Meet my friend Rachel Melvin. Not only does she star alongside Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in “Dumb and Dumber To” but she has an amazing blog, The Spotted Owl, and is an all around awesome human being (we first bonded because she wanted to feed the homeless men and women on skid row with me, she isn’t afraid to scold strangers for littering, and she saved a puppy from being killed by the breeder. Seriously people, awesome human being).
When I first met Rachel, I found myself admiring her killer style and thinking that she surely spent a fortune building her amazing wardrobe. But my assumptions were shot down time and time again when her answer to, “Where did you get that?!” was almost always, “Goodwill!”
I had never even considered shopping at a second hand store and became increasingly curious to learn her tricks for finding such incredible gems. As it turns out, she has a ton of helpful tips and after spending 45 minutes together in our local Goodwill, we both left with bags full of awesome loot. Rachel scored a beautiful Rachel Zoe sweater and black skinny jeans (pictured above) and I found this chic, cream coat for only $9!! Check out Rachel’s guide to thrift shopping below and let me know what you find!
THRIFTING 101 With Rachel Melvin
How many times have you asked someone where they got their incredible something you just had to have, only to be told it’s one of a kind and was found for a bargain at a second hand retailer? It’s the worst! Primarily because most of us think thrift shopping is reserved for an incredible talented few who seem able to do it so frequently, with such ease. The best items of their outfit or apartment are most often revealed to be vintage aka. a thrift store – other times they’re just from Urban Outfitters. While it may seem you’ll never be able to master the art of thrift shopping for yourself, I’m about to show you how easy it is, and how anyone can learn a skill most people fear.
Ask anyone why they stay away from thrift stores like Goodwill, and you’ll get the same few answers:
- They find it stressful (it’s too overwhelming for them)
- They don’t find it hygienic (they don’t understand the items or how they end up there)
- They never find anything good (they aren’t skilled at it)
- They get too embarrassed (they’ve yet to get over themselves in life)
When your budget forces you to rely solely on these stores, however, your eyes are opened to a whole new world, and you rarely go back to the old one.
In practically every outfit I wear, there’s at least one item purchased from a thrift store. By mixing your inexpensive finds with investments pieces, you’ll have a polished look people will love, inquire about, and rarely suspect involved a second hand store.
The first step to thrift shopping like a pro is having the knowledge of what the stores carry and why. Knowing how the items end up there makes sifting through what seems like endless racks, a quick, simple, and efficient process.
STEP ONE: UNDERSTANDING HOW THE ITEMS END UP THERE
Avoiding judgment and getting acquainted
Where did this come from? Why is it here?
1. People donate items they don’t want:
- Bad gifts
- Items one already has in excess
- Items that no longer fit
- A style one no longer cares for
- Items bestowed upon someone through a death in their family
- Items they deem “ugly”
- Items they’ve replaced with newer versions
Most of the time it’s good stuff, in great or even new condition. One time I found a brand new, never used fondue set from Pier One Imports for six dollars. Some people simply think it’s easier and more worthwhile to get a write off for tax time than to take the time to post something on eBay that may or may not sell.
TIP: A lot of the time people donate items without thinking about what they’re donating. Their loss could be your financial gain with some quick research from your smart phone, or general knowledge.
2. People donate items that are broken, stained, defective, etc.
- Broken Zipper
- Hole in fabric
- Missing button
- Knot in a shoe string
- Missing parts
- Ugly color
- Doesn’t work
Those are just a few examples of the reasons I’ve found things discarded at Goodwill. It never ceases to amaze me how someone could throw away or donate an item they deem useless, when a simple, inexpensive, and small repair can revive it. Just make sure you factor in the cost of the repair into how much the item is. Is it still less expensive than buying a similar item, new? Also, what is the true value of the item? Perhaps the cost of the repair is relatively minor compared to its overall value after.
NOTE: Truly broken items likely WILL NOT make it past the donation center into the retail space. However, you should ALWAYS double check that electronics are in working condition before you purchase them.
3. Unsold items from department stores.
Ever wonder what happens to merchandise that doesn’t sell even after a final sale? Companies often donate the remainder of their stock to second hand stores for shelf space. That’s why you’ll often see items with their original price pages still attached.
Now that you have an understanding of how items arrive at second hand stores, you should be excited and ready to find the good stuff.
Like any successful shopping trip, it’s best to have an idea of what you’re going in looking to find. This will help keep you focused and make your experience less time consuming, stressful, and overwhelming. I call this process “seeing with your blinders on.”
STEP TWO: SEEING WITH YOUR BLINDERS ON
Eliminating “stress,” “anxiety,” and feeling “overwhelmed”
How can you go to Goodwill without losing your mind?
1. Making a shopping “grocery” list
A shopping “grocery” list consists of items missing from your home or wardrobe collection that you are either looking to add, replace, or that you actually need. This can be anything from household knick-knacks to kitchen appliances to pieces in your wardrobe.
2. Visualizing what you want to find
Have a very clear idea or vision of each item on your list, almost as if you’ve seen them in a catalogue and are trying to find something similar. Know the shade, fit, style, and size that you want or need of each item you’re looking for. The more specific you are, the more narrowed down your search, resulting in less stress and feeling less overwhelmed by all the options.
3. Knowing what you like
Personally, I’m always going for horizontal stripes, polka dots, soft textiles and greys. The fabrics, patterns, colors, and even designers you tend to lean toward most often, will jump out if there’s awareness. This generates more success because it encourages you to keep going if you feel you’re constantly noticing things you like, versus blindly sifting through things you don’t, trying to find something you might.
4. Knowing the layout of the stores
Once you know what you are out to find, it’s time to understand how the store is arranged so you know exactly where to look. “Departments” often include Men’s, Children’s, Household, Electronics, Furniture, and Women’s. Racks are organized first by article type (skirt, jeans, shirts, sweaters, jackets, dresses, etc.) and then by color.
STEP THREE: THRIFT SHOPPING LIKE A PRO
Making your shopping excursion as quick and successful as possible
How can I find the good stuff in good time?
So you’ve made it to the store and you’re ready to get in, get out, and get great stuff for a great price. Here’s how it’s done.
1. Refer to your list and head to the corresponding area of the store. Begin “seeing with your blinders on,” looking only for the colors, patterns, and/or textures you’re shopping for.
2. Look at the size after you’ve found something you like. I first look to see if the item looks like it will fit before looking at its actual labeled size. I do this because sometimes a SM or an XL might be a junior’s or a men’s thrown into the wrong section. If it looks like it will fit, off to the dressing room.
3. Try the item on that you’re considering to purchase for three reasons: 1) It gives you the opportunity to see how the item fits and feels and if it’s worth it to make any alterations. 2) It gives you the opportunity to discover any defects. Sometimes you’ll see a hole, find a stain or missing button, or notice a broken zipper. Then you can decide if it’s worth it to repair. 3) It gives you the opportunity to see what other people have tried on and left behind. A lot of times, these dressing rooms aren’t cleaned out between fittings and you can find a ton of great options hiding behind these doors or under the piles.
4. Stalk the items you like that are not yet in your possession. As mentioned, people leave things in the dressing room or put them back on a hanger if they have a change of heart or if it didn’t fit correctly.
5. Do a final swoop when you’re done shopping, to see if there’s anything you might be able to make a buck on. A lot of times, especially in LA, you’ll come across designer items on the racks. Sometimes there’s money to be made if you’re willing to resell the item online. Other times you may find a unique piece that wasn’t originally on your list that you love and simply have to have. Or, you may discover a great gift for an upcoming occasion.
NOTE: Also look for ugly things you can make cute with an instant face lift using metallic spray paint. An ugly owl figurine can turn into a chic home accent for under $5.
6. Ask for the sales of the day as most second hand stores have a rotating tag sale. On any given day a different colored tag will be marked half off. Also inquire about discounts for senior citizens, war vets, military, students, etc.
7. Know the store’s policy. At Goodwill, you are able to return items unwashed and unworn (ironically) up to seven days after purchase with your receipt for a full refund.
Check out The Spotted Owl to see more of Rachel’s Goodwill finds!