Not to brag, but I could practically put “thrifting” on my résumé because I’m always able to discover a great item when I’m vintage hunting. However, honing this skill takes time, effort, and a seriously good eye. Besides understanding what you can and cannot alter or fix (every thrifting insider’s secret weapon to that perfect fit), knowing where to look and what to look for is half the battle when entering a shop and putting any FOMO aside. Next time you’re thrift shopping for clothes, take this checklist of pieces to help orient your search. You just may find that one-in-a-million piece to totally revamp your wardrobe.
Floral dresses: Whether you wear them alone as a sundress, layered under an oversize sweater for a grunge-inspired look, or open as a duster, floral dresses from the ’90s typically abound at thrift shops. Start by looking for color palettes and print designs that catch your attention. This will help you establish a starting point for your search rather than looking at every single dress on the rack.
Slips: No need to buy one of these new when there is typically a large selection of slinky lace slips at your local Goodwill. First, identify the style you’re looking for first: Are you looking for a dress to layer or wear on its own? Also pay attention to the fabric quality as older pieces can be quite fragile, have stains and slight tears, and be various degrees of sheerness. Examine carefully before adding to your cart.
LBDs: Thrift-store clothes are often divided by color, so if you’re like me, you’ll make a beeline to the black section. As nearly every time period has its own version of the little black dress, you’ll need to determine the style you’re looking for to keep your search streamlined, whether that’s fitted in a ’60s mod mini, slinky and minimal in ’90s garb, or structured in an ’80s power suit.
Mockneck tees and tanks: These are super throwback but very now with the resurgence of everything ’70s. Look for short-sleeve or sleeveless styles that can layered. These typically are found in rather thick polyester ribbed materials, so understand you’re going for a retro look with these pieces as they don’t have the same feel or breathability as new items.
Slip tanks: Look for unique details here like lace trim, frills, ruffles, or embellishments. These extras will help elevate your everyday jeans and look extra fancy when layered with other vintage jewelry.
Wool and cashmere sweaters: Thrifting is a great way to find these timeless staples, and when they are made with quality materials, they will last a lifetime. Sizing and fit are the most important considerations here, as well as general fabric condition. Look for any holes or snags and assess whether you can fix them before buying. Next, shape: Does it look like it was shrunk in the wash, stretched out, or too pilled? If so, move on. Weight and breathability are also important to think about as many older sweaters are made of blended materials that can feel very heavy, so make sure to try everything on before walking out of the store with a purchase.
Retro Pants and Skirts
Bold trousers: One of the best aspects of thrifting is finding one-of-a-kind items, and that’s always top of mind when looking for patterned bottoms. Color and prints are your friend in this department, and the groovier the better. However, vintage sizing doesn’t always match modern cuts, so make sure to try things on, and even reach for items that you may think are too big or small. With a little altering, you just might find your new go-tos.
Wide-leg pants: Like with all vintage pants, sizings tend to vary with this style, so don’t let a number stop you. Also, with cropped and fit-and-flare styles being super popular right now, don’t let a slightly short pant hem deter you from a purchase—let it be a fun styling twist instead a deterrent.
Pleated skirts: Whether you find an actual tennis skirt or part of a school uniform, pleated skirts are abundant at thrift shops. Avoid elastic waistlines, however, as they are harder to tuck shirts into and thus not as versatile.
Classic Jackets and Coats
Blazers: Comb through suit sets to see if any of the jackets can be worn alone, and review the boys’ section for more shrunken styles. And remember that shoulder pads can always be removed, so don’t fear a jacket you love that looks too retro with these inserts.
Denim jackets: Take notice of the wash and thickness of the fabric—they’re hints of its quality. Look for stiffer blues with even washes that show natural wear. With denim, brand names are collectible, so look for Levi’s, Lee, and Jordache. Finally, keep classics in mind here as distressing and embellishments are signs of a newer item that may not feel as timeless in a couple of years.
Trench coats: To account for quality, look for name brands like London Fog that make unisex rainwear. Also, as this style looks great oversize, forgo following size guidelines and instead focus on cuts that you gravitate toward. Trying on a trench over a denim jacket or bulkier sweater will also give you a better sense of the coat’s fit and movability.
Leather jackets: Quality is super important here. Review jackets for scratches and make sure all zippers and clasps are working. Also, don’t be afraid to scan the uniform section when looking for a jacket. Field coat–style leather jackets are coming back into fashion on the runway, so try going straight to the source and snagging original vintage rather than shelling out big bucks for a new piece inspired by it.
Scarves and bandanas: Note that sometimes these can be sold in sets of two or three, so always ask the shopkeeper if there’s a deal on buying these in bulk. Think of the ways you’re planning to wear the scarf—whether it’s tied around your neck, in your hair, around your wrist, or on a bag—to determine the length and pattern you want to take home.
Costume jewelry, especially pins and brooches: Make sure to check out the display cases by the register to see a shop’s jewelry selection. Pins can be made into earrings simply by changing the backing and put on chains as pendants, so prioritize them when taking stock of the offerings.
Belts: Look for unique details that you won’t find with new items, like braiding, chains, and one-of-a-kind buckles. Also remember that you can always add more holes to a belt that may be too large, so think about versatile styling options to offset any fit concerns.
Hats: No need to buy the most on-trend accessories new this year: Berets, bucket hats and baker boy caps are readily available at thrift stores. They usually hang around the top of boards on rails and in rounders, so make sure to look up when vintage hunting.
What has been your favorite thrift-store find? Tell us in the comments!