Know your thrift stores. Visit various local thrift shops and determine which ones carry the better clothing. Some thrift stores are more likely to have designer labels than others. This often depends on the neighborhoods closest to the thrift store. Find out which thrift stores carry the labels you’re looking for, and limit your search to a few stores at the most.
Know what you can fix. Some stains can be removed; some are more difficult or impossible to remove. A missing button can easily be replaced; a zipper is not as easy to take care of. Be sure to closely examine clothing before you purchase it from a thrift store. Do the pockets have holes? Do the zippers function? Are there any stains or tears in the clothing? Examine embroidery and beadwork for inconsistencies or flaws.
Understand the thrift store’s return or exchange policy. Some thrift stores allow no returns. Some allow returns for a limited period of time after the purchase. Some will allow you to exchange clothing. Be sure you understand how these policies work before you spend a dime at a thrift store.
Smell the item before you buy it. Many clothes smell stale or musty after being stored for so long before (or after!) they were donated to the thrift store. Be sure to sniff clothing before you buy it, and know the difference between odors that can be removed and odors that are less likely to go away.
Try clothes on, or write down your measurements and bring them to the thrift store with measuring tape. Often tags are cut out of clothing or have faded so thoroughly that you can’t determine what size the item is. Sometimes the sizes are unusual or clothing is handmade. Many thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms or have very limited fitting rooms. Be sure to keep this in mind.
Know your own limits and preferences. If you prefer to have clothing that’s more gently worn, be sure to look out for signs of excessive wear. Faded or ripped tags often indicate that an item has been laundered frequently. Patterns fade and some fabric develops snags after much laundering. Check for stains under arms and around collars.
Know where to look. Clothing in thrift stores is not always organized by size, and if it is, it may not be organized according to the size standards you are accustomed to. It’s best to look through everything if you have the time. Just because an item is in the section labeled “medium” does not mean it fits your definition of a “medium” size.
Keep in mind that clothing may not always be found in the section you expect. You may find children’s clothing in the women’s section, women’s clothing in the men’s, and so on. It may be advantageous to quickly browse other sections as well as the one which should have what you’re looking for.
Know the sales. Many thrift stores such as Goodwill have sales on different days of the week. Know when these sales are and you might find a good deal on what you’re looking for.
Lastly, remember that many people working at thrift stores are volunteering. Be polite when asking questions and checking out. If something does not have a tag or a price, ask politely what they would be willing to sell the item for. A lot of the time you can even ask for a lower price on an item. Just remember that everyone is looking for a good deal at a thrift store.