12 Tips for the Thrifty Fashionista

Imagine with me, if you will, yourself back in school – high school, college…pick your poison – and you are allowed to choose your own study for one lesson, one chapter, one semester. What would it be? What would be your perfect subject to study? Your dream lesson? Without even having to be asked, I got that opportunity with the first book and assignments of my last unit, Unit 8. I’m sure you can picture my squeals of joy when I discovered we were studying…you got it...thrift shopping! Could anything have been more tailor-made for me?!

When I was growing up, second-hand shopping was definitely not a “thing”. Nobody did it, and if they did, you certainly didn’t talk about it! There was the odd Salvation Army or Goodwill Store around, but they were reserved for the truly down-and-out person and you would never admit to having shopped there. But, the thrifting world has come a long way, baby! Not only is it acceptable, it is considered down-right chic in some circles! Celebrities are now thrifting – both for the eco-factor (did you know that discarded clothing is the #1 item clogging landfills in this country?!) as well as for the uniqueness factor! Anyone with moolah can go and grab a look from off a mannequin, but it takes a little more thought and creativity to take items that are older, not “out there” any more, and find ways to make them look cool, chic, sophisticated and make those looks your own. Whether you call it “thrifting”, “second-hand shopping” or “style recycling”, this is an excellent way for both the eco-conscious and the budget conscious fashionistas to bolster their wardrobes!

Lauren Michelle bell-sleeved cardi ($3); Effortless Style by Citiknits pleated bell-sleeved dress/tunic ($3); dangle earrings (gifted); brown riding boots (clearance Ross $19)


Dress/tunic without the cardi – I love the sleeves on this!

For those of you not really familiar with the thrifting world, there are really three primary categories of stores that fall under the heading. There are traditional Thrift Stores – these are stores like Salvation Army, Goodwill, Savers and numerous privately owned that take donations for their items – sometimes selling housewares, as well as clothing, shoes, jewelry etc. These are normally the least expensive stores. Often part of their profits go to charitable organizations. Next you have Consignment Shops. Consignment shops will have people bring in predominantly clothing/shoes/accessories to sell. The shop then splits the profits, frequently on a 60/40 basis, though that can vary, with the seller. In these shops you can usually guarantee a more selective, higher quality item. Often they require items to be no more than 3 – 5 years old. Because these stores are sharing profits with the original owner, expect their prices to be a little higher. Finally, you have Vintage Shops. Don’t confuse vintage with thrift – it’s not the same thing. To be vintage it must be at least 30 years old and have a value that has increased over time. There are many factors that go into making something increase in value as it ages. If you are truly interested in vintage clothing and vintage done really well, let me recommend popping over to Suzanne Carillo’s website! I have never seen anybody do vintage better than Suzanne!

My personal love for thrifting started in my 20’s and was simply the result of being broke and having four little kids! There was a small thrift shop walking distance from our house and once a month they would have a “fill a trash bag for $5” day. I would go down – all four kids in tow – and stock up for the kiddos, my hubby and myself! That was the first thrift store I had ever been in and I fell in love with the concept. Not long after this, my husband passed away and a good friend introduced me to another shop, consignment, that was near where the kids and I ended up having to move. She took me there to consign my late husbands clothing and I saw that I could run an account to get things for the children. This was a God-send for a new single mom! From these beginnings a “Thrifter” was born!

Alice & Trixie silk dress thrifted from ThredUp. Retailed for $286; purchased for $11.90

I’m now to the point in my shopping life where I find that “regular” shopping just doesn’t thrill me the way thrifting does. Don’t get me wrong – a good shopping trip is always fun – but, there is something about thrifting…it’s like a treasure hunt! What little piece of gold am I going to unearth today? A diamond? A ruby? Maybe a whole treasure chest full? The thrill of finding that Betsey Johnson dress for $5, that Dolce & Gabbana bag for $9… As I said earlier, anyone can go and grab a look off of a mannequin. There’s no challenge, no creativity in that. That’s what I enjoy – the hunt, the challenge, the creative output. Isn’t that what fashion should really be about – putting our own unique soul into what we wear?!

So, if you’re new to second-hand shopping and are interested in getting your feet wet here are a few of my tips to get you started.


12 Tips to Be a Thrifty Fashionista

1. Set a budget. When you see things so inexpensive it’s really easy to get carried away and just throw everything into your cart. Unfortunately, then you get home and find yourself broke and with half a dozen things you’re never really going to wear. Set a basic budget ahead of time and stick to it.

2. Know When to Put It Back. If you have to stand in the mirror and hem and haw, and go back and forth over an item, then you don’t need it! If you don’t love it, don’t buy it! Period! Even $2 wasted is $2 wasted. A good question to ask yourself is, “If I were in a retail store paying regular prices, would I still want to buy this?” If the answer if “no”, put it back! Also, ask yourself, “Do I own something very similar to this?” Let’s face it, no one needs 5 black blazers in their closet. So, if the answer is yes, put it back!

3. Follow the Rule of 3. Before you buy something, picture your home wardrobe and make sure you can wear it in three different ways – for instance: Is there a way you could style it for a work outfit? Is there a way you could style it for a date night? Is there a way you could style it for running errands on the weekend? If you know you could get three different looks out of it, you know you’ll get your money’s worth. (exceptions to this rule are specialty items: dresses for formal occasions, swim wear etc.)

 4. Always Shop Up and Down a Size. This is used clothing. Things get shrunk, stretched, taken in, let out, mis-sized etc. Don’t be afraid to look in other sizes or you may miss out on something great!

5. Always, Always, Always Try Things On! Did I say always?! This is a rule whether you’re thrifting or in any other store! Sizes are not standardized in the clothing industry – at all! By anyone! Not even within the same manufacturer. So even if you’re usually a size 8 in Simply Vera at Kohl’s one time it DOES NOT mean you’ll be a size 8 in Simply Vera next time. This is especially important when thrifting because 99.9% of all thrift shops do not take returns.

6. Inspect then Reflect. Inspect carefully for rips, stains, missing buttons, zippers etc. Then reflect, is this an easy fix? Is this something I can fix myself? Is this garment worth fixing? Is it fixable by a tailor? Is the garment inexpensive enough and nice enough to make it worth getting tailored? If the answers are NO, put it back!

7. Experiment! Because these items ARE so inexpensive, this is a great time to try colors, styles, textures and fabrics that are new to you. Be a little daring and bold. If you find it doesn’t work for you in the long run, you didn’t invest a lot and you can always re-donate it.

8. Quality over Quantity. Ok, I’m going to tell you right off that this rule of MINE is different from what my unit book says, and maybe what some others say, but I’ll give you my reasoning. You can choose whatever line of thought works for you. My unit book is working under the assumption that you are a person who can and does afford to shop retail/ “mall stores” (i.e. Chico’s, White House Black Market, Nordstrom etc.) on a regular basis. Therefore, they’re saying when you thrift don’t bother with these better brands, you buy them all the time new anyway, save your thrifting for experimenting with the fun, bolder, trendier things. (See my rule #7) IF that’s true of you, they’re probably right. HOWEVER, that is not true of me, so it is not my rule and not how I thrift. I ALWAYS shop quality items first! 85 – 90% of my wardrobe is second-hand. I have no problem with that. But, I do believe in quality items. I believe at 50 years of age I’d rather have fewer items that are better quality, more sophisticated, chic items that truly represent me, than a ton of cheap, overly trendy pieces. Thus, I always shop the famous label racks first. Many shops have higher end labels set aside in their own section. If not, knowing your brands and quality workmanship is a plus.

9. Don’t Overlook Accessories. Accessories are the heart and soul of your wardrobe. They are the quickest (and often least expensive) way to go from frumpy to fabulous! So make sure you drop by the jewelry, scarves, belts, shoes and purses!

10. Grab It When You See It. Things disappear quickly in second-hand shops. When you see it, grab it right away. Don’t think you’re going to walk around the store and think about it. Chances are it will be gone by the time you come back. Carry it around with you and think about it. You can always put it back later. The larger populated the area you live in, the more important this is.

11. Be Patient and Prepared. Thrifting is not necessarily for the fainthearted. It’s not something you do on your half-hour lunch break. My average time in a shop is 1 1/2 – 2 hours. It takes time to sift through each rack. And, unfortunately, some stores are better organized than others. You need to go into your shopping excursion with full understanding and fully prepared. Wear comfortable clothes. Put a protein bar in your purse and a bottle of water. Take a smaller, cross-body purse so it’s not as cumbersome to carry around. If you’re prepared, it will make the experience much more enjoyable!

12. Be Polite! Both to other customers and to employees! I have seen and heard about some pretty rude behavior in thrift shops, but I have also seen and been the recipient of some really gracious behavior! You reap what you sow! In my favorite shop, I frequently have had customers ask my opinion on clothing choices, and I have asked theirs. I have one store employee who, if she knows I’m in the store, will come and get me if she sees something special she thinks I’ll like. One time I had a store employee give me her Friends and Family discount on a special employee day. (I got a suede Prada purse for $10!) Manners matter!

Moth Cardigan – retailed $89 – purchased $13.28 (ThredUp); Marc Jacobs ankle jeans retailed $158 – purchased $20.30 (ThredUp);Ann Taylor Leopard cami ($3); Old Navy ankle boots ($3.5) Earrings ($.99)


If this all still feels too overwhelming for you, there are still options if you like the idea of thrifting. You could hire a stylist – like me! Almost every stylist works as a personal shopper, as well, and either with you or on her own, will go shopping for you – even to thrift shops. If that idea still isn’t for you, there are several wonderful on-line options. Two of my favorites… I’ve told you several times about Thrift Boxes from Janeane Pittman from Designing From My Closet. For a set fee of $100 she will curate 3 – 4 thrifted looks for you. She does an excellent job and I can personally, highly recommend her service!

The second on-line service that I’ve just recently started using myself and have absolutely fallen in love with is ThredUp. ThredUp is an actual on-line thrift store. They carry children’s and women’s clothing in everything from your average Gap and American Eagle brands to high-end brands such as Marc Jacobs, Nanette Lapore and more. Whatever your taste and budget, you can find it on ThredUp. As well as shopping on their site, you can also consign your clothing with them and keep credit in their store for future shopping. They will send you a large, postage paid bag to fill and send back. They are, however, very particular about what they take. They will give you a list of their requirements. Anything they don’t take will be donated to charity unless you request otherwise. Another perk of ThredUp is, unless an item is on Final Sale (basically clearance), their clothing is returnable within 14 days of when you receive it, postage paid. This is a huge plus in the thrifting world. I have made several purchases from them and been absolutely thrilled with the quality and condition of the items I’ve received.

As you can see, Thrifting is a vast and varied arena that is growing rapidly. I hope you take some time to dip your toes into the pool just a little to experience this eco-friendly, wallet-friendly, creativity enhancing side of the fashion world!


Until We Meet Again!



(the necklace at the top of the page was thrifted at my favorite shop for $.87!)

9 Replies to “12 Tips for the Thrifty Fashionista”

  1. I know exactly what you mean….it used to be a hush hush practice…and now it’s fun!! Really it’s like a treasure hunt to me—-you never know what you’re going to find!
    And you really get some fabulous deals where you go shopping—I’m always in awe of your finds!!


  2. Thanks Jodie! It is such fun! I’m so glad it’s come “out of the closet” and getting the recognition it deserves! I love the challenges you’ve done on IG that really draw attention of how great you can make thrifted clothes work. They’re such fun! Love seeing what others have done!


  3. You know you are speaking my language with this one. It is the way I can get quality items. I’ve been purchasing vintage Escada and Rodo of Italy since 2003 on eBay. Back then, that was the only place for me to find the quality I was hunting for. This was long before any online consignment stores and back then the thrifts, at least where I live, really didn’t have wonderful items like they do now.

    I just came back with a sack full of things i found In Joplin yesterday. The 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month is their senior 25% off days. Great post-I am glad you are talking about this. I noticed that Jodie came out with a post this morning on the same subject and you know me-my 2nd Loved 1st Friday linkup is one of my babies.

    Do you read The Frugal Fashion Shopper? Penny in Britain really only does things she thrifts and her take is pretty cool. I would check her out if you haven’t already.
    Take care, Terri


    1. You know, Terri, I’ve never even checked out what’s on e-bay. Online always scared me away because so many places won’t let you return if there’s an issue. Suzanne from AskSuzanneBell is the one who turned me on to ThredUp. And I JUST saw that Jodie had a ThredUp post this morning! Can’t wait to go over and read it!

      I’ve never heard of The Frugal Fashion Shopper! But, I’m always interested in other thrifters! I love seeing how others put things together. It’s just so fun to see all the creativity out there! I will definitely check it out! Thanks for the heads up!


  4. Ronnie, this is a well written and informative post that I’m saving for future reference. Thank you for takin the time to share with us. Eager to get back into the thrift game!!


  5. Very nicely written Ronnie! It’s so funny to me how far thrifting has come! It used to be so taboo for sure. You can find some nice items thrifting We called it going to garage sales! Lol.


    1. That’s so true, Marietta! I remember my mom being horrified at the idea of going into a Goodwill store when we were kids, even though we definitely didn’t have a lot of money. Now, it’s such a chic thing! Day before yesterday I had an AMAZING thrift day – probably my biggest find EVER! Got a ton of stuff anyway…$108 Betsey Johnson tote for $5…A STILL tagged $155 cece Elle Italian dress for $10, and, my favorite find, a pair of purple studded Piccolino heels, originally retailed at over $700, for $7.50! How fun is that?!


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