’s a numbers game), and usually nicer stores do, too. Don’t just trust your first impression, though. Look through the merchandise on a couple of different days. Even if you don’t find something perfect for you, you should be able to get a general sense of quality.
  9. Ask a friend. Strangers on the internet won’t share their secret thrift store hot spots with you, but a friend will. Share information with your thrifting buddies, and if they give you a great tip, grab them something nice while you’re out.
  10. Use the internet & make a map. A search with Google Maps or The Thrift Shopper will turn up thrifts wherever you are. I use Live Maps to make a map of all the thrifts in the region, and leave it in my car for when I’m out & about.

Read the two other articles in our series: Thrifting Philosophy & Getting the Good Stuff

How to Thrift for Menswear 
Part One: Thrifting Philosophies
Thrifting has been a lifelong habit for me. When I was a kid, my mom worked in a lamp store on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Fillmore is San Francisco’s thrifting mecca, home of thrifts run by the Opera, Symphony, and a couple of fancy private schools, plus a sizable Goodwill. What clothes my mom didn’t make for me likely came from those thrift shops.
Today, I shop in thrifts all the time. It’s not just the source of much of my wardrobe, it’s also something I do almost meditatively. A thrift store is a place where you can imagine the lives of a thousand objects - and if any one of them appeals, you can almost certainly afford to bring it home.
We’ve got a three part series on how to thrift successfully coming up here on Put This On, and this is part one: the philosophy of thrifting. Later this week, I’ll share how to find great thrift stores, and how to identify what to buy. Today, eleven tips to successful thrift store shopping.
Price is not an object. If you buy in the thrift store based on price, you’re sunk. You’ll miss the good stuff you should have bought, and you’ll buy crap you should have left behind. Our brains are naturally comparative - they look for patterns and deviations. In a thrift store, that means we think something that’s $20 is expensive, and something that’s $1 is a bargain. Fight the urge. Few are the items that are worth adding to your wardrobe at $1 that aren’t worth adding to your wardrobe at $20, and just because something’s $1 doesn’t make it a bargain.
Be nice. Thrift store employees are human beings with a tough job who appreciate your kindness. I often think of the lady at the Salvation Army on Valencia Street in San Francisco where I grew up. She was in charge of the records, and she’d always tip me off when there were new ones going out. I scored a huge collection of early 70s soul 45s that way. It pays to be nice.
Know what you need & buy what you find. If you read my article on shopping like my mom, you know you should always have an awareness of what your wardrobe needs and will need. Let this guide your search. That said: never pass up a great piece. The time to buy something is when it’s for sale.
Dress for success. The best thrifting outfit is comfortable and simple. It should allow you to try on clothes without much hassle. You should look presentable, too, just in case you have to ask for a price.
Don’t cheat. Only assholes switch tags, shoplift or otherwise cheat thrift stores. These are charities for goodness’ sake.
Shop the whole store. Often the best items are miscategorized. Check out the women’s and boys’ sections so you don’t miss a great score. Remember, too, that there are plenty of non-clothing scores available in thrifts, so expand your knowledge in all areas, and bring it to bear on furniture, records, books - whatever.
Buy for others. If you’ve got family members, friends or thrifting compatriots who appreciate nice clothes, don’t be afraid to buy for them. Know their size and be choosy, and make sure they know you don’t mind if they hate what you bought. It’s only five or ten bucks.
Give back. If you buy from thrifts, remember to donate to thrifts. They make their money from your quality donations.
Go regularly. Thrifting isn’t like going to Macy’s. Stock is hugely variable and constantly rotating. Only through regular visits will you get to know quality clothing and find the good stuff.
Buy nothing. Remember that 85% of thrift store visits will lead to no purchases. That’s part of the process - don’t sweat it.
Don’t buy it if you don’t love it. If there’s something wrong with it that makes it an “almost” and not a “heck yeah,” then skip it. Something else will come along.
Be sure to read the other two articles in our series: Finding the Best Thrift Stores & Finding the Good Stuff.

How to Thrift for Menswear

Part One: Thrifting Philosophies

Thrifting has been a lifelong habit for me. When I was a kid, my mom worked in a lamp store on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Fillmore is San Francisco’s thrifting mecca, home of thrifts run by the Opera, Symphony, and a couple of fancy private schools, plus a sizable Goodwill. What clothes my mom didn’t make for me likely came from those thrift shops.

Today, I shop in thrifts all the time. It’s not just the source of much of my wardrobe, it’s also something I do almost meditatively. A thrift store is a place where you can imagine the lives of a thousand objects - and if any one of them appeals, you can almost certainly afford to bring it home.

We’ve got a three part series on how to thrift successfully coming up here on Put This On, and this is part one: the philosophy of thrifting. Later this week, I’ll share how to find great thrift stores, and how to identify what to buy. Today, eleven tips to successful thrift store shopping.

  1. Price is not an object. If you buy in the thrift store based on price, you’re sunk. You’ll miss the good stuff you should have bought, and you’ll buy crap you should have left behind. Our brains are naturally comparative - they look for patterns and deviations. In a thrift store, that means we think something that’s $20 is expensive, and something that’s $1 is a bargain. Fight the urge. Few are the items that are worth adding to your wardrobe at $1 that aren’t worth adding to your wardrobe at $20, and just because something’s $1 doesn’t make it a bargain.
  2. Be nice. Thrift store employees are human beings with a tough job who appreciate your kindness. I often think of the lady at the Salvation Army on Valencia Street in San Francisco where I grew up. She was in charge of the records, and she’d always tip me off when there were new ones going out. I scored a huge collection of early 70s soul 45s that way. It pays to be nice.
  3. Know what you need & buy what you find. If you read my article on shopping like my mom, you know you should always have an awareness of what your wardrobe needs and will need. Let this guide your search. That said: never pass up a great piece. The time to buy something is when it’s for sale.
  4. Dress for success. The best thrifting outfit is comfortable and simple. It should allow you to try on clothes without much hassle. You should look presentable, too, just in case you have to ask for a price.
  5. Don’t cheat. Only assholes switch tags, shoplift or otherwise cheat thrift stores. These are charities for goodness’ sake.
  6. Shop the whole store. Often the best items are miscategorized. Check out the women’s and boys’ sections so you don’t miss a great score. Remember, too, that there are plenty of non-clothing scores available in thrifts, so expand your knowledge in all areas, and bring it to bear on furniture, records, books - whatever.
  7. Buy for others. If you’ve got family members, friends or thrifting compatriots who appreciate nice clothes, don’t be afraid to buy for them. Know their size and be choosy, and make sure they know you don’t mind if they hate what you bought. It’s only five or ten bucks.
  8. Give back. If you buy from thrifts, remember to donate to thrifts. They make their money from your quality donations.
  9. Go regularly. Thrifting isn’t like going to Macy’s. Stock is hugely variable and constantly rotating. Only through regular visits will you get to know quality clothing and find the good stuff.
  10. Buy nothing. Remember that 85% of thrift store visits will lead to no purchases. That’s part of the process - don’t sweat it.
  11. Don’t buy it if you don’t love it. If there’s something wrong with it that makes it an “almost” and not a “heck yeah,” then skip it. Something else will come along.

Be sure to read the other two articles in our series: Finding the Best Thrift Stores & Finding the Good Stuff.