10 Things to Look for in Thrift Shops

I love to thrift shop and I think over the years I have gotten pretty good at it. Being in the right place at the right time and having access to decent thrift stores helps but I also have learned what to thrift shop for. I do not browse each and every rack, pile, and shelf of items. That would take too much time and too much patience. I spend about 30 minutes in a thrift store. That’s usually all the time I need.

With enough experience to know what I am most likely to find in secondhand shops, I save myself time and frustration by looking for certain items. My search changes as my wardrobe evolves and as trends come and go.

I have compiled a list of 10 items I look for in thrift and consignment shops, items that I see quite a bit of in secondhand shops.

 Most of these trends are my style but a few are Tori’s, my 18-year-old stepdaughter. We love to thrift shop together and I always pay attention to what she shows interest in so I can be on the lookout for things for her.

In no particular order, here are the 10 things that Tori and I look for in thrift shops:

 1. Patterned Silky Blouses

Easy to dress up or down, these colorful, loud and fun blouses are making a comeback since their heyday in the ’80’s. I see dozens of them in the racks at thrift shops. Look for real silk or a silky polyester that’s easy to launder. I like wearing my blouses with distressed denim for a stylish and casual look.

 2. High-waisted Jean Shorts

This is trend I am skipping for myself but Tori looks darling in hers. She makes a beeline for the “mom jeans” and grabs a pile of them to try on. For her, the higher the waist, the better. She cuts them off, gives them a wash or two then pairs them with a cropped sweater or tank top for a trendy summery look.

 3. Costume Jewelry

I have great luck with chunky chains, cute plastic beads from the 1960’s, long faux gold necklaces and rhinestones. I also browse antique shops that sell costume jewelry for some great finds and low prices.

 4. Boyfriend Blazers

The ’90’s boyfriend blazer is everywhere in thrift shops. I can’t tell you how many of these I passed up last year but now I actively search for them. If you want to wear this trend, prepare to get used to shoulder pads all over again! For those of us over 40, we might find it weird and familiar at the same time.

 5. Graphic Tees

As a 40-something, I do wear graphic tees but I don’t cut mine up, but Tori does. She likes to find ordinary tees which are always in large quantities at thrift shops, then gets busy with a pair of scissors cropping, fringing and loosening her tee. Look online for more ideas on what to do with a thrift shop tee shirt and a pair of scissors. It’s a popular trend right now.

 6. Denim Jackets

I have acquired about six secondhand denim jackets over the years. For some reason, it seems to be an item people are willing to part with. Some are faded and old – which I like – and some are dark denim with a fitted structure like this Sundance jacket. If you’re looking for faded and can only find dark denim in the thrift shops, bleach it until you get your desired shade.

 7. Formal Dresses
I see dozens of formal dresses from bridesmaid frocks to prom dresses to wedding gowns. If you’re not set on buying something new (that will probably see the outside world once) then try a thrifted formal gown next time you go to a dressy event. Tori found this pink ombre dress for just a few dollars. You would think she bought it off the rack at a department store.
8. Clutches

I can’t think of a handbag that is more popular than the clutch this season. Yet I see them all the time at thrift shops: suede, faux leather, satin, embossed leather, and metallic. Inspect bags carefully. I often find reasons to leave handbags behind at the thrift store. But if the issue is repairable, take it to your local cobbler to fix.

 9. Long Skirts

These four skirts were all found in thrift shops. The two on the right were thrifted in Europe. The floral print was found in a friperie in Paris and the off-white denim skirt was a gift from a reader who found it at a Rome charity shop. My guess is that long skirts are hanging around in thrift shops all over the world. Look for long skirts in varying lengths from just past the knee to maxi length. And remember, a good seamstress can hem or take in your find.

 10. Oversized Sweaters

Another look from the ’80’s, the oversized sweater, has come back into style. Shop the men’s section for the biggest and baggiest. To wear this trend, pair your giant sweater with leggings and short boots like Tori did, or you could try skinny jeans or even a pair of leather shorts.

One thing about thrift shopping is you never know what you will come across. So while these are the 10 things I look for in thrift shops right now, I always leave myself open in case I stumble upon other treasures. Who knows, I may come across a real Louis Vuitton bag, diamonds that were mistaken for rhinestones or a fabulous camel coat!

It’s great to have both a methodical approach and the expectation of surprise when hunting at the thrift shop.

If you’re a thrift shopper, what do you look for?
xo, Adrienne


  1. August 27, 2013 / 2:29 pm

    You are an original “thriftster” ! hipster + thrifter, as I call my Eliza. She travels high and low to different Sal’s places ( salvation armies) and goodwill shop. She recently scored beautiful vintage Frye boots on half price wednesday. I think she paid five bucks!

  2. August 27, 2013 / 3:36 pm

    Adrienne, I have not been thrifting that long, now that I am, I love these tips and hope you will include more in future posts!

    2013 Authors Series
    “Love Where You Live”

  3. August 27, 2013 / 4:05 pm

    Adrienne-You are a thrifting pro!! This is the perfect post to organize my thought process about thrifting. I love how you broke it into sections and showed examples. I can get a little overwhelmed with too much to look at so I like the idea of focusing on certain pieces. Your animal print blouse looks exactly like one I had years ago-loved it then and you make it look so fresh. Good thing you didn’t have that Vevier clutch with you on Sunday or I would have been drooling over it. Fab!!
    Have a great get away!!
    xx, Heather

  4. August 27, 2013 / 4:15 pm

    Lovely post A;) Love you very much!!! Had fun taking pictures with you!

  5. August 27, 2013 / 4:17 pm


    You definitely have the thrift shopping down to a science! There is a thrift store that I pass every week when I run errands but either it’s too early (they aren’t open yet) or I don’t have time to stop in. I really want to go check it out because it has gotten good reviews. When I do finally get around to it, I will have your list to refer to!


  6. August 27, 2013 / 7:22 pm

    Great post! I looked in similar areas when I went to the Salvation Army in Ithaca last weekend. I mostly look for scarves, handbags, costume jewelry, blazers, and blouses. I also can’t leave without a trip to the book section because sometimes there is some vintage treasure waiting there for me! XO, Jill

  7. August 27, 2013 / 9:53 pm

    Now we’re talking! You’re a pro, Adrienne! Although I’m definitely seeing a decline in quality items locally I definitely scour thrift stores for jackets and petite sized items, which are surprisingly hard to find in the retail stores. I also buy all of my loungewear such as sweats and shorts from thrift stores. My rule is if I’m not leaving the house in it I refuse to buy it new!


  8. August 27, 2013 / 9:56 pm

    Great tips here! I think you and Tori both have a good eye for the unique items! The young girls look so cute in the high waisted shorts. You look terrific in those printed blouses. I had a gorgeous one back in the 90s! Only wish I still had it!


  9. August 28, 2013 / 3:35 am

    YESSS! I have bought each of these items from thrift stores and I love them. Such good bargains can be had at thrift stores.

  10. August 28, 2013 / 6:13 am

    Adrienne… excellent post… makes me want to run down to our goodwill! Your advice about having pieces already in mind to look for and keeping it to 30 minutes… really will cut down on the overwhelm for me. I have been very lucky at finding decorating pieces at thrift stores.. but not so much with any fashions. I do better at flea markets because I don’t get so overwhelmed Armed with your professional advice… I am excited to give thrift shopping a go again! You know I am forever on the hunt for brooches :)) By the way, I saw that Forever 21 also has the necklace bases in a small array of colors.

  11. August 28, 2013 / 7:19 am

    Hi Adrienne,

    We have a couple fun thrift stores near-by and it’s been ages since I’ve visited them. Wonderful shopping tips!


  12. August 28, 2013 / 9:30 am

    Just randomly found your site. Love your ideas!

  13. August 28, 2013 / 9:32 am

    PS – I added your post to my fb site:


  14. August 28, 2013 / 11:03 am

    Hi, I found your site via 40+style.com and I love it! Especially this post on thrift store shopping, (or charity shops as we say in the UK!), I have a Lifestyle blog myself but haven’t been brave enough to post any pics of me yet, maybe I will! I hope you don’t mind if I steal your post idea, I’m a lover of second hand/vintage too (although I seem to end up with far too much china!) www.lifestylebycaroline.com

  15. August 28, 2013 / 12:59 pm

    I wish we had better thrift shops over here! You both always seem to be so lucky with your purchases.
    And I am always amazed about Tori and you – she could be your daughter, you are both beautiful with the same lovely smile!

    Annette | Lady of Style

  16. August 28, 2013 / 5:19 pm

    Okay, I think I can do Thrift Store shopping with a purpose now. Thanks for the suggestions.

  17. August 29, 2013 / 12:01 pm

    Fabulous post! I found you via 40+style blog and I’m so glad I popped by. I’m a bit of a charity shop (British word!) fiend myself and agree with you on the printed blouses, I’ve picked up some lovely silk ones. My weakness is vintage china, even though I really don’t need any more! I hope you don’t mind if I steal your idea and do a similar post although I’m not brave enough to model my purchases! www.lifestylebycaroline.com

  18. September 12, 2013 / 8:55 pm

    These are great suggestions!

  19. Grisel
    March 29, 2014 / 7:44 pm

    I love thrifts stores its fun releases stress and you find hidden treasures for less!

  20. Alena
    June 18, 2014 / 8:50 am

    I’ve been doing thrift stores for a long time. I love finding long dresses. They often are sleeveless so I like to wear a summer jacket with it or denim jacket.

    I want to advise about something in secondhand stores. This may not be a common issue but I recently experienced bugs in my home and I could only relate it to thrifting. I’m not sure but it’s so important to either wash everything you buy first or at least put it in a hot dryer. My sister thrifts a lot too. In hot weather she leaves thrift clothes in her car for about 3 days to decontaminate anything that might be there. That isn’t a pleasant thought but believe me, you do not want bugs in your home. They aren’t easy to get rid of and are so worrisome. But I’ve never experienced this before, from thrifting for years. It would probably be an extremely rare experience, if at all. Just be wise and happy hunting.

  21. Kathy
    February 13, 2015 / 2:13 pm

    I will shop for kids clothes in thrift shops. I have gotten great stuff for the kids there.

    The thrift shop in my town has clothes organized by color and size. I just shop in the section that is my size and colors that I like. I have found all sorts of things over the past 2 years I’ve been thrifting; blazers, sweaters, cardigans, dress pants, jeans, skirts, scarves, dresses, a really cute denim jacket. The ‘mom jeans’ shorts look so cute, but I’m not sure if I could pull it off like Tori. 🙂

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