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The Cardinal Rules Of Thrifting, According To An Obsessive Thrift Shopper

For a few years I was angry at thrifting. Going to Value Village and Goodwill reminded me of when I’d shop there in my twenties (less because I enjoyed it and more because I wanted to drape myself in pieces that would make me seem interesting), and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve been trying to keep a canyon between who I am now and who I used to be.

The thing is, maintaining that distance is as exhausting as it is impossible. (See: very.) Try as we might, we can’t completely escape the wee baby versions of ourselves who make us cringe, and we likely weren’t as embarrassing as we remember ourselves being once upon a time.

So re-enter: thrift shopping. Before I morphed into a young woman whose quest was to find the largest, most unfortunate sweaters, I’d descend on my favourite second-hand stores with my best friends because it was fun — and that’s what we could afford. With such a rich buffet of clothes in our midst, we could outfit every incarnation of ourselves without dropping too much money on a specific trend. And to be honest, I missed doing that.

Which is why I started back up again. Magic never lacks in combing through dozens of racks, trying to find the perfect Practical Magic-inspired dress or the joy of stumbling upon a circa-Y2K Le Chateau tank top in leopard print. So as I bask in the glory of looking for pieces I love (instead of pieces I hope give me a personality) and pieces I don’t feel bad splurging on, I pass down my cardinal rules of thrift shopping to you. Please caffeinate accordingly.

Apply the same rules as your standard clothes shopping
I don’t care how cheap something is, if you don’t like how it fits or how you feel in it, you’re never going to wear it. Leave it behind for someone who’ll love it accordingly, and remind yourself that by the time you get home, you’ll have forgotten about it accordingly.

You will never go to the tailor to fix whatever it is you think you’ll have tailored, I’m sorry
I mean, maybe you will if you’re someone who tailors clothes. I am not. And every time I’ve picked up a piece that “just” needs to be a little shorter, taken in, let out, or remade entirely, it’s sat in my closet until the next time I clean my closet out and ask myself, “What is this? Why do I have this? Get rid of it.” An embarrassment for us all.

Stick to your budget
I say this as a grown woman who has splurged a lot in her life and has had zero dollars even more (shout-out to freelance life): just because you’ve found something at a thrift store, does not mean it’s a bargain. If you’re spending $20 on a dress that you don’t even like, you’re doing it wrong. So in the same way you wouldn’t waltz into Aritzia and drop $100 on jeans you know you can only wear with one specific tank top you’re not even sure you have anymore, you’re sure as hell not about to spend serious money on one piece you’re iffy about, when you could pick up three pieces for the same price.

Use coupons, I beg you
Coupons are beautiful and absolutely exist and might even be given to you after you’ve donated a bunch of stuff to your local thrift shop. Do you think you’re too good for coupons? Of course you don’t. Coupons are amazing. Discounts are the best. They also give you a little more space to pick up that aforementioned $20 dress without feeling terrible about your choices. (A $14 dress is much different than a $20 dress, and if you don’t agree with me you’ve clearly never had to watch your spending before.) Sign up for mailing lists. Pay attention to signage. Bask in the glory of getting more for less because you deserve it. Then bask in the memories that accompany each piece.

Because that’s the thing: these clothes smell like the past, so get on board or GTFO
Do you like the smell of half a century-old second-hand smoke? Then put the old coat down, my dude – this isn’t your rodeo. Here’s the thing to remember about thrift shopping: a lot of second-hand pieces retain the sights and scents of their previous lives and homes. And while you will wash them, some will still not give up their pasts. Does that bother you? Then leave anything you think “only needs a wash” on the rack and pick up something else. Because I’ll be honest: something I bought once smelled old-ish, but it smelled even older after I washed it. Did I like that? Absolutely, but my furniture is all second hand and smells like another person’s rec room (that I assume was smoked in constantly). Will you? Well, you know your limits. I like the idea of wearing something with a history, and I don’t mind if it continues to smell like 1994 after dozens of wash cycles. If you don’t, that’s cool! That’s your prerogative.

Just remember that it’s par for the thrift course. Arguably, we’re all wearing clothes who’ve been places we’ll never go. So think about that too. And if it weirds you out, totally valid – live your truth. But if you like a wearable time capsule? I’ll meet you over in men’s t-shirts. It can get pretty intense, but every so often you find that perfect baseball tee.

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