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11 Thrifting Secrets From a Former Thrift Store Employee

Woman shops the racks at a thrift store with cute vintage things in the background

There’s so many reasons to love thrifting. The super-affordable prices, the unique styles you can find and knowing that you’re keeping items out of the landfill. If you’re looking to level up your thrift store shopping game, or just refresh your wardrobe, you’re in the right place.

I’m sharing some of the best thrift store tips I’ve learned both as a shopper, and as a former thrift store employee. Get ready to use these insider thrift store tips on your next visit.

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The best day to shop at Goodwill, Value Village or any thrift store

Most stores put new items out every day, but there’s often a lot more options if you hit them up at the beginning of the month. That’s because there’s an increase in donations around the first, when people are moving. This is especially true if you live in a college town. Hit up your local thrift store the week students are moving out to score some top items.

The worst day to go thrifting

Late summer is a busy time with families and students looking for a deal on back to school supplies and clothing. If you’re in the same boat, plan to scout these items earlier in the season to get the best selection.

Same with Halloween. Hit up the thrift store early in October to avoid having to buy the last pair of black boots for $45, when you could have nabbed a perfect pair for $20 the week before.

Related: The return of the denim maxi dress is here — and we’re into it.

Inside a thrifting store, clothing racks filled with vintage clothes

Shop the day before the sale

If your favourite thrift store has seasonal sales, it’s a great opportunity to refresh your wardrobe at up to 50 per cent off.

But if you’re OK with paying full price (on already affordably priced stuff), hit up the store a day or two before. Staff are often putting out as many new items as they can ahead of the sale. This means there’s so much more selection to go through.


Have a game plan before you shop

It can be really overwhelming to go through every item on a rack, checking for sizing, price etc. every time. Knowing what you want can help you edit in your head as you go. It will also save you time and money, because you won’t be tempted to buy something you won’t need or use.

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Asian woman looks at a record and man looks at dinosaur in a thrift store

For the best thrift store finds, shop the entire store

If you only need a dress, head straight to that section. But if you’re into browsing, going through every section can be worth it. Believe it or not, shoppers often hide their favourite items in the wrong section so they can come back for them, especially before a sale day.

That means it’s worth it to go through the bedding section or the kid’s clothes. 

Also, think beyond gender when thrifting. Last fall, I found a brand new, 100 per cent wool sweater for $16 in the men’s section. It had the exact ’80s ski lodge look I was after, with the quality and warmth of wool. 

See also: What is dopamine dressing? How colourful clothes can boost your mood.

Dress for trying things on

Not every thrift store has a change room, or the lineup is long. Wearing tight-fitting clothes like leggings and an undershirt allows you to try on items over your clothes. Find a mirror at the end of an aisle or have a friend snap a picture of you, so you can see how it looks and feels before  you buy.

Know the sizing isn’t always as it seems

Vintage items can run 2-4 sizes smaller than what they say. Also, brands sometimes change the sizes over the years, so a pair of ’90s gap size 8 jeans might not be the same size as today’s size 8. I’d suggest shopping up and down your typical size and even ignore sizes altogether. Hold items up to yourself. Match the seams of what you’re wearing to the pants you want to buy. And ultimately, try things on to be sure they fit.


Related: We predict the 10 hottest beauty and makeup trends for 2023.

Two women going through items of a trunk in a thrift store

Forget the brand, look at the material

Brands can be an indicator of quality, but most of the time, it’s just marketing. A brand name shirt might be made from the same fabric, or even made in the same factory as a fast-fashion brand.

If you’re only after J. Crew, you’re missing out. I’d suggest inspecting the tags to see what material the clothing is made of. Keep an eye out for natural fibres like wool, silk, bamboo, leather, linen, cotton and cashmere. These materials are known for their quality, feel nice against your skin and last for years.

If you find a great cashmere sweater but don’t know the brand, go for it. There’s some quality independent and vintage brands that you may have never heard of, but make amazing stuff. Want to check if something is vintage? Try this vintage fashion label resource.

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Watch for stains, rips and tears

A button can be replaced, but torn leather can be hard (and expensive) to repair. Keep that in mind if you fall in love with something that needs to be fixed. Sometimes it is worth a little TLC, like a good pair of shoes or boots. 

A few summers ago, I bought some cute Italian leather loafers for $6. Turns out they are worth $300. I paid $15 to get the soles replaced and they are one of my favourite (and comfortable) pairs in my closet. 


If you really want an item but it is broken you can ask for a discount. But nine times out of 10 the item is being sold ‘as is’.

Don’t swap or remove tags

You may think you’re being clever, but it won’t work. Some thrift stores mark items with a secret pricing code so employees can tell when you’ve swapped a tag. So save yourself the embarrassment at the cash register.

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Person with backpack in a bookstore

The best things to buy secondhand

  • Books: Text books, novels and cookbooks are plenty and affordable.
  • Clothes: Jeans, coats, sweaters, dresses, accessories, costume jewelry and shoes.
  • Craft and hobby supplies: Yarn, fabric and other craft supplies are plenty.
  • Picture frames: Look for wood or consider painting a frame to match your style.
  • Kitchenware: Look for steel pots and pans and unchipped dinnerware sets. Avoid anything cracked or scratched.

The worst things to buy secondhand

  • Electronics: If you can test it beforehand, and ensure it works, you’re golden. If not, it really isn’t worth the risk.
  • Mattresses or upholstered furniture: Bedbugs are the real deal and it can be hard to know if a piece of furniture has them, when you don’t know where it came from.
  • Baby items like cribs, car seats and strollers: They often have expiry dates and can sometimes be part of safety recalls you might not know about.

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