Thrifting for Trends

Little-known fact: Thrift stores are a FANTASTIC place to shop for the current season’s hottest trends. Seems ass-backwards, no? Why would a place peddling secondhand stuff be a goldmine for of-the-moment pieces?

Because, friends, nothing is truly new. Designers may present fresh mixtures of colors or pairings of fabrics, and a new shoe shape emerges every so often … but most of the “hot new trends” are only trendy because someone of import SAYS they are. And the bald fact is that someone of import probably said the same thing about 15 years ago.

Everything old is new again. Just think about some of the hippest styles for Spring 2009:

Pegged, pleated slacks: I can tell you right now that the VAST majority of slacks in thrift stores are both pleated and tapered. Ripe for the pegging.

Stacks of big bangles: Snap ’em up for $0.50 apiece!

Maxi dresses: Anyone heard of the 1970s? Hells, anyone heard of the last two springs? Floor-length summer dresses are plentiful at many thrift emporia.

Destroyed boyfriend jeans: You could pay $300 for a meticulously ruined pair … or $3 for a pair you can ruin in your own special way. Or even $2 for a pre-ruined pair in a size up!

Neon: Helloooooo ’80s! Neon pieces have been languishing unloved in secondhand stores worldwide, just waiting for a resurgence of interest in the 1980s. And now it has finally arrived.

Florals: If you’ve got a pair of scissors and a sewing machine, you can work wonders on the endless floral dresses that crowd the thrift store racks. Blouses and skirts abound, too, in my experience.

Hot pink: Weeellll, any COLOR-based trend will be easy thrift-pickings.

Rompers and jumpsuits: Maybe a bit harder to find than some of the others, but since this is a tricky trend that is likely to fade fast, you’re better off searching around for a cheapie than laying down your dough for something spendy.

I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Whatever the mags are deeming must-haves this season have been thusly deemed in the past, loved for a few sweet months, and abandoned. Take advantage of the cycles of style and thrift for your trendy accents.

Now, we all have our thrifting limits and mine are hosiery and hair/head stuff. I won’t be nabbing my cropped leggings or feather fascinators from ARC’s Value Village. Many people also feel squeamish about thrifting shoes … and although I have no qualms myself, I’ve never successfully thrifted trendy, of-the-moment shoes. Aside from mainstays that cycle in and out – combat boots, platform pumps, and similar – you’re unlikely to find the season’s hottest footwear lining the racks at Salvos.

But if you invest some time and energy in scouring the racks of your local Goodwills, Salvation Armies, and the like, you are almost certain to come up with armloads of trendy pieces for pennies. And while it might be faster to hit Target or Wal-Mart to procure such goodies, thrifting them means you’re giving your dollars to a good cause, helping recycle discarded goods, AND getting a version of a trendy item that no one else within a 100-mile radius is likely to own. You are a donor, a champion of the environment, and a true style original all at once.


Images courtesy vistavision.

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38 Responses to “Thrifting for Trends”

  1. casey

    Great points! I’m always a bit amazed when the fashion mags declare a “new” trend–usually because it’s been around before! 🙂 I don’t tend to shop for trendy pieces in the thrift shop (I dress to the beat of my own drummer; if trends intersect with my own aesthetics, great! ;). But I do find that the idea of finding something that is at least close to what I’m looking for, is a good strategy to shop with, regardless of what I’m hunting for. Adapting something to my exact needs is what being a Thrifty Shopper is all about! 😉

  2. K.Line

    Thrift stores are great for this -definitely! I don’t so much thrift as vintage shop (the slightly more $$ version of the activity). I do this because I’m usually looking for earlier silhouettes that aren’t as available in thrift stores (and I don’t have all the time in the world).

    For 40s and 50s stuff I think vintage stores take the hours of flipping through racks out of the equation. And, with clothing from that era, well curated pieces are much safer (they’re in better condition). Vintage is still a great, cost effective way to go when exploring certain trends.

  3. chic

    Yes! I love thrifting and couldn’t agree more with you! S.

  4. Lydia

    I have been pouring over thrift stores since I was in 2nd grade–they are wonderful!

    AND, yes, I agree–it takes more time than a first-hand store, but you can find wonderful, amazing, CHEAP, current trends that sometimes just need a little tweeking or editing to be perfect for today. 🙂

    Love this post!

  5. Christine

    Lately I've had really, really good luck finding new items in thrift stores. Generally one year behind, but what I've found are good basics. Black & grey plaid heavy cotton trench coat. Capris. Wool pants.

    I also sew, and I've scored fabric at thrift stores as well.

    I'm pretty picky when I thrift. I only buy things that are in good condition & fit well. I don't mind hemming, but I don't want to worry about major alterations, generally.

  6. Clare

    I totally agree! I got some great khaki trousers today that I assume belonged to a short, chubby legged man but are high waisted, pleated and have tapered legs on me, brilliant!

  7. dinaper

    I don’t shop trendy, since most trends are not for a short, solid woman who doesn’t want (or is not able) to wear 5 inch heels. I grew up in the 70’s and can not believe that the maxi dress is back. Ugh. Like most other trends, that’s one that works best on the tall and skinny gal. Anyway, must admit that I don’t spend any time shopping at thrift stores for clothes or much else, but it’s fun to read of your finds there and it makes me want to give it a whirl!

  8. futurelint

    For some reason, when people shop at stores like F21 or H&M for trends, to me it just seems like "cheating"… I know most people want fashion that's fast and cheap and accessible, but for me, I want it to be special and unique and just for me… I do have stuff from Target and DSW, but mostly I try to get the trends from thrift stores, just so I'm not wearing the exact same pieces as everyone else and so that the pieces are special to me. I think as long as you've got a good eye and some patience, trends are all over the thrift store!

  9. WendyB

    It’s sad to think of neon languishing unloved someplace when I’d be happy to love it! Loved it in 1985, still love it now 🙂

  10. a!k0

    🙂 Hmmm I agree with you, altho I wish we could have a lot more stores like that here, I live in Asia, I think that’s what I love about Thrift stores…everything you need at a lower price…heaven 😀


    One thing about thrift shopping is that we have to have the patience to dig for the tresures…which unfortunately is not one of my virtue…But I've done them in the past & found true beauties…Must find more time + patience…still looking for the perfect capelet now. ~XO*

  12. wimbittworld

    I honestly buy most of my clothes from thrift stores. I wear only skirts, no pants. Skirts are super easy to thrift. I think mainly because other people do not wear them much. So, lots of nearly-new skirts show up on the thrift racks.

    I like to thrift costumey jewelry too. I love chunky bracelets and bulky, knobby necklaces. People drop those off at the donation center all the time.

    I do not thrift for trends. I have my own “style” and shop only for that. Not that it is really a style. Just what I like and it has nothing to do with what is fashionable 90% of the time. But, it works for me and I can reach in my closet and be dressed inside of 5 minutes most days.

  13. Shelley

    I’ve been thrifting for years. Only problem is my favorite goodwill just made their items all one price…short sleeve = $5, coats = $20 just to name a few, since when is a pit stained shirt worth $5?

    best way to thrift is to find a good neighborhood. you can find more name brand items and quality fabric.

  14. jslewis27

    We had the greatest vintage store in my hometown…I found so many gorgeous cocktail dresses there! Sadly, the sweet lady who owned it has since passed on and the store closed. Living in the “we wear whatever’s on the magazine cover” El Paso, I find that our thrift stores are sadly lacking in anything original. Trendy, spandexy, oh yes. I love scouring my local Goodwill for Target clearance items. Apparently, Target donates all final clearance to Goodwill. The other day I found a cute peasant like skirt with the tag still on, for only $2.50. I get a lot of my business casual work clothes there. My best find since living here is a pale grey wook coat with huge fur collar and cuffs.
    The hubby and I are getting ready to make a trip back to our hometown and my sis and I are going to visit as many thrift stores we can find in San Francisco while I’m there.
    I can’t wait to see what I find!

  15. ohhoneyno

    i thrift for everything, except intimates and unmentionables. i LOVE the fact that literally half my wardrobe is thrifted, and when someone compliments me, i love being able to say in that offhand way us thrift shoppers know so well, “oh, this old thing? $2 at the salvation army!”

    i passed on a rather gorgeous maxi dress last week though, and i’ve been regretting it since. sigh… maybe i should go back and check if it’s still there…

  16. The Budget Babe

    so true! and so budget friendly! i’ve been looking for a leather jacket, jean jacket and fun scarves at thrift stores, all on trend an all things best found at a thrift store 🙂

  17. Simple Elegance

    I used to be much more of a hard-core thrifter than I have been lately. Recently, I’ve been buying far too many of my clothes at the mall, which is part of what led me to need a budget. Also, I hate it when I buy something new and then see someone else wearing it. Thrifting solves both these issues. Still, there are some things I won’t thrift, like undies, hoisery, swimsuits, hair things, and sandals.

  18. pretty face

    For me, vintage shopping is a random process which seems to yield purchases only rarely. But then, they are always timeless and used many times over. I don’t know why that is but it works…

    PS Sal you were SO right about the nail polish 😉

  19. Gillian

    I mostly shop consignment because thrift stores still freak me out. That, and in going to my nearest consignment store (and old work), I get to be horribly rude to my ex-bosses. Clearly I’m not into taking the high road with them….oops.

  20. fashion herald

    Currently I'm working the "husband jeans" look. But so true, I used to also look for beautiful old slips as summer dresses and layering, but they are more difficult to find & $$ these days!

  21. The Seeker

    Sounds exciting and great to find real “precious”, but here we have no thrift stores. It’s a pity!!!


  22. ♥Jozee

    Werd. Thrifting can be great. Alas, where I live, the thrift stores are always picked clean!!

    There is one downside to the thrift store… and that is the smell. Mehhhh.

  23. Leanna

    Mostly everything I own these days comes from a thrift store, so it’s lovely to read this! In truth my shopping there is more of a necessity thing, but I’ve always prided myself on still managing to find chic things on a limited budget.

  24. Allie

    I looooove thrifting 🙂
    I’m still on the hunt for my Levi’s 501 and peg leg trousers. I refuse to buy them in the mall!

  25. oh lady e

    NO THRIFTED SHOES. I can’t do it. Something in me heaves slightly at the thought of thrifted shoes. Which is odd, because I have no trouble borrowing shoes from friends.

    I need to thrift more, definitely.

  26. Sandra @

    Fantastic post! I too thrift most of my clothes. Although I love vintage, I don’t only thrift for vintage. Most of my work attire is thrifted and I love looking for skirts and cardigans.

    But my all time fave thing to thrift is accessories – bags, jewelry, belts. Swoon. Thrifting is like a treasure hunt. The only trends I’m thrifting for right now are 80s blazers, avant garde dresses, and always jewelry.

  27. Karla

    Yes! I totally agree… 85% of my wardrobe is thrifted, and I can’t imagine returning to conventional retail. I love the thrill of the hunt!

  28. Sister Wolf

    The thriftshops I go to are all full of crap by Forever 21. The sheer volume of stuff that store churns out is terrifying!

  29. Sharon Rose

    Hi there-thrifting for trends is the only way to shop, LOL! I’ve been lucky lately, in finding some cute ankle boots, for my size its hard to get shoes and boots that I really like!

  30. La Belette Rouge

    I am not a thrifter. But I am endlessly amazed at what high-style you manage at such a great price. I think it takes more creativity and patience to thrift for trends than it is to pay full price.

  31. BAM

    When we were growing up my mom called them ‘secret stores’ and my sister and I thought it was a big treat b/c we always got more than if we went to Pennys. We still frequent ‘secret stores’ and laugh if we notice that the other one hasn’t removed the telltale pricetag staple after washing. It’s still the best way to add to your wardrobe.

  32. Sharon

    I decided a few years ago that I was always going to choose “looking good” over “being trendy”. Sometimes fashion intersects with my personal tastes, but it usually doesn’t, so oh freaking well.

    Something to consider, though: You can get current-ish stuff at a thrift store. There have been many times when I’ve bought something, worn it once or twice, decided it just wasn’t me, and donated it to Goodwill just a few months after I bought it. Surely I’m not the only one, right? In my area, Target, Sears and Kohl’s donate a lot of their unsold merchandise to Goodwill, so if you don’t mind buying winter stuff in the spring and summer or vice versa, you can get great stuff (new with tags!) for a fraction of the original price.

    But no thrifted shoes for me, ever, because every single time I wear shoes someone else has worn, even if it’s just to try them on, I get horrible, itchy, disfiguring athlete’s foot for weeks. Seriously.

  33. sallymandy

    Well, I think you made a good point when you mentioned the $3 jeans you can destroy yourself. One of my favorite uses for thrifted stuff is to use it as grounds for experimenting–cutting sleeves or legs shorter, or dyeing a different color, or cutting up to use good fabric. I learn a lot by doing this, and if a project tanks, the investment wasn’t very big.

    Also just for trying a trend that I don’t know if I’ll like for the long term–or a new color, etc.

    Also for rounding out my coat closet. I have lots of coats, and most of them are thrifted. They get me through my nine-month coat season (which you must also have, Sal, living where you do).

    Great post! I always love to talk thrifting.

  34. Penelope

    i always wanted to shop for some few thrifty or vintage pieces but i never tend to find a local place to do that 🙁

  35. Imelda Matt - The Despotic Queen of Shoes

    I was a fan of thrifting then I turned on it ( the musky stink of the old people was a real turn off) but I’ve recently returned to the hunt. It’s a lot harder for guys because pretty much everything on offer will make you look like Starsky and Hutch.

  36. Chris

    I found a maxi length evening dress that I am pretty sure is an authentic 30s garment. It has a low cut v neckline in the front and back. It is all a rich purple lace with a few silver metallic threads. The trouble is that I don’t know what to do with it, so I have never worn it. What do you suggest that I wear under it?