Do you love fashion but not the high expense of clothing? I have learned how to thrift like a pro so I can look amazing on a budget. In this article I can show you how you can do it too with my easy 6 step system that will guarantee that you look amazing every single time.
I grew up enjoying a privileged lifestyle. I wore designer clothes. I loved fashion. I learned how to sew at an early age, appreciated quality fabric and made many of my outfits because I found the process of design and creation fascinating.
When I graduated, developed my career, married and was able to buy my own clothes, I was able to wear the designer labels once again (this time on my own dollar).
In my late 30’s, I was diagnosed with a severe illness, was forced to give up my career and completely change my lifestyle. Years later, as I write this article, I’m officially retired due to the illness.
Shopping in thrift stores to the almost 40 year old me, was something only the needy did (forgetting I was newly divorced and now unemployable). I had champagne taste and a mere beer budget and had never entertained the idea – ever.
Then, one day on a whim, as I was driving home from dropping my son off at school. I stopped by the neighbourhood thrift shop.
Aha! An unimaginable new world of wonder, surprise and delight opened up to me. In that tiny store, were the most fabulous designer items…coats, handbags and jewellery – all looking next to new and some with their original price tags still attached. Right then and there my snobbish attitude changed to one of bliss, joy and gratitude.
For this wasn’t junk (like I’d imagined a thrift store would stock) these were quality pieces that I could well afford and would be proud to wear.
I learned some wonderful lessons that day; thrifting is smart. Thrifting is also extremely practical. I wasn’t willing to compromise my style, so buying, “New to me,” was going to be one of my hobbies/must have options, to fit my unforseen circumstances. It can be done successfully if you know how to thrift like a pro. And in this article, I will teach you how to do just that, in 6 easy steps.
How to thrift wisely
On entering any thrift store, I go about searching for my hidden treasures, both systematically and methodically. I know which items I need, which items to stay away from (in terms of my personal style) and items that are just plain fun to browse – like accessories. So with adrenaline surging throughout my veins, I begin to perform my thorough scan in the following manner:
1. Statement Pieces
Blazers and Coats
There is no better find than a fabulous blazer or coat with interesting detailing, a gorgeous pattern, cut or colour. These items are the special pieces in your wardrobe and that critical element in your outfit that will turn heads, reveal your personality and let the world know who your are. It will be the first item of your outfit people will notice. Make sure it reflects your style elements.
I always start with blazers and coats on any thrifting adventure. Quite often, I find inspiration to build an outfit around an unusual piece or a particularly interesting high quality item.
Skirts, Pants, Sweaters
I’m looking for classics like skirts, sweaters and pants that are made from quality natural fabric are neutral in colour. Often they have a smidge of special detailing that will make this item stand out on its own and express a bit about your style.
The cut can be classic, but with a few strategically placed buttons, pleats or pockets (as interesting features). These small details really add big impact to any basic piece.
For sweaters, I like to stick to classics made from cashmere and merino wool or other non itchy lightweight knits, in timeless crewneck and turtleneck styles. These quality pieces wear for years and never go out of style. You can wear them with skirts and slacks or casual pants and jeans, with a blazer for a chic look.
A lovely blouse of a high quality fabric will lend your basic pants and skirts your signature look.
With the wide variety and styles there are to choose from, you can play up pattern, colour, cut or texture and for some fun add some trendy pieces into your mix.
It’s nice to be able to add an interesting feature to your blouses as well, like fabulous cuffs or collar, ruffles or ruching. Blouses are wonderful on their own or incredibly stylish when worn with a blazer and look fabulous when layered underneath a basic sweater with jeans or casual pants.
Dresses are one of my favourite garments. The variety of styles and occasion types to choose from are endless.
A dress looks fantastic on its own, with a simple blazer, worn with a cardigan or a crew neck sweater so that it looks like a skirt.
A dress can also be worn with skinny cropped pants underneath for a chic modern look. Pattern, colour, cut and shape (according to your body type) and quality of fabric are things to consider when browsing for your perfect dress. There is a dress to make every woman look her best just waiting on the racks of the local thrift store.
Shoes…you can find some absolutely unbelievable deals at thrift stores on these items because of the recent increase in online shopping.
Women find that once they receive their purchases, they don’t fit right or they aren’t exactly what they’re expecting. Instead of sending them back, which they have every intention of doing, they end up gathering dust on their boxes in a corner somewhere. Finally (months later), the woman makes the decision to donate the shoes, boots or bag to the charity shop or thrift store and that’s where I strike!
Brand new or barely used items for pennies on the dollar. Prada, Gucci, Fendi are some of the mind blowing deals I have seen recently for $30 brand new.
6. handbags and accessories
Handbags of every style are to be found from the classic structured satchel to the unstructured bohemian leather shoulder bag. And let’s not forget the fabulous vintage clutch with its classic lines. Or the bag with intricate beading, giving a nod to juxtaposition that is so popular in the daytime with jeans. Or you can just let this bag shine in its true beauty on a special evening occasion with a little black dress.
Scarves, necklaces and earrings
These are your all important finishing touches to every outfit. You can think of your accessories as your punctuation marks.
A lovely silk scarf can enhance a sweater or a jacket in an instant as it will add colour to your complexion if it’s in a complementary colour.
A statement necklace or earrings will do the same, drawing attention to your eyes and face as well as adding fascinating detail to your outfit.
Earrings come in all varieties, from simple pearl studs, to classic gold and silver pieces and of course there are the statement pieces, like the Swarovski crystal earrings and brooches, that catch the light with each and every movement you make.
There are always plenty of scarves and pashminas at thrift stores for some reason. I’ve been told women buy them with the intention of wearing them and forget they have them.
I feel that wearing a scarf or a wrap says so much about a woman. Some words to describe her are: sophisticated, stylish and interesting. If you can find a few beautiful silk scarf or a lovely pashmina or wrap, amongst the hundreds up for grabs on the rack, you’ve found timeless pieces that will enhance your outfits for years to come.
In summary, here is your action plan
- Hopefully you’ll find a statement piece that will inspire you right away with an amazing blazer or unique coat.
- Next, head on over to the basics. Check out the skirts, pants and sweaters for anything that catches your eye – look for quality fabric and interesting detailing.
- Blouses, after that. Be sure to look for something with a unique design element, asymmetry, a wonderful collar or fabulous cuffs, quality fabric or a lovely print or complimentary colour to your skin tone.
- Dress department is next and your cart is getting heavy, but forge on the benefits will be worth it! Look for figure flattering cuts, interesting design elements, glorious fabrics, wonderful detailing, prints and again those complementary colours.
- Two more departments to visit then we’ve completed this adventure! The shoe, boot and handbag section is a fast skim for the connoisseur. If you know your leather, then your eye will automatically stop at an item of quality and design. This department can be fairly large depending on where you go, so you might want to spend time to make sure you see everything a few times before you leave. Sometimes the special ones like to hide on you!
- Last stop – accessories. Look for gold and or silver pieces. Timeless pearls are always a great buy, statement necklaces are usually abundant here and there are usually many unique pieces made by artisans. Scarves take a while to sort through, but to find one beautiful pashmina or silk scarf amongst 500, is worth your time. Your eye soon adjusts to fabric quality and you are easily able to pick out the fab from the drab in no time flat.
Thrifting is fun and extremely affordable. I seem to always find unique, sometimes one of a kind items nestled on the shelves or in the racks waiting especially for me.
You can dress in the style you want to achieve and your financial means need not be an obstacle. Quality designer items at literally pennies on the dollar are lining the shelves and filling the racks of thrift and charity shops in cities and towns all over the world.
So, if you know your personal style and take my 6 step guide on, “How to thrift like a pro”, with you on your excursion, then you are most definitely going to come home with several fabulous pieces that will last you for years to come.
About the author
Karen Amantea, lives on Vancouver Island, in Canada. She loves the rain forest, enjoys photography and is devoted to her yoga practice.
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