Fashion-able: Thrifting Tips

Come January, we find both our wallets and clothing a little stretched. If you’re fighting the urge to spend on new clothes, consider adding to your wardrobe while sticking to a budget with a few vintage or thrift store finds. We love a good hunt through racks and racks of odd clothing, in hopes we’ll spot that one perfect find hidden behind the moth-eaten sweaters and ’80s sequined dresses. Here are some tips for making the most of vintage shopping.

Go prepared to work

Cranky, tired, rushed, heavy bags, uncomfortable shoes: all setbacks to your search! Good thrifting calls for much more patience and persistence than regular shopping. While the thrill of the hunt energizes diehard thrifters, most of us need to be in a good head space to sort through racks of stained, ill-fitting articles for buried treasures. 

Where to start?

Bonus tip: wear a cross-body purse, so you can have two free hands to rummage through boxes of accessories. Also, wear a close-fitting outfit for slipping into your finds over your clothes.

Know what to look for and skip the rest

Enter the store with a plan and know what you’re looking for to keep from getting frustrated or overwhelmed. We love buying “fast fashion” brands like H&M or Old Navy in-store, but these can be passed over when shopping second-hand. They don’t hold up well to wear and tear from previous owners. Skip them. Ditto for the T-shirt racks. 

Mitzi Cocoa

Night Lights blog

Spend your time searching for well-made blazers, dresses, coats and skirts. These items are often worn less frequently before being donated, so they’ll be in better condition and you have a greater chance of scoring a fabulous item. Also look for scarves, jewellery and inexpensive accessories.
It’s a fun and very affordable way to spice up your winter wardrobe.

Check all sizes

Sizing varies depending on brand, country of origin and decade. Expect to size up considerably when trying on vintage dresses or skirts. Pull items of interest off the racks to see the size, rather than flicking past based on the tags. In stores that group items by size, check sections with smaller and larger sizes than you’d normally wear.

Quality checks

The holy grail of thrifting is finding authentic, undamaged Dior or Chanel that the shop owner has overlooked. While it happens enough to keep the myth alive, it’s much more likely that you’ll be looking at garments that are unlabelled or that you don’t recognize.

Use these quality indicators to get a sense of what you’re looking at:

  • Lining: if the manufacturer took the time to put a lining in, they probably took care with the rest of the construction.
  • Seams: high quality garments have finished seams (the edge of the garment isn’t a raw edge, it’s carefully and cleanly stitched under). Patterns on fabrics at seams are aligned on well-made items. 

A lovely finished seam. 

Image source

  • Fabric: check the tags for fabrics like silk, wool, cashmere, cotton and linen. Try to avoid items that are primarily made of synthetic materials, unless you’ve scored a sweet polyester suit from the ’70s. Exceptions made for that.
  • Condition: use a critical eye to check for stains (especially under the arms; bring your nose into this one, too), tiny holes, rips, missing buttons, broken zippers, or fabric or stitching that is overly worn or stretched. You may be able to do some repair at home, but judge carefully to determine if it’s salvageable and worth the effort. Realistically, are you going to replace the buttons, re-hem the bottoms and stitch the three tiny tears?

Seek inspiration online
There are fantastic fashion blogs dedicated to showing and styling thrift store finds. Check out these sites for inspiration on how to modernize thrift store purchases so they’re wearable and hip. Some of our faves are My Edit, by Hamilton-based blogger Jentine, and Night Lights by Mitzi Cocoa in British Columbia.

Jentine from My Edit in a thrifted skirt and sweater.

Be smart with your money
Know your prices and be smart. Don’t be cheap, but at the same time don’t overpay for items that you could purchase new for a few dollars more. If there are too many “ifs”: this will be cute if I shorten the hem, this will work if I wear a sweater over it, this will be great if I lose/gain 10 pounds, then pass. It’s not a great find if it sits at the back of your closet until you continue the cycle and give it away.

Favourite spots in Toronto

While there’s an unwritten rule that a good thrifter never divulges her spots, these are a few spots to check out in and around Toronto:

  • Kensington Avenue and Augusta Street in Kensington Market: A bit picked over and sometimes overpriced, but worth a look. Don’t miss Courage My Love and Bungalow.
  • 69 Vintage: Carefully curated finds. Less digging through Grandma’s castoffs than most places.
  • Salvation Army Thrift Store: Classic spot for thrifting, with lots of stock and quick turnover.
  • Goodwill: Similar story to Salvation Army.
  • Value Village: Controversial in the blogosphere due to perceived over-pricing, but worth a look. 
  • Out of Town: A lot less picked over and more likely to have a true “treasure”. Check out Talize (Mississauga, Hamilton, London, among others), Bibles for Missions (across Ontario) and the usual suspects (Salvation Army, Goodwill, Value Village). 
  • LAB Consignment: Designer goods at a fraction of the price. Toronto’s fashion set consign their barely-worn duds here.

Do you have a favourite thrift store in or around the GTA? Spill it! Tweet us @rockitpromo.