Walk into a thrift shop and you are likely to feel overwhelmed. Aisle upon aisle of musty youth baseball t-shirts from 2006 and size 17 khakis are bound to scare away any self-respecting fashionista. But then you meet a cute little hipster girl and compliment her denim jacket, only to hear her exclaim, “I got it at Salvation Army for three dollars!” How did that lucky lady do it?
Turns out there are plenty of diamonds hidden in the rough. From thrift store go-tos, like flannels and oversized tees to the perfectly tailored dress that everyone will think you got at Anthropologie, the opportunities are endless. It’s not easy (thrift-shopping is often considered hunting for a reason), but with a willingness to sift through the masses of clothes sold at Kohl’s and Old Navy in the early 2000s and an eye for the perfect pieces, you can walk away with amazing finds. Unfortunately, we can’t give you the endurance for thrifting, but with this guide you’ll be able to discern the gems from the stones.
The most obvious pieces to keep an eye out for are those that seem to have a “thrift-store chic” quality. One of these is the classic oversized flannel. Search through the guys section for this staple, but make sure the tag is the first thing you look at – small and medium are the only options. Anything bigger will swallow you alive. Paired with super skinny jeans and a leather jacket, thrift store flannels look effortlessly cool.
Another thrift store go-to is mom shorts. However, don’t expect to walk into the store and find the same ones that are on the shelves at Urban Outfitters. Instead, look for high-waisted, ’90s style pants, which are always in abundance. When you try them on, keep in mind that you will cut them off into shorts. When at home, cut the shorts slightly longer than the desired length, and roll up the ends, letting them fray themselves.
When at the thrift store, make sure you stop by the accessories section. For a vintage accent, look for earrings and other jewelry with gold details. Eighties costume jewelry is another bold accessory that can liven up any outfit. When the jewelry is under a dollar apiece, you can afford to go for a crazy look. Sift through the bags for beaten leather satchels or small backpacks with ’90s appeal. And for those of you who don’t like to spend $50 on a belt, thrift shops are filled with thin, leather belts with timeless appeal. The trick for these is to ignore the sizes and punch in a small hole at home so that they fit as desired.
The thrifty girl’s dream accessory comes with a little innovation. Thrift stores are always filled with scarves with bright colors and cool patterns. Though these pieces look beautiful serving their desired function, they look unbelievably cool and trendy when worn as a headband.
One of the most important things to keep in mind while thrifting is the fact that all of the clothes can be altered. When using a DIY approach, dozens of fashionable opportunities present themselves. Take, for example, the oversized men’s button-up with a print that’s too on-trend to resist, but a fit that would never work. Simply cut off the Jerry Seinfeld-inspired sleeves, and, if it’s long enough, belt it to make an adorable shirt-dress. If it hits you at a shorter length, wear it as an oversized tunic or tie the ends together to make a sweet button up shirt.
Another dream find for those of you who are DIY-inclined is the denim jacket. For an ’80s inspired punk look, an oversized version is a must. Paired with skinny jeans or even dresses and combat boots, this piece will be a cheap favorite this fall. Add some flair and personalize this already unique piece by sewing on patches of your favorite bands or causes you believe in.
Not all alterations must be limited to those you can do in your apartment or dorm. With the money you’re saving by saying no to retail, alterations by a seamstress are totally affordable. Keep this in my mind when looking through tailored vintage dresses that are adorable, but just seem too fuddy-duddy. Seamstresses can shorten dresses, thus keeping the vintage accents but allowing your legs to speak to a more modern fit. Likewise, any irresistible piece that simply doesn’t fit around the waist or in the shoulders can be altered so it seems like it was made for you and you only.
Not only does thrifting save you tons of money, it also gives you a certain effortless and low maintenance look. When paired with more expensive items, a thrifted piece adds one of a kind charm to any outfit. With a little patience and knowledge of what to keep your eye out for, thrift stores are a go-to for any fashionista.
Maggie Schafer is an English/creative writing and sociology major. Send her your opinions or questions on the latest trends at firstname.lastname@example.org.