The Ultimate Guide to Warehouse Thrift and Discount Shopping

Have you ever walked into a warehouse-size Goodwill or an enormous discount shop like TJ Maxx or, my absolute favorite, Gabriel Brothers and just been absolutely overwhelmed? No worries, I got you. From the time my mom dragged me around junkin’ as a tot to my more recent – and savvier thanks to Merin’s business brilliance – shopping days, I have been honing the skills required to tackle these types of stores and come out with the hands down most stylish items of the lot. Now, for just $29.95, I will share this brilliance with you. Just messin’. I’ll give it to you for free (lucky duck).

Step 1: Scope it out

Don’t expect to find brilliance on your first go ’round. And I don’t mean your first lap around the store – I mean visit the store 2-3 times in a no pressure (i.e. you’re not looking for the perfect holiday dress) situation. Try to do this over the course of a month or two to get a sense of clothing turnover and restocking cycles.

If you’re in a discount clothing store like TJ Maxx: take note of which brands they’re carrying and what their general aesthetic is. Are they more interested in trends? staples? Do they have a lot of prints? Or solids? Do they have a special section for purses? Also note their general price ranges.

If you’re shopping thrift: notice the types of clothing they carry. Are they getting more skirts and jackets? or accessories? Also, evaluate how the clothing is organized: by color (You haven’t truely thrifted until you’ve shopped a store that organizes by color.)? by clothing type (jackets, pants, etc.)? And note their system for differentiating sizes – are they a small, medium, large type of place? and what does small mean to them – where do you fall in their taxonomy?

Step 2: Plan Your Needs

Now that you know what types of clothing the store carries, consider your ideal you. And now consider what your ideal you is wearing. And now consider which of those items this store is the most likely to carry. Make a list of those items.

Step 3: Map it Out

Visualize the layout of the store, and consider where your items will be potentially located.

Step 4: Bring an iPod, or if you’re uberhipster, a Walkman

Put on your favorite song when you walk into the store. And not a sad one. No Mazzy Star Fade into You. Think Madonna. Keep your head up and walk with sass. This intimidates others, which will come in handy for Step 5.

Step 5: Attack (When Steps 1-4 Come Together to Make Magic)

In the 3-floor enormous Forever 21 down the street, a woman literally flew at me screaming about how I was touching the shoes she wanted this past Friday. This woman was insane, but also I had to respect her fervor. I don’t recommend accosting other people in the store, but if you’re in a more metropolitan area, it’s necessary to put your war paint on – but on the inside, ladies, keep it on the inside. A hate stare will generally suffice. And the occassional aggressive stance.

You’ve scoped out the situation, decided what you need most, and visualized where it is in the store. You know exactly what you need and where to find it. Visit those sections first and spend most of your energy there. And by energy, I mean, rip through the racks – but be nice and pick up items that fall to the floor. Shopping etiquette is important, pay it forward.

Step 6: Walk the store

What if you’ve missed something amazing in the dresses because you’ve been exerting all of your energy to find the perfect pleated front, high waisted linen pants? Do a walk through of the entire store to make sure you’re not missing anything. Don’t look through all of the items – just walk the aisles looking for interesting prints and nice fabrics. Don’t be afraid to casually paw the items. We’re getting down and dirty here – it’s okay to touch.

Step 7: Brag to Your Friends and Be Nice to Your New Clothes

Good job. Now, rub it in all of your friend’s faces. And don’t forget to tell them how much you paid for each item. Because there is nothing like the, “I paid $1.99 for this Diane von Furstenburg wrap dress,” story. It’s true. But there is also nothing like the, “I paid $1.99 for this Diane von Furstenburg wrap dress and then put it in the washer and shrunk it,” story. Also true. Even though you paid less than expected for these items, take proper care.

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5 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to Warehouse Thrift and Discount Shopping”

  1. Emma says :

    @Cecilia via Facebook:

    Love this! Great post, Emma. As usual, Birds of a Pleather keeps it real. Just a few other tips.
    1) If you go to the Bins, wear gloves and be very careful when sorting through the bins. I’ve had friends get stuck with needles and such. But with vintage treasures potentially available and for sale BY THE POUND, it’s totally worth it. Just be careful.
    2) Have a great tailor who is good with tailoring old clothing. You can find an amazing piece for $2.50 that doesn’t quite fit, get it tailored for $20 and have something that fits you perfectly.
    3) Unless you’re a freak like me and get literal butterflies in your stomach when entering a thrift store, learn to scan. Emma offered some great tips for this, but another tactic is to scan the racks by running your hands along the fabric. You can tell a lot about an item without actually pulling it out just by the way it feels and the color or print. That will allow you to quickly find pieces that may work for you.
    4) RE: bringing a friend (also a great idea) – bring someone whose fashion sense is amazing but different from your own. They can help you envision possibilities you wouldn’t be able to on your own.

  2. Emma says :

    @Eir Anne via Facebook:

    oooh sounds good. If you’re as nutty as I am, try to figure out when your fave store puts new items on the floor. For example, Gabriel Brothers (in Morgantown) tends to stock on Wednesdays – the late afternoon is the best time to go. However, Friday mornings are best for the Lexington branch. Make friends with someone who works there, even if it’s just saying hi and smiling whenever you see a familiar face. I’ve had employees hook me up “we have a new stack of X in the back, let me bring it out” is like music to my ears. Even websites have schedules for posting new items, Anthropologie tends to put new sale items online on Tuesdays. If you’re really picky or a difficult size, you could gain an significant advantage by familiarizing yourself with stock schedules.

  3. Emma says :

    @Mira via Facebook:

    I prefer a more free form approach in which I immediately lay on the floor upon entering a store. At that point, I simply begin rolling…knowing the universe will take me to whatever I’m supposed to find.

  4. Emma says :

    @Karyn via Facebook:

    If you are going down and dirty thrifting, you have to dress for success. Wear a skirt because there may not be a fitting room. Then you’ll be able to slip on pants and skirts without mooning other shoppers. Also, wear shoes that slip on and off easily, shirts that aren’t too bulky, etc. Oh and eat beforehand or pack a ‘noli bar, there’s nothing worse than having to end a trip early due to hunger-induced thrift store fatigue.

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