1. Figure out where you're going to shop. Online? Big thrift shops like Salvation Army? Mom and pop vintage and thrift stores?
Online can be more expensive, but it's usually the quality vintage, and you can peruse from your house. The only thing is you have to trust the seller to report all damage and measurements accurately. This can be a not so good surprise when you get your piece in the mail. Etsy is a great place for beginners to start.
For first timers, big chain thrift stores can be the most overwhelming, but you just have to pick a place to start. I say go to these with caution as they can be the most disappointing. Since they're so huge, they get the most drop offs, and therefore the most generic stuff. But it also means they will get the big amazing hauls every so often and you're more likely to find that diamond.
I can tell you that at locally owned/mom and pop stores I have gotten my best finds (cashmere for $5 or less to start). I even found one that washes everything before it goes on the rack. They're usually smaller and less overwhelming for beginners. Also, I find that prices are usually more flexible here.
2. Set aside time to go. You definitely don't want to feel rushed once you realize how much there is to go through, even in small stores. I give myself around an hour, but I could take more or less time depending on the size of the store and if I'm looking for anything specific.
3. Make a list of what you're looking for. I warn you, don't be too specific. You could end up disappointed since you're working with fairly limited stock. Don't be more specific than "denim jacket" or "printed skirt." But keep an open mind and be willing to go for that amazing thing you find that's not on your list. Don't buy what you have plenty of though. Do I need another blazer? I already have 7. I should put it back... This should be your thought process.
4. Don't be afraid to go where you wouldn't normally. This means going into the men's section. Yes, you may have to take things in, but you may find that perfect graphic tee or white button down or oversize blazer. If you don't normally look at skirts, go look! You may just have been shopping in the wrong decade. I guarantee there is a wide variety of lengths in thrift store for those that don't fit normal sizes or are more modest.
5. Don't be afraid if it doesn't fit perfectly. If it's just a touch big and you have a sewing machine, get it! It's not that hard to bring in a couple of seams or put in darts to adjust a waistline. If you don't have a sewing machine, I would avoid these pieces unless they're the perfect baggy that you can belt or something like that. If something is too long, hemming is not difficult by hand. It just takes a little time. Getting started.
6. For goodness sake, please look at the tags! Before you walk out of there with that perfect gem, make sure you can take care of it. If you're not going to specially treat it, don't get it. You're not going to do the upkeep. Not worth your money. Does it not have care in English? Is it just those symbols that nobody knows what they mean? You're welcome. Tags missing? If you can identify the fabric, here, here, and here.
If it says dry clean only and you don't feel like spending the money, don't worry. I hand wash all of my "Dry clean only" pieces and I have never had a problem. With heavy knits and cashmere, use a salad spinner to dry them quicker. Tip courtesy of Tim Gunn.
7. You love it! But it smells like thrift store, so you put it back. NOOOOOO!!!!! It can be saved! Just spray it with white vinegar and it lifts the smell right out. No vinegar smell left behind. No idea why, but it works.
8. Don't pay too close attention to sizes. Sizing has changed over the years. You may fit something bigger or smaller than your normal size. Sizing is also not universal. Different brands cut their sizes differently. Above all things, do not buy something too small hoping to fit into it. You won't. I've made that mistake.
9. When you get home, wash it! Unless you know for sure they wash it at the thrift store, you have no idea where it's been. Wash it.
10. Enjoy your finds! There is no feeling like knowing someone isn't going to be wearing what you're wearing. You have that unique piece all to yourself.
Have any questions or tips of your own? Tell me below!