How to Effectively Thrift Shop for Modest Clothes

Last weekend, before leaving for tax-free Delaware, my mother-in-law told my husband, Rob, that he should take me shopping while we were there. When we got back, she had a confused look on her face when he told her we had gone to Goodwill.

It’s the truth. I fancy shopping at thrift stores. I think I would go to them even if I had the luxury of unlimited money on my side. There’s just something nice about walking through a menial and overlooked place and bringing home treasures of timeless tapestry and vintage has-beens. It just makes me feel fantastic to spend only a fraction of what I know I would’ve paid elsewhere.

If you are already a frequenter of your local Salvation Army or Goodwill, then you will find this post very helpful to keep in mind on your next spree. If you aren’t, I hope to bring out the nifty thrifty in you without compromising high fashion tastes and values.

  1. Keep a general list. Either in mind or in hand, try to remember what you need or want. You need this list to be fairly general because you have to expect that you’re not going to find Givenchy peep toes in beige. This keeps you from being disappointed but also helps you to have an agenda and not spend your entire afternoon at the store.
  2. Do not be intimidated by the size of the store or distracted by the way the clothes are organized. It’s easy to get lost in the ambiguity of the setup of most thrift stores. You might see women’s shoes displayed in every corner of the store or see a lot of misplaced items. The organization varies from place to place, but spending time in these places will help you get acquainted easily.
  3. Sift through patterns, colors, length, etc. It can be fun and adventurous to try to look through every piece of clothing on every rack of every lane of the store, but it can also be very tiring and time consuming. Look through the racks swiftly, and watch out for patterns, colors, lengths, or specific styles that stand out to you. Looking only to buy below-the-knee skirts? Look at the bottom part instead of the top as you slowly walk through the aisles.You can run your fingers through the clothes briskly and maybe even consider the fabric while you do this. Sure, you might miss an amazing spring dress by blitzing through the clothes like a speed reader. If this happens and you find out about it, then don’t be too hard on yourself. Consider it not meant to be, and cherish the prizes that you did successfully manage to dig up.
  4. If possible, wear socks, a tank top, and a slip as undergarments while you try on second-hand clothes and shoes. This is mostly for sanitary reasons. Don’t wear anything too bulky. You will want to have these items fit on your body as if you are wearing nothing but skin. For shoes, bear in mind that the way they fit might change significantly depending on the socks. Basically, try everything on before buying.
  5. Inspect everything about the garment. Keep in mind that you are buying used clothes, shoes, and accessories in a place that does not offer a money-back guarantee. Make sure to watch out for tears, stains, missing buttons, etc. If you are not willing to have these repaired, then put the clothes back on the rack. On the other hand, with a little creativity and hard work, you might just be able to heal a wounded skirt.
  6. Tailor over-sized but worthy garments. If you cannot find the time to do this, cannot sew on your own, or do not want to pay to have alterations done, just use safety pins to taper the sides of a loose skirt or shorten tall pants. I recently fell in love with a skirt that almost touched the floor and was about five sizes too big. These minor setbacks didn’t deter me from buying it for its amazing bright floral pattern. I wanted to transform it into a bubble skirt. It was perfect! If you have the skills in home economics, then you can also try to get cheap fabrics (at a retail store or online at Fabric) and make your own clothes!
  7. Visualize mixing and matching. Since you can’t bring your entire wardrobe with you, visualize how the items you’re getting are going to work with what you already have at home. Looks can be deceiving, so you should always try everything on. Being modest does not completely limit you from buying that fabulous shirt that has a great pattern but a low-cut neckline. Visualize how you can add a shell underneath to cover your chest. Just make sure that you aren’t tempted to wear that shirt alone! To be on the safe side, I would just avoid that type of clothing altogether. However, for the times when you just have to have it and still want to be modest, you can get some great shells online from Kosher Casual and Tabeez.
  8. Look for quality, uniqueness, and sophistication. Ironically, while you always want the thrift store price, you generally do not want to look like you are wearing thrift store clothes. Buy pieces that are truly treasures and not something you could’ve gotten from any other department store. The bad habit to do while shopping in general is to get everything that is cheap. This should not be the case especially in thrift stores, unless you want to buy the entire store and/or consequently end up looking poor with a low-brow sense of style. Ultimately, you should never compromise your fashion tastes and values of modesty for the price of cheap, kitschy clothing. There are specialty modesty shops if you just want to look through a catalog full of modest apparel: Christa-Taylor and Shabby Apple to name a couple.
  9. Check out the accessories. The jewelry section might be less intimidating to look at because it is usually just in one small area. Try and have an open mind as you look through the pieces. Be creative. A necklace can be used as a headpiece, rings can be transformed into pendants and add sparkle to scarves, and pins can be worn on blazers, hats, and purses.
  10. Wash the clothes before using them. Once you get home from your excursion, toss everything in the laundry right away before you forget. You do not want to end up smelling like another woman (or orange juice for that matter) while you are with your significant other!

Did you know that you can also shop for Goodwill’s inventory online?

That’s all for now! More from this saga later. Do you have thrift shopping tips you would like to share?