Thrifting on the Grid

freestyleBy Amy Thoma

This year I made a New Years Resolution to spend less money on clothes. Notice I didn’t say shop less, just spend less money. I’m the worst of both worlds: I like really high-quality things but to put it charitably, I have a frugal streak. Enter the world of thrift stores.

I’m not naturally a thrift-er. I find the prospect of digging through old clothes kind of gross and the thought of wearing something used freaks me out. But, this is America in 2013—we have washing machines, dry cleaners and bleach.

In just a few trips to thrift stores I scored a dress from Banana Republic with the tags still on ($8), 2 shirts from JCrew ($4 each). I also saw a handbag  in the store I donated a few months ago (no, I didn’t rebuy it, there’s a reason it went in the donate pile).

Here are some tips I picked up along the way:

  • You stand a better chance at scoring good stuff if you go to an “upscale” thrift store. I stick to the Goodwill on 16th and L, Freestyle on 21st and L and Article on 56th and L (near Tupelo). These places are a little more expensive but cleaner and require less digging.
  • Just because something is designer and cheap doesn’t mean it’s for you. I found a Diane Von Furstenberg dress my gut told me was ugly. I texted a photo from the dressing room to some friends who gave the greatest advice, “that dress may be DVF, but it is not for you.” Technically it fit but it wasn’t flattering. Same thing happened with a Tracy Reese dress. Pretty, not for me.
  • Be a label snob. There’s no reason to spend $8 at a thrift store on something from H&M, Forever 21 or Target. Chances are, you can buy something new for around that price.
  • Check season labels. Large chain stores print the item’s season on the wash tag. For example, a JCrew item will say FA12, which means it’s from Fall of 2012. Or, SS07 means Spring/Summer 2007. It’s a quick and easy way to determine the item’s age.
  • Heavily inspect the item. Check the seams, buttons and zippers for signs of age or failure. Look hard for any stains or fading. Don’t waste your money on something that’s going to rip after a wear or two.
  • Buy something crazy. The upside of cheap thrift shopping is you can take a few fashion risks without breaking the bank. My style is pretty conservative but I’ve picked up a piece or two I’m a little afraid to wear. It’s a fun way to experiment, see what works and eventually upgrade.
  • Be prepared to fail and shop often. More often than not I leave stores empty handed but every once in awhile I find the diamond in the rough.

Happy shopping!

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