14 Tips and Tricks to Scoring That Perfect Vintage Gem at Thrift Stores

The thrill of finding an amazing deal at a thrift store can be exhilarating—and it's easy, if you shop like these thrift shopper pros. Here are a few secrets they're letting out of the bag.

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Location, location, location

thriftgabriel12/ShutterstockWhich neighborhoods have the best thrift store finds? According to Bethany Beldner, a thrift store shopper, whose Instagram account is followed by more than 36,000 people, wealthy neighborhoods near her definitely have a lot to offer, but prices are higher. "Depending on which thrift store you go to though, the store may increase the prices of nice items. Some thrift store employees are very knowledge when it comes to brands," says Beldner. (Here are the most trusted brands in America, by the way.) Nikki Mateo of Los Angeles California, has a different thrifting experience in her area. "I've had better luck finding pieces in shoddy parts of a big city than in affluent suburbs. Probably because the former is more diverse, so you'll get a lot of eclectic designer and costume pieces and unique furniture and decor over second-hand t-shirts from the Gap," says Mateo.

Size matters

thriftJonathan Weiss/ShutterstockMany thrift stores, including Goodwill and Salvation Army, are well-established non-profit stores, that are known for supporting local shelters, food banks, job training, and ease of donating items and, in addition, donations are tax-deductible. All these factors contribute to a large inventory that's constantly changing but there are certain items they don't want. For-profit thrift stores usually have stricter guidelines for the merchandise they accept and the price tag is generally higher because the store and consignor need to be paid. "In my experience, privately owned thrift stores tend to be smaller and don't offer as great of a selection because they're not getting as constant of donations," says Beldner. Fabulous finds can still be had, especially on higher-end clothes, handbags, and accessories.

Best seasons to shop

thriftSpeedKingz/ShutterstockBack-to-school sales in July, white sales in January... there is always a better season to shop deals at retail stores. But what about thrift stores? "Thrift stores seem to be overflowing with donations, especially during the spring and summer months. Not only do garage sale left overs usually get donated to Goodwill, but there is something about the warm weather that causes people to clean out their garages and declutter their homes. "During the winter months, I see less new inventory come in," notes Beldner.

Get the inside scoop

thriftgabriel12/ShutterstockSeasoned thrifters know the discounts are even better when you have the inside skinny. Sales and special promotions via store apps, newsletters, and text alerts give notice to deeper discounts. If you're visiting a store for the first time, ask about the specials or look for signage. "Often thrift stores will have fliers posted in the store informing shoppers of upcoming sale days," says Beldner. "Some stores will run sales daily and others are weekly." For example, the Goodwill stores in the Chesapeake region in Maryland offer a 30 percent discount to all college students, teachers, and senior citizens every Wednesday.

Opposites attract

thriftChristian Giaffrey/ShutterstockMost women wouldn't browse the men's rack for clothes, but Maria TenHave-Chapman always looks it over when she hits up her local Goodwill or Salvation Army store. "Clearly, the fit is a little different so you'll have to know what works for you, but looking through all departments is definitely worth it. I've found some really good finds in the men's department," says TenHave-Chapman.

Vintage goods

thriftCasimer/ShutterstockIf you like to rock an expensive look in your vintage threads, try antique stores. While not a typical thrift store, some carry vintage clothes alongside antiques. TenHave-Chapman loves to stroll the antique warehouse near her home for vintage clothes. "My best finds have been heavy winter coats from the 1950s with fur collars and silk linings." If you're looking for designer labels, but not sure the Chanel suit you just found is legit, try searching The Vintage Fashion Guild's resource library for designer labels, furs, and fabrics.

College cast-offs

thrifttrekandshoot/ShutterstockNo one wants to haul dorm room essentials like lamps, bean bag chairs, and futons home after the semester ends. That's good news for deal seekers. "If you live in a college town, be sure to hit them when the semesters end," says Melissa McNeese, of New York City, who lives near three college campuses. "The thrift stores get a ton of stuff as the semesters end. I got a great multi-head floor lamp a few years back for cheap," she says.

Look past imperfections

thriftArmin Staudt/Shutterstock"Sometimes, the really pristine pieces aren't the true gems," says Mateo. "It can be a really beautiful shelf that needs refinishing. Or a lovely skirt that needs to be re-hemmed. Just know your limits, and stick to projects that you know you can do," says Mateo. Some stores may not realize something is damaged so don't be afraid to haggle a bit and ask for discount. They'll probably give you one so they can move the item out.

Get touchy-feely

thriftSpeedKingz/ShutterstockIf you see Mateo in a thrift store, you're likely to find her touching everything she passes. This process is one of her styling secrets."Ignore the brands. Ignore the sizes, which are never accurate anyway. It's all about the material," says Mateo. "If the fabric feels good and luxurious, pick up the item and analyze it further. This is how you find hidden gems," suggest Mateo. She searches for silks, cashmere, merino wool, linen, and high-quality cottons, but passes on synthetics or fabrics past their prime.

Thrift store vultures

thriftgabriel12/ShutterstockYou him and haw, and finally put the vase back on the shelf. Then, minutes later, you decide you do want the cobalt vase after all, but someone scooped it up! "Never walk away from something you love. When in doubt, put it in your cart or take the sales ticket until you make your final decision," urges Serena Appiah of ThriftDiving.com. "There will be 'thrift store vultures' waiting for you to walk away from that amazing find! With the item in your cart or the sales ticket in your pocket, you have more time to decide if the item should come home with you or not."
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