Shopping for clothes at a thrift store can be equally exciting and overwhelming. There's a special thrill that comes with finding a one-of-a-kind or vintage piece at a discounted price — but it's not always easy to know what's worth buying and what should be kept on the rack.
Insider spoke to experienced thrift-shoppers, bloggers, and influencers about common mistakes people make when shopping for secondhand clothes — and what they should be doing instead.
Going thrifting during busy days, like Saturday and Sunday, means there's more competition for the best finds.
Jillian Owens, the founder of the thrifting blog Refashionista, said that thrift-shoppers should always try to beat the crowds.
For example, if you can only thrift on the weekends, Owens suggests going early in the morning. If you have more flexibility, Owens said, Tuesdays are a good time to shop because at many stores, that's the day when most of the items that were donated over the weekend are put on display.
It's best to stay away from buying thrifted pieces from fast-fashion brands.
Caitlin Trantham is a self-taught seamstress who's been shopping at thrift stores for more than 12 years. She shares transformations of her thrifted clothes on TikTok.
Trantham told Insider that she avoids paying more than $10 for every piece of thrifted clothing she buys. Because of that, when she's at a thrift store, she rarely buys garments from fast-fashion brands, such as Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Fashion Nova, and others.
Trantham said that she can't justify spending $10 on something from one of those places when she could get a vintage or one-of-a-kind piece for the same price.
Trantham said that she occasionally breaks her own rule — but when she does, she sticks to paying $4 or less for thrifted fast-fashion clothes.
Don't just look for special garments. Go digging for basics, too.
Buying basics at a thrift store could potentially be what you save on the most. Trantham said it's important to think about buying basics because there are so many options available at thrift stores.
"I often get so caught up looking for fun vintage and unique pieces that I forget about the black shirt I needed for a certain skirt or the tank tops I wanted for the gym," she said.
Trantham said that some thrift stores offer special discounts — such as days where everything in the shop is 50% — and that those are great times to stock up on wardrobe staples.
Skipping an item because it needs a few alterations can be a missed opportunity.
Sometimes it's worth thinking about the new life you can give thrift store clothes. Alli Mayorga, the founder of Thrifted Queen, told Insider that shoppers should tap into their imagination and think about what a garment can look like if they invest a little bit of money into it.
"Don't pass by something great if it is the wrong size for you," she said. "If you love it, spend the money to get it altered. Chances are you already got a great price since you are thrifting."
That being said, some items aren't worth grabbing if they have stains or holes.
Trantham said to double-check the clothes before buying them. When you pick up an item, it's important to look through the entire garment and make sure it's not damaged. She suggested looking for holes on the sleeves, pant legs, and backside. "Holes in seams can be easily repaired, but a hole in the main fabric could be a challenge," she said.
When it comes to stained clothes, Trantham said that shoppers should only buy a piece that's stained if they're confident they could remove it. If an item is going to require heavy-duty stain-removal, though, it's probably worth skipping.
Thrift-shoppers miss out when they only think about shopping in the current season.
When shopping at the thrift store, think about your year-round wardrobe. Trantham suggests thinking outside of the present day and stocking up on off-season items.
"You are going to get the best selection of an item during the off-season. I have found so many gorgeous vintage coats and big-name brand boots in the summer," she said.
Stop buying clothes that are too small in the hopes of motivating yourself to fit into them.
If you never end up fitting the clothes, you will have to donate them back anyway. Hannah Rupp, a personal stylist who runs the thrifting-centric blog The Outfit Repeater, said shoppers are wasting money by buying clothes they know are too small.
"If you don't reach that goal, those clothes can haunt you from the back of your closet," Rupp said. "Try to stick with buying things you'll love and use right now."
Buying thrifted pieces without inspecting the garment label is another common mistake.
Limón said it's important to see what the clothes are made of before buying them. Judy Limón, who documents her thrifted finds on her Instagram account @justjudylemon, has been shopping at thrift stores for years. She said that thrifters should pay close attention to the fabric information on their clothing finds.
Limón said that in her experience, manmade fabrics like nylon, polyester, and acrylic tend to wear down faster. Thrifted clothes made with those materials may not be worth buying unless they're gently worn or new with tags, she said.
Skipping the dressing room can lead to buyer's remorse.
Trying on thrifted finds at the store is always a good idea, if it's an option. Edwina Registre and Shana Daha, the faces behind Thrifters Anonymous on YouTube, said that if it's an option, it's a good idea to try on clothes before checking out at the thrift store.
"Sizes vary among brands, the item could have been altered, or the garment might have changed with washing," Registre and Daha told Insider. Even if store try-on isn't available, shoppers should always ask staff members about the return policies.
Avoid buying things you'll never wear just because they seem like good deals.
It's easy to overbuy at thrift stores because of the oftentimes-affordable prices. Limón said that overbuying at thrift stores can defeat the purpose of building a wardrobe sustainably.
"I do my best to remind my community that the most sustainable option is what is already in their closet. Don't replace a fast-fashion shopping addiction with a thrifting addiction. Continue to learn about garment quality, and do your best to find great quality pieces, even within the thrift store," she said.
Likewise, celebrity stylist Kirsty Stewart suggested that shoppers follow this philosophy: "Buy it because you love it, not because you love the price."
Don't forget to ask the staff when or if things go on sale.
Get to know thrift shop staff members. Owens, the blogger behind Refashionista, said that thrifters miss out when they don't interact with the staff at their local secondhand shops.
"Don't be shy about chatting with the staff at your favorite thrift store. I've found they love disclosing any hints as to the best thrifting times and upcoming sales to regulars," she said.
She also suggested following your local thrift stores on social media to stay on top of their restocks or highlighted finds.
Going to the same thrift store for every outing can be limiting.
If it's an option, explore different thrift stores in your neighborhood to get the best selection.
Owens suggested not only going thrifting at least once a week, but also making it a priority to visit new stores and browse different inventories.
"You might discover a few hidden gems in your town if you do a little exploring," she said. "Thrifting is a numbers game. There are weeks where I find absolutely nothing I want, but I keep going, and that's why I keep finding amazing things."
Don't forget to balance out your thrifted purchases with donations of your own.
One expert takes a "buy one, donate one" approach. Owens said that beginner thrifters can often end up with huge amounts of clothes. To combat closet overcrowding, she has a strict "buy one, donate one" policy.
"This is also great for your favorite thrift shop because when you buy from and donate to them, you're helping your community at an even greater level," she said.
Article by Celia Fernandez, www.insider.com