Thrift shopping can be fun, but in some cases, it’s difficult to know what’s worth your time and money and what isn’t. For savvy thrifters, however, thrift stores are like a retail gift that keeps on giving. If you also want to make the most of your secondhand shopping experience, read on to find out what things we should always pick up and what things we should definitely pass on.
Buy: In-house label clothing
“Most high-end department stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdales have in-house labels that are at a slightly lower price point than more recognizable brands but are still high-quality garments,” says Betsy Appleton, thrift shopping expert, and blogger at Goldwill Digger. So, keep an eye out for house labels from Nordstrom such as Halogen, BP, and Treasure and Bond or Aqua from Bloomingdale’s. If you happen to see a Burberry trench coat or adorable Ralph Lauren dress in your size, don’t hesitate to take it. But not before you make sure there are no missing buttons, snaps or broken zippers.
Buy: Luxury handbags
“Handbag designs tend to be classic, which makes them ideal purchases on the second-hand market,” says Suzanne Wexler, a culture and lifestyle expert. According to Wexler, it’s better to purchase your stuff from reputable sellers, but thrift shops like Goodwill might also have some luxury brands in the store (or online), and some even have certificates of authenticity. But if you succeed in finding a nice Kate Spade purse among the dozens of insipid handbags, with no authentication, you can find out on websites such as Bagaholic101 or Bag Vanity how to spot a fake product.
Don’t buy: Shoes (in general)
Buying worn flip-flops and sneakers is a big no-no, says Wexler. First of all, because such footwear can harbor a lot of bacteria, especially in the toe area. Secondly, worn sneakers take the form of the wearer’s foot and won’t really fit your feet. “In terms of thrift footwear, stick with hardly-used or new-in-box statement shoes or heels,” Wexler says. “These can cost $400 to $800 brand new and are often more comfortable than less pricy heels, which tend to sacrifice fit for style,” says Wexler.
Buy: Sporting goods
If you and your friends decide out of the blue that you want to play golf or field hockey but lack the equipment, you can find sporting goods in a rather good condition at the thrift store.
“Look for things that were donated because they were outgrown, not because they were no longer useable quality,” recommends Morgan McBride of Charleston Crafted. “If the major component of something looks good but can be easily upgraded, like grips on a golf club, then that’s a good find. Gently used sports-specific footwear is fine too, just check the soles and insides”. Skip on the helmets, on the other hand, because they might have hidden damages that could jeopardize your safety.
It’s difficult to please your children when it comes to toys. They seem to want one so badly only to become bored of it the minute they unwrap it. To avoid wasting any more money but still satisfy your children’s itch for a new toy, buy toys from the thrift store. Just make sure there are no missing pieces that might spoil all the fun. More than that, opt for washable toys. “Hard plastic can be soaked in bleach and water and soft toys can be washed in the machine. If you don’t know how to clean it, don’t buy it.”
Don’t buy: Shapewear
“When it comes to intimate apparel, never buy second-hand panties or shapewear that has visited the nether regions,” Wexler says. “It’s impossible to know how well the garment has been washed, leaving you vulnerable to bacteria and certain sexually transmitted diseases.” If you do find something interesting, make sure it comes with tags or in the original boxes.
Don’t buy: Electronics you can’t test
With electronics and appliances, the situation can be pretty unclear, it’s not just that they either work or they don’t. A coffee maker, for example, may power on but sputter when you want to make your coffee. A laptop may be tempting but it might have a very slow processor. “If the store does not offer the ability to test an electronic or appliance before purchasing and will not allow returns, pass on the item,” advises Appleton.
Buy: Kitchen gadgets
“Thrift stores are a great place to pick up novelty kitchen gadgets,” says McBride. “Many of them were impulse buys, used once or twice, and then donated.” To make sure the item you want to buy does not come with a box, instruction manual or other elements essential to its functioning, do a quick online search while you’re in the store. In addition, run a test drive to see if it’s operational and not a complete waste of money.
Buy: Wooden furniture
You don’t have to be the luckiest man on earth to be able to find sturdy, solid wood furniture at thrift stores. “Whatever your style you will find quality pieces in abundance at great prices at most thrift stores,” says Stacy Verdick Case, of Peony Lane Designs. Dovetail joints, where two pieces of wood connect, are particularly interesting to look for, says Verdick Case, as it is harder to pull apart. She recommends staying away from nursery furniture, including cribs, as such products are constantly recalled and might put your baby’s safety at risk.
Buy: Board games
If you want a new board game, you might need to pay around $20. Luckily, you can find the same board game at a thrift store at a fraction of the retail price.
“We’ve picked up a few favorite games from our childhood that are in great condition but no longer sold in stores,” says Jen Panaro Honestlymodern.com. Before making the purchase, check all the pieces and make sure nothing is missing. In this sense, Panaro suggests skipping used jigsaw puzzles. “After placing 499 pieces, the missing puzzle piece is such a drag.”
Buy: Basic kitchen goods
If you want to replace or replenish your cupboards with bowls, plates, mason jars, and other ceramic, you can find quality items at thrift stores. “Check to ensure the pieces are dishwasher safe if that’s important to you,” she says. Stay away from used plastic containers, because they absorb the remains of food that they were kept inside and could contain dangerous BPA and PVC or other chemicals.
“Whether it is priced to sell on the shelves or requires a little bit of negotiation, the price point is always way less than if I was to purchase the item in a high-end or brand-name store”, says Taylor Spellman, the CEO and creative director of Taylor Spellman New York, interior design and staging firm.
Don’t buy: Anything upholstered manufactured before 2010
“Never buy fully upholstered pieces unless they are exactly what you want and were created later than 2010,” warns Verdick Case. “Pieces created prior to 2010 contain harmful fire retardants that you don’t want to bring into your home.” More than that, some of the upholstered items could come with bed bugs of their own so make sure the item was sanitized before it was put up for sale. Products such as Sterifab are useful against bedbugs, fungus, and mold.
Buy: Books and records
“Thrift stores have an amazing selection of brand new or gently used books, especially if you are looking for books strictly for decorative purposes,” Appleton says. Even better, you can remove the paper covers and display a vintage look. “I love finding different-colored bindings to bring color to a shelf,” Spellman says. “A personal favorite is creating a pile of books that goes from purple to blue on the spines.”
And while you’re at it, check out the nearby vinyl collection. Some people don’t recognize a real treasure when they see one and are quick to get rid of their boxes in the basement. Lucky for you, because record stores sell and buy used vinyl too, but they usually have a higher price.
Buy: Maternity clothes
Thrift stores can become your go-to place if you want a closet full of stylish maternity styles, just like your favorite Hollywood celebrity. Not only will you find the best bargains but maternity close are also in very good condition because they were worn for a few months only.
“Maternity clothes can get expensive as you need to get many pieces from work to casual clothing. Buying used maternity clothes is a great way to save money, cash that will come in handy for those upcoming baby expenses,” says Jacqueline Gilchrist of Mom Money Map.
Buy: Baby clothes
Similar to maternity clothes, you can find baby clothes at thrift stores in great condition because babies grow up quite fast and don’t get to spend too much time in their cute outfits.
“I’ve purchased several gently used or new (with tags) baby clothes from Gap, Carter’s, and Roots—and even one from Burberry—for only a few dollars each at thrift stores,” says Gilchrist. Not to mention that when your baby wears secondhand clothes, it’s not that big of a deal when he/she spits up or poops on the clothing.
Don’t buy: Makeup
“It’s difficult to tell if the makeup is expired as there is often no expiration date, even if it’s sealed, “Gilchrist says. “Expired makeup can cause breakouts or an infection like a pink eye.” Also, pay attention to health and beauty products that are not manufactured in the United States, as the safety standards might be a little different. If you’re looking for great deals on makeup, Goodwill is a good place to start as they buy all kinds of unsold clearance items from Target, says Gilchrist.