How to shop for clothes at thrift stores (best tips)

Hi Creative Mama! Let’s talk about the best tips and tricks to shop for clothes at thrift stores.

Buying second hand clothes to upcycle is a great way to design your own DIY upcycled wardrobe.

The problem is that shopping at thrift stores can be a bit challenging. There are different kinds of second-hand shops and sometimes they stock an immense variety of goods.

This in itself makes it hard to find what you are looking for. Shopping in thrift stores can get overwhelming and sometimes you may leave these stores feeling that it was a waste of time and that you couldn’t find anything.

So I wanted to write a post to provide you with a plan of how to shop for clothes at a thrift store.

a lady shopping at a thrift store, going through the rack of clothes

I enlisted the help of a young Creative Mama called Sydney who is a thrift store queen and knows her way around any second hand stores.

If you are interested in thrift shopping for clothes you need the THRIFTING FOR CLOTHES PLANNER! Download your FREE planner by completing the form below.

What are the different types of thrift stores?

There are different types of second hand stores. Knowing what makes them different will help you choose which stores you want to visit.

Depending on where you are in the world you might call them:

  • Charity shop (In the United Kingdom)
  • Thrift store or thrift shop (In USA)
  • Op shop or Opportunity shop (In Australia and New Zealand)

In any case, these have been traditionally retail shops run by charitable organizations to raise money.

Charity shops are a type of social enterprise and you will find shops such as Goodwill, Hospice shops, Salvation Army among them.

In recent years we have seen a more intentional approach to strategies such as upcycling, recycling and repurposing old items of clothing.

The fashion industry is responsible for many human rights abuses but big changes are on the way and there is reason to stay positive. As discussed in detail in this ethical fashion article, shoppers are genuinely concerned about the ethics behind the products they purchase.

Upcyling and thrifting is part of this new way of thinking about the clothes we buy and wear! And I am so happy to be part of that change!

Buying clothes at second hand stores has become a great way to purchase amazing clothes for a fraction of the price.

It has also become a very profitable industry in itself and there are many retailers exploring different types of thrift shops. Hence, there are many thrift stores to choose from 🙂

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link. Please see my disclosure for more details.

Different types of thrift stores:

  • Local thrift store
  • Local goodwill
  • Local charity
  • Consignment stores
  • Online thrift stores
  • Vintage stores
  • Flea markets

As you can see there are different types of second hand stores. Knowing what makes them different will help you choose which stores you want to visit.

Let’s go through all of them and what makes them different to each other.

Local thrift store:

This type of stores can be either for-profit or nonprofit.

In the for profit category you will find stores such as Savers. They are run as profit based businesses and they usually have a very organized layout on their store floors.

Their prices are higher than the nonprofit thrift stores but you can always find a good deal.

lots of clothes displayed in racks, color coordinated inside a bif savers shop (thrift store)

In the nonprofit category you will find stores such as Goodwill, Salvation Army and Hospice shops. These are typically run by charitable trusts and they have an overarching social mission.

I like these stores because they sell all sorts of things aside of clothes. I find them to be super creative spaces.

a lady walking into a non for profit thrift store in new zealand

Prices are much lower in this type of second hand stores. The important thing to note is that the items that are in these type of stores have usually been donated by other retailers or by members of the community.

Consignment stores: (Resale stores)

These stores operate under a different type of business model. The clothing inside these shops has not been donated.

Members of the community can walk in and leave their fashion items in consignment which means that they will get a cut of the price if the item sells.

These stores are nicely curated and beautifully presented and you can expect higher prices.

Online thrift stores

Over the last few years, we have had a new set of online shops and apps devoted to thrifting.

Online thrift stores provide a great shopping experience. They are shops such as Thredup and Luxantropy that sell designer items in good condition.

These shops offer the advantage of shopping from your own home and they have created a nice shopping experience, in my opinion 🙂

There are even online speciality stores. Check out this online thrift store called Stillwhite which focuses on wedding dresses.

Vintage Stores/ Antique stores:

I absolutely love vintage stores. They will normally stock clothes which are at least 20 years old.

When you enter one of these thrift vintage places you will be transported to another era. Even if you don’t buy anything they are a delight to visit!

a lady browsing clothes inside a second hand shop

Flea Markets:

Flea markets are a great place to go because you will find variety of clothes but also you are likely to find some furniture and accessory pieces such as mannequins, dressers, etc.

However, when I am looking for thrift clothes, my preference is to stick to the stores, since it’s quicker to visit a few of them in just one day.

These markets are spread all over the world. Do a quick google search and find out which is the closest to you.

Best thrift store shopping tips

Now that you know the kind of second hand stores available to you, you can start planning what second hand items you want to buy.

You can pick up unique items at affordable prices, but you must know what you are looking for and you need to have a plan 🙂    

You can do your thrift shopping in 2 different ways:

You can hunt for clothes that meet certain criteria such as:

  • new items
  • good deals
  • good condition
  • vintage items
  • designer brands
  • low prices, etc

or you can make a list of the items that you need in your wardrobe such as :

  • jeans/pants
  • t shirt
  • shirt
  • skirt
  • sweater or cardigan
  • jacket
  • shoes
  • handbag

I prefer this option and I always go shopping with a list of the items I need and that I plan to repurpose or upcycle into something creative and amazing for my wardrobe 🙂

I have developed this THRIFT SHOPPING FOR CLOTHES PLAN to make it easier to look for great finds! Download your free copy by completing the form below.

How to shop for clothes at a thrift store?

Step 1: Print out the Thrift Shopping Plan. Grab a pen, a reusable bag and head to the shop. It’s time to get some thrift store treasures!

Step 2: Complete the form inside the plan by ticking which items you are looking for.

Step 3: Go inside the shop and look for the appropriate section.

Sections are usually divided by sizes and within the sizes they will be divided into types of clothes such as jeans, pants, shirts etc.

When buying second hand clothes to upcycle there are a few things to consider:

  • Fabric composition
  • Quality
  • Good condition
  • Sizes
  • Vintage clothes
  • Designer brands
  • Opportunity to repair and transform
  • Old item with good buttons (best items)
  • Badly made item with amazing fabric

Fabric composition

I like buying items that are made out of natural fibers such as cotton, linen, silk and wool. The best thing to do is to check the fabric composition label.

Synthetic fibers can be also very good buys but you must be aware that you won’t be able to dye them. Some synthetic fibers such as polyesters are not great for embroidery either.


Check if the item is well made. A good thing to check is the inside of the garments. If it’s a well made item the seams should be tidy and neat.

Good condition

Check that the clothes are in good condition and that there are no holes or unwanted stains.


Identify which is the size that you want to purchase and stay on that rack.

Sometimes buying oversized garments is a great way to upcycle it. You can sew pleats into it, add ties, bows or a belt in order to bring it down a couple of sizes.

a lady browsing the jeans section inside a second hand shop


Buying vintage is a fantastic opportunity to wear something super well made from another decade.

You may find amazing vintage items at very low prices if you look long enough 🙂

Designer brands

There are plenty of great designer brands spread among those clothes racks.

If you are after a specific brand of high end clothing you may want to ask the thrift store staff rather than going through the whole shop. They usually know their stuff 🙂

Opportunity to repair and transform

When you are shopping with upcycling in mind you will see opportunity everywhere in these thrift stores.

Old item with good buttons

Sometimes I buy a jacket or a top because I love the vintage buttons on it. I unpick them and keep them in my special buttons box for future upcycling projects 🙂

buttons in different colors and textures

Badly made item with amazing fabric

Another great find is when you identify a great type of fabric. Sometimes the garment is not great ot its not well made but you just love the fabric.

When this happens I always buy it and I keep it in my fabric stash as a little treasure find.

How to upcycle second hand clothing?

As mentioned before, I love thrifting for the sake of upcycling the clothes. I have designed and made my favorite wardrobe items through upccyling old clothes that I have found and collected over the years.

These are the items that I got during this little thrift expedition with Sydney. I am planning to upcycle them in several ways. As you can see I also got some doilies, I can’t wait to use them!

There are many ways in which you can approach this re fashion projects.

You can use fabric manipulation techniques such as Applique, patches, dyeing, embroidery, sewing, unpicking and re making into a whole new different thing.

I also use my planner to write down upcycling ideas as I shop around. I would also pick up buttons, trims and laces if I see something that I really like.

Some of my favorite upcycling projects include turning jeans and garments into tote bags. Here are 4 tote bags tutorials made out of fabric that wes upcyled from old clothes:

Thrift store clothes will make you save money. You will be able to get secondhand clothes from a previous owner or new merchandise.

There are many stores with many quality pieces and amazing thrift store finds waiting for you 🙂

I hope you have enjoyed this post! Make sure to pin it to your favorite interest board!

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