What I Wore: Vintage 1980s navy blue pussycat bow blouse with white Swiss polka dots (thrifted); black sweater vest (thrifted); vintage mid century rhinestone scatter pins (estate finds)
I had the great pleasure of meeting Melissa of PurpleDeer Vintage earlier this week for a leisurely afternoon of caffeine-fueled thrifting in her new cross-bay home of Berkeley, CA. As I usually thrift alone, it was nice to have a like-minded soul with whom I could klatsch and to whom I could go for confirmation on what Nina Garcia would call 'my taste level.' Though we didn't get to talk much about our thrifting technique (and, yes, as with any sport, there is a technique to this game), we did seem to observe many of the same basic thrifting principles (e.g., 'hoard now, edit later'). Below are some of my own strategies for effective thrifting. Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section.
PS: Sorry about the bad puns in the title. I'm weak.
Pictured Above: PurpleDeer demonstrates thrifting rule #1 ~ Be nice to the people who run the shops (especially if they're vested with the power to adjust prices)
Huzzah's Guide to Thrifting For Success:
Do take your garments off the hangers before getting to the register
This ensures that busy and/or merely careless cashiers don't accidentally damage your garments in their rush to keep the line moving. It also helps to mitigate the ill will of the customers who had the bad fortune of queuing behind you.
Don't reveal that you are a vintage dealer/seller
At many smaller, independent thrift shops, you may find that prices are negotiable; once the employees learn that you are a dealer, they are not. (This rule does not apply at estate sales, of course, where dealers constitute the majority of the customer base.)
Do pay careful attention to items at the ends of racks
This is where other savvy ragpickers have likely left the pieces from their haul that they ultimately decided against. Keep in mind that most thrifters are shopping for themselves and therefore often cast off otherwise amazing pieces because of fit. As a dealer, you're not limited by your girth.
Don't edit your hoard in a dark corner of the store
Find a window and preferably a flat surface on which to lay out your garments and inspect them for stains and structural integrity. Use this time, also, to consider the marked prices of the garments and whether you can turn a profit on them. If haggling is an option, determine the highest price you're willing to pay for a piece, and mentally prepare yourself to say something a bit smarmy like "What's the best price you can give me on X?"
Do include a 'sniff test' in your final edit
Moth balls and cigarette smoke will soon become the bane of your existence if you're sourcing garments that reek of these smells. Though it is possible to remove them from many fabrics, it requires additional time and effort that will eventually become unsustainable. Since your sniffer will need to be in good order for the test, avoid wearing excessive perfumes or deodorants on your thrifting expeditions.
Don't leave your haul sitting in a bag once you get home
It's tempting, after a long day at the racks, to throw your overstuffed bag of goodies into a corner until you're ready to deal with them again. (After all, you did just spend a great deal of time inspecting each and every piece.) But keep in mind that the less time your garments spend bunched up in a bag, the less time they have to wrinkle and the less steaming you'll ultimately have to do before the photoshoot. This strategy also helps to prevent the spread of any latent odors among your haul. (There's nothing worse than pulling out a forgotten bag of garments that now all smell like a pack of Marlboro Reds because of one rotten apple that escaped your attention at the store.)
Do keep in mind that you're working when you're thrifting
Have a plan of attack, and perhaps even an intended route, when you enter a shop. As a thrifter, you know that there's nothing more annoying than those shoppers who start perusing a section right next to you when you're clearly 'working' a rack. Don't be one of those erratic shoppers who bounces from shiny object to shiny object, and don't let them stop your forward momentum to paw at an item in your path. Shoot them a stern yet civil "I'm trying to work here" look and they'll usually gallop off to another reflecting pool.
Do remember to bring wet naps or hand sanitizer with you
Though I don't understand the origin of the mysterious black soot that seems to coat every hanger in every thrift store, I know that I am powerless against it.
From Lauren: Don't assume that a garment's previous owner stuck to 'dry clean only'...or didn't, as the case may be
From Mother Midnight & Empress Jade: Don't forget to check the armpits and groin areas of the garments lest you end up with some funky items in your otherwise sanitary domicile
From Robyn: Do hold garments up to the light to check for inconspicuous holes, paying special attention to garments with wild prints that might distract the eye away from such imperfections
From Paige: Do ensure that moths don't destroy your knits by subjecting the critters to two extremes, freezing and electric heat drying