14 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores—and 9 Things to Skip
Thrift shopping is a hit or a miss sometimes, so we’ve asked some savvy thrifters for their expertise on what things we should always pick up and what things we should leave behind.
Buy: In-house label clothing
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“Most high-end department stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdales have in-house labels that are at a slightly lower price point than more recognizable brands but are still high-quality garments,” says Betsy Appleton, thrift shopping expert, and blogger at Goldwill Digger. So, scoop up the house labels from Nordstrom such as Halogen, BP, and Treasure and Bond or Aqua from Bloomingdale’s. It might not happen as often but if you spot a Burberry trench coat or cute floral Ralph Lauren dress in your size, grab it. But don’t forget to check for missing buttons, snaps or broken zippers. Here are 11 tricks to make your budget-clothing look expensive.
Buy: Luxury handbags
“Handbag designs tend to be classic, which makes them ideal purchases on the second-hand market,” says Suzanne Wexler, a culture and lifestyle expert. Wexler recommends buying from reputable consignment sellers, but thrift shops like Goodwill have luxury brands in the store (and online), and some come with authentification. But if you do find a cute Kate Spade interchangeable purse in a pile of ho-hum handbags, and there is no authentication offered, try checking websites like Bagaholic101 or Bag Vanity for tips on how to spot a fake.
Skip: Most shoes
Wexler strongly suggests passing on worn flip-flops and sneakers. Flip flops harbor a lot of bacteria, especially in the toe area and secondhand sneakers adapt to the wearer’s foot and won’t be a true fit for your own feet. “In terms of thrift footwear, stick with hardly-used or new-in-box statement shoes or heels,” Wexler says. “These can cost $400 to $800 brand new and are often more comfortable than less pricy heels, which tend to sacrifice fit for style,” says Wexler. Do the shoes need a good polish? Find out how to clean every type of shoe.
Buy: Sporting goods
You’re not sure how it happened, but your girlfriends talked you into signing up for a weekend field hockey league. Who knows if you’ll actually stick with it so why not buy used equipment? Well, there’s a playbook for how to buy sporting goods. “Look for things that were donated because they were outgrown, not because they were no longer useable quality,” says Morgan McBride of Charleston Crafted. “If the major component of something looks good but can be easily upgraded—like grips on a golf club—then that’s a good find. Gently used sports specific footwear is fine too, just check the soles and insides. But pass on helmets, because they could have hairline cracks or damage you don’t see—and that could compromise your safety.
You know how fickle kids are—they beg for a toy, play with it for a week or two then move on to something else. Buying toys at thrift stores is a cheap way to satisfy their itch for a new toy, and, while you’re at it, you can donate the ones they’re tired of so you don’t end up with an overflowing toy chest. But before you buy, check for missing pieces and only buy toys that can be washed, McBride says. “Hard plastic can be soaked in bleach and water and soft toys can be washed in the machine. If you don’t know how to clean it, don’t buy it.” That said, if you see one of these 11 toys at a thrift store, run, don’t walk to the register. It could be worth a ton of money.
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“When it comes to intimate apparel, never buy second-hand panties or shapewear that has visited the nether regions,” Wexler says. “It’s impossible to know how well the garment has been washed, leaving you vulnerable to bacteria and certain sexually transmitted diseases.” Only buy panties, hosiery, and bodysuits on the secondhand market with tags or in the original boxes. Here are more things you should never buy used.
Skip: Pots and pans
If your re-stocking your pots and pans, pass on ones that are scratched, especially the non-stick variety. The flakes can get in your food and release toxic compounds such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), particularly when you use high heat. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the health effects to humans are unknown, but PFOA does remain in the body for a long time. “However, copper or unique vintage pans could also make a beautiful wall hanging decor, and scratches wouldn’t matter in that case,” says McBride.
Buy: Kitchen gadgets
“Thrift stores are a great place to pick up novelty kitchen gadgets,” says McBride. “Many of them were impulse buys, used once or twice, and then donated.” Google the item while you’re in the store to research it if it doesn’t come in the box, or with an instruction manual or list of essential elements included. If it all checks out, ask to plug it in to be sure it powers on.
Skip: Electronics you can’t test drive
Electronics and appliances can be hit or a miss depending on the item. A coffee maker may power on but will it sputter and make an awful noise when you get home? A shiny laptop is inviting, but you don’t know if it is plagued with a virus. “If the store does not offer the ability to test an electronic or appliance before purchasing and will not allow returns, pass on the item,” advises Appleton. Find out the gadgets you can safely buy refurbished and the ones you should skip.
Buy: Wooden furniture
You can’t go wrong with sturdy, solid wood furniture. “Whatever your style you will find quality pieces in abundance at great prices at most thrift stores,” says Stacy Verdick Case, of Peony Lane Designs. Look for dovetail joints—they resemble interlocking fingers—where two pieces of wood connect, says Verdick Case. This type of joint is the hallmark of sturdy construction as it is harder to pulling apart. The one type of wooden furniture she cautions buying is nursery furniture, including cribs, as recalls occur frequently and you don’t want to risk your baby’s safety.