To kick off your new year and your new closet, let’s talk about places to shop for very little money. Each store has a different set of customers, a different set of “rules” or ways of shopping, and a different mission. True, they are all out there to make money on your inability to resist keeping money in your pocket, but some have different ways of using the money after you fork it over. So gather around, my little shopaholics! Today, let’s examine thrift shopping, specifically Goodwill.
Think what you will about thrifting, but I’m here to tell you that (A) it’s fantastic and (B) you cannot beat the prices. Sure, someone else wore the clothes a few times (maybe). Yes, they aren’t organized all the time (B’s major complaint). True, there aren’t always the right sizes or multiple sizes in each piece. But it’s so much better than all of those. It’s a way to become a bigger part of helping consumerism not take such a toll on earth, find some great clothing pieces for yourself, and save some major moolah.
In my area, there are very few thrift stores. Maybe it’s just because Maine isn’t an incredibly populated area. My friend A, who lives in Texas, told me that her area is chock full of privately owned thrift stores. It all depends on where you live. Here, our biggest thrift store is Goodwill. I have one close by, and it’s super easy to just pop in to look for crafting material, clothes, or costume pieces for my drama club kiddos. There are a couple privately owned thrift stores, but I have only visited one of them and it was a little lackluster. I was also followed around like I was going to steal something. To the man who followed me around the 4-foot store, I was sweating because I stopped by after a jog. It was hot out. It wasn’t “I’m going to steal things” sweat. Come on, dude.
Goodwill has a pretty respectable reputation and a worthy outlook on helping others. The stuff that people donate gets turned into profits through their stores. Those profits then get turned around to (A) person their stores, (B) give job training, and (C) help people get back on their feet. There have been so many times I have gone into the store and have seen people with special needs receiving fantastic job training to help them become independent workers who earn paychecks just like everyone else. The trainers are patient, have great senses of humor, and really work with their mentees. Goodwill also offers computer training, other job training for those who have been unemployed, and respectful support for anyone in need. Those are goals I can get behind.
As a shopper, it’s great to know that the money I spend to make myself or my home look good are doing more than just that; they are really helping others do great things. The prices are pretty great, too. Prices depend on where you are shopping. For instance, the Goodwill I frequent has most shirts, pants, sweaters, skirts, and blazers priced at $4.99. Coats, dresses, shoes, bags and two piece suits are priced by piece. There are also higher quality shirts, skirts, pants, sweaters, bags and blazers that are higher priced according to their condition, retail worth, etc. Another store I have gone to is located in a richer area of the state. Because of the designers and the typical tax bracket of the area, the base prices go up to $5.99 or $6.99 a piece.
Sales come and go every week. Each piece of clothing is marked with a specific color plastic tag or a price tag sticker. See the blue barb below?Every week, a specific color goes on sale for 50% off. The website for your area’s Goodwill will/should update you on how long that specific color is on sale. Typically, a color sale only lasts one week. I have, however, heard of other locations (maybe it’s even a different store?) where specific types of clothing go on sale for different days. I have never seen any of the Maine stores do that, though. Let me know if you know anything about this!
If you really like Goodwill, they have a discount card. The discount card costs $10 a year, and you get an additional 10% off from all of your purchases. On your birthday, you get an extra 25%. If you hit the sales right, a shirt that has the color that’s on sale that week could go from $4.99 to $1.88. Not too shabby.
Tricks of the Trade
Expectations and Names
The trick to shopping at Goodwill, and many other thrift stores really, is going in with an open mind and knowing what you might like. You cannot just go in and say, “Okay, I want a pink cardigan with gold buttons from the Gap in a size medium.” Sorry guys, it doesn’t work that way, but you can go in and search for a pink cardigan. If you go in with a general idea of what you would like (black pencil skirt, tan blazer, etc.), you will have much better results. In the same vein, a lot of people will tell you not to go in looking for brand names. Um, sorry, but I reject that rule. I love me some brand names for very little money. Listen to me on this: It is okay to look for brand names at thrift stores. Who says you can’t? The thing to remember is that when you go to look for a specific piece, you won’t always be able to find it in the name you want. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t have a clue what the brand name is. As long as you like it and it looks good, you’re all set. If you want to look for names, that’s cool too. In fact, I found a designer (Dolce and Gabbana) cardigan on the racks the other day.
Get over the whole “ewww, someone else wore this” mentality. If you think about it, people have worn the clothes you try on in the mall too. Clothes at Goodwill have just had longer lives. Goodwill employees typically do a great job of weeding out the gross clothes with tons of holes and stains, and while you might find one here or there that slipped through, most clothes are in pretty good shape. Some clothes have never been worn before. Everything can be washed or dry cleaned, so it’s not that big of a deal. If you want to be picky about something, don’t go into the section with bras or perhaps even the shoes. Trust me, the clothes are good.
Many Goodwill/thrifting gurus will tell you to forget about sizing. I only partially agree. I pay attention to sizing numbers a lot on brands that I know. I have very specific ways I like clothes to fit. That whole oversized, slouchy, wear-it-three-times-bigger-than-you-need trend is not for me. I would look like a bag. There are older brands or brands that I haven’t ever heard of, though, that I just don’t know how sizing works, so I grab whatever looks like it may fit. I have found everything from a size 4 skirt that fits to a size 12. Range much? There was actually a sizing shift around the 1980s where sizes went down in number but not in actual measurement. Call it a foreshadow for America’s obesity problem: Save the self esteem instead of showing the real problem. I digress. Worst case scenario? Try things on. Best case scenario? Try things on. You can’t go wrong then!
If you find something you like, hang onto it. Try out new trends with the clothing you find in a thrift store (trust me, you’ll find almost anything that is in style because of how cyclical fashion trends are) because they will be incredibly affordable, and even if you don’t end up sticking with the trend, you haven’t made a huge investment.
Plan on spending a good chunk of time just searching the racks. This won’t be a place where you can just look at the mannequins and find lots of the same shirt in different sizes underneath. You have to really dig through racks to find what you want. My Goodwill has begun to organize the clothing by size, length (sleeves for shirts, shorts vs. pants for bottoms), and color, which is great. If you like a certain color, go to it. If you are less picky, search it all. But plan on a lot of time. I give myself at least an hour each time.
Places to Start
If you are still a little leery of thrift shopping, allow yourself to experience it in a very easy way: accessories. Accessories are an easy way to dip your toes in the pool and alleviate any queasiness you have about wearing secondhand clothing. Scarves, purses, handbags, and belts are very affordable and can be easily cleaned. Plus, they are typically items that get a ton of usage for very little money.
Have questions about thrifting or Goodwill? Let me know! What awesome finds have you found?