Ask Painfully Hip: How do you make great finds at the thrift store? or How to be a thrift star!

Ask Painfully Hip: How do you make great finds at the thrift store? or How to be a thrift star!

Hi Amber!

I just recently discovered your website and I thoroughly enjoy the photos you post of fantastically stylish, but very unique-looking women. I am making it my goal this year to seriously explore, research, stomp around the city, do whatever I can to source out cool thrift stores. So here comes my frank question. These women look so amazing and seem to find great items in thrift/vintage shops. I, of course, will not overlook the fact that what they exude of their character in their ensemble contributes to how interesting it looks. But where are they finding these cool pieces? I find myself feeling just….boggled…by where I need to go to find something as interesting as what these girls wear. Perhaps I am not dedicating enough time or patience to digging through the racks? Are there any stores, or tips, you could suggest? Thanks for your time and have a great day!


Thanks Nadia!
I know. My mind is boggled daily at the genius of our thrift stars. However, before you get too intimidated, you should keep in mind that quite a few of our most featured ladies are professional thrifters! They make it their job to find boggling pieces to resell on eBay, so they spend much more time than most of us playing dress-up and filling their closets (and ours) with glorious, glorious vintage. So don’t get too down on yourself! That being said, here are a few tips to help you in the time you do spend with your nose in the mothball-scented racks.

1. Head for the hills!
Skip the picked over thrift stores that are right in the middle of the city. You’re getting what’s left over when all the hip kids that live there (and work in the thrift store) have made off with all the good stuff. Go to the ‘burbs where old church ladies are pricing vintage lacoste shirts at 50 cents.

2. Be there first! Have a score-gasm.
Most thrift stores have certain days when they put out their “new” inventory. Ask the clerks and find out when that is. Get there early that day and you won’t be disappointed! Perhaps an almost new pair of Irregular Choice shoes worth $80 (seen it!)? A skinny vintage leather bomber? A Pucci scarf…? Its a treasure hunt. Just yesterday I scored an Oscar de la Renta corduroy blazer in perfect condition for only $3.


3. Context, context, context…
I cannot overstate the importance of a good sense of context. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the hideousness that engulfs the racks. Muumuus, terrycloth jumpsuits, tawdry christmas sweaters, stretched out bicycle shorts, mom jeans… In your hurry to sift through it all, you might nonchalantly skip over your new favorite piece. Try to make a day for yourself when no one is waiting for you when you can take your time and just try on everything. Get to know what looks good on your body, what would fit with your current wardrobe, what makes you feel happy! Think of how the piece would look with your favorite pair of jeans or new moccasins. Some ridiculously 80′s sweater might look totally hip with your edgy haircut and designer ankle boots. If it tickles you, TRY IT ON! Don’t be too quick to toss it aside because you don’t think you can pull it off. Challenge yourself!

80s sweater80s sweater

…Also, don’t stay stuck in the women’s section! If you’re petite, check out the kids section for a shrunken blazer or a little dress you can wear as a top! Or head over to the men’s section where you can find oversized cardigans or some nicely cut trousers. Think about ways you can alter things as well. Maybe that dress is overly precious as is, but hem off a few inches? A sophisticated mini dress.

4. Play dress-up.
This is the fun part. Get all your loot home, pour yourself a glass of wine and spend a day ransacking your closet. Maybe invite a good (open-minded and positive) friend over for a second opinion, but remember you’re trying to challenge yourself. Try your new finds on in different combinations and with different hairstyles. Try layering them under and over things you already have. Try different colors of tights, different kinds of shoes and accessories. Go crazy, loosen up. Get used to seeing yourself in a new light (repeat to yourself, “I’m a thrift STAR!”) and maybe soon you’ll have the confidence to wear some of your crazy concoctions out of the house.

5. Post on Wardrobe Remix.
One of the rules of wardrobe remix is to post an outfit that you actually wore. So do it! Swallow your self-doubt and rock your new finds! The cool thing about wardrobe remix is that the more creative you are, the more good feedback you tend to get. And the more good feedback you get, the more confident you’ll feel.


6. Don’t have time for all that? Spend a little more money and shop online or in vintage boutiques.
Keep in mind that most vintage pieces, however used, will usually be better quality and last longer than a gauzy $9 sweater from Forever 21, not to mention the sweatshop free, recycling karma points you earn when you purchase them. So if you have too little time and a bit of extra money to spend, eBay, online vintage shops and boutiques are a worthwhile alternative to thrift stores. They have stylish people doing all the digging, legwork and quality control for you. Some stores even hire stylists who will put the clothes into context with current trends on a hip model. Here’s a list of some of my favorite online shops to get you started.

Billie Goat Vintage
Liebemarlene Vintage
The Olive Shoppe
Sally Jane Vintage
Vintage Revolver
PastModern Vintage
La Meow Vintage
Tin Roof Vintage
Mill Street Vintage
California Vintage Connect
Indie Cult Vintage
Vintage Amour
Get a discount with coupon code PAINFULLYHIP at:
PenelopePups Vintage
ModCloth Vintage

27 comments to Ask Painfully Hip: How do you make great finds at the thrift store? or How to be a thrift star!

  • This post is terrific. Next time whenever anyone asks for my unexpert opinion on thrift shopping I will send them here! I definitly agree the finds are better outside major cities, I live in the middle of nowhere and find the best pieces and at the best prices (sometimes). In the end I think thrifting is highly a practice in patience and persistance.

  • emma

    fantastic post, especially the links to the ebay thrift stores!

  • amazing advice!! that is seriously exactly what i did last night! went to goodwill and went home to play, was excellent!! i joined wardrobe remix today, thank you for the suggestion!!

  • Great Post! I can tell you put a lot of thought into it! also, accessories make the biggest difference too. Getting some new scarfs, purses, tights, jewelry etc might be all you need to freshen up basic attire (and accessories are usually super cheap at the thrift store as well)

  • This was a wonderfully informative post – you guys rock the thrift world. I must mention the lovely Tangerine Boutique that I came across recently. Although the design is lacking, the vintage finds are delightful, especially the shoes and full, 50s style skirts that are so on trend this season.

  • Don’t forget Sally Jane Vintage, hers is one of the best ebay stores. :)

    As for thrifting, I think those are all great tips…it can be so frustrating thrifting in the middle of Chicago and so whenever I am in a small town I insist on stopping into thrift stores. One more tip I’d share is to look at things while thinking about how to alter them…I especially do this with floor length granny dresses, many of them can be hemmed into retro minis.

  • I would also like to add the ebay stores, sleepyheadvintage and maki maki vintage. Both have really amazing nice stuff. Vintage of my dreams stuff.

  • I buy all my vintage dresses and accessories on Ebay (there are not thrift stores in Italy). I love Ebay US for clothing and Ebay UK for shoes. Check regularly the sites, so you’ll be sure you’ll don’t miss the gems!

    For more great sellers, check out this link: :-)

  • Stoatallysophie

    Call me cynical but… one of the reasons all your thrift stars look so hot and cool is because they are all beautiful skinny girls (I know there is the odd exception, but very rare) Even though Sherbert tone is a self proclaimed curvey girl, chubby she is not. I’m not trying to pick a fight, I think all the women you feature here are gorgeous stylish fashionistas, I’m just saying, being a hot thrift star is easier when you’ve got more to work with – finding vintage is easier, finding clothes that fit and look good is easier and pulling them off is definitely easier. I know it also has A LOT to do with confidence, and maybe this is why there are less of them out there but it would be lovely to see some larger, mid-sized ladies make it into your thrift stars if they do, indeed, exist.

  • Holly P

    I love the Score-gasm! My favorite was finding a vintage Diane Von Furstenburg jersey print dress in a thrift store — in a small city in Minnesota, of course. It was $4.

  • Robin

    here are some tips if you live in Vancouver, (BC)
    take advantage of the 2 amazing Value Villages,
    there is one on Hastings and another further up commercial drive..there are so many finds there! you just have to be in the mood to really look and pick through everything.. I usually start at the shoes, and move to jackets coats, then dresses etc. just have an article in your mind, look for fit and also if it has any stains or how it smells.. it’s such a thrill to find something one of a kind.. I usually end up wearing it around the store..

    also don’t forget about the little sally anns that populate main st.
    Also my favorite vintage shop is on granville st. called used, it’s up some steps and I always find something at a reasonable price.

    I used to live in Vancouver, but now I live in NYC which can be even harder to find great vintage cheap.. it’s all overpriced here, and everything is picked through.. there are some jewels.. but I’ve taken to ebay or the big vintage sales.. nyc isn’t cheap!

    hope this helps


  • Nadia

    I have to say a thank you to Eve and Amber for the tremendously helpful answer to my question. The comments have been great too! And to Robin, I do live quite close to the Value Village on Hastings and I recently found a great little dress there! It’s a navy wool Valentino dress that was a matronly length, but I had it hemmed. Now it’s a cute little shift dress (it’s loose-fitting on my body) and I feel so proud of my discovery! It’s very much inspired me to search out pieces that I can make my own :) Thanks for the tips!


  • I think these are really fantastic tips! Truly! I would add that going to a high quality vintage store to really get a feel for eras and fabrics helps you to in turn spot the gems at a thrift store. I worked in a vintage store for some time, which helped me to learn the ropes – what to seek out.

    Also, sototallysophie: While I do understand what you are saying, I really do think that anyone can find great vintage. The entire reason I fell in love with the fifites is because it is literally cut for curvy women. And I cannot tell you how many great 60s shifts I have found that would work for just about anyone. Even I have days when I think that fashion is only for the REALLY skinny girls – but then what? Wear sweatpants because I am not what the high fashion media shows as ideal? Who are they to make anyone feel less than their best? Pull it off because you CAN. I know you can.

  • I absolutely adore Liebemarlene Vintage. She’s not only gorgeous, but she has an amazing sense of personal style rooted in her own unique interpretation of history.

  • good advice. i find things because of thrift shopping OCD, it takes alot of time and energy, i cant stop thinking of what might be there, so i go everyday.

  • I loved the advice and the best of them was ” 2. Be there first! Have a score-gasm.”. I find your Blog very informative on fashion trends.
    keep up the goodwork!


    Fashion Evangelist
    We Blog at

  • This post is a true classic! I read it in January when you ladies published it, but since then I have returned to this post and revised your excellent advises like a zillion times. Many thanks for this great post. I hope you won’t mind me linking the post and your blog.

  • [...] is a perfect illustration of my thrifting advice regarding context. See this hanging on a rack in a thrift store and, yeah its cute, albeit a bit [...]

  • [...] to look totally fucking current. Hurrah for quirky accessories and chic haircuts. Its all about context. spread the hip [...]

  • Cherilyn

    I completely agree, it’s all about context! If you go into the thrift store just expecting things to jump out at you, you will most likely come home with nothing. You have to imagine things in outfits!

  • [...] Check out Amber’s thrifting tips as well in this related post: Ask Painfully Hip: How do you make great finds at the thrift store? or How to be a thrift star! [...]

  • Sheilamichelle

    i live in Miami, fl and there are barly any thrift shots and if there are there not cheap!

    uhghhh your so lucky!

  • me too I agree with this post so informative, go mornings on thrift stores you will find the good stuff and also the sale days be an early bird…

  • This trailer was alright, but hold off until you can see the whole movie. If you’d like to watch the entire thing – and several top rated hit movies – look at the website below. It will be possible to securely watch anything and everything straight? to your screen..­­m

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge