How To Thrift For Menswear

August 10, 2011

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.