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Thrift shopping tips from pro thrifter, Amanda Baumann

So, you want to try thrifting but you don’t know where to start?

Thrifter Amanda Baumann wearing a colorful blazer

Well, that’s what I’m here for, dear reader. I know many people feel overwhelmed at even the thought of going to a thrift store. I felt the same way when I first began thrifting. Sure, they can be crowded, unorganized, and a little intimidating at first. There is just so much to look at and dig through—“Where do I even start?” you ask.

First, pick a time when you’re not in a rush: an afternoon or evening when you have time to slowly browse the store aisle by aisle and rack by rack. A time when you can put on your headphones, listen to your favorite music or a podcast, and get lost for a little while.

Why thrift?

Amanda Baumnn laying on a colorful rug

Beyond saving you a lot of money, when we decide to buy secondhand, we are saving discarded items from ending up in a landfill or our oceans. The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. By thrifting, we are making an effort to be more thoughtful about our environment. New garments take a lot of resources, specifically water, to manufacture. Did you know one pair of jeans takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce? Through shopping secondhand, we are also standing up against unfair wages and dangerous working conditions rampant in the fast fashion industry.

We don’t need to make more. We need to buy less, take care of what we have, and buy secondhand as much as we can.

Let’s get started

Do you have your face mask, hand sanitizer, headphones, and several reusable totes for taking home treasures? Then you’re ready to go.

Nervous about thrifting during the time of Covid? I completely understand, but I have found that thrift stores are actually cleaner than they’ve ever been. Carts and checkouts are being regularly sanitized and typically someone is always at the entrance to ensure everyone who enters is wearing a mask. Don’t forget to sanitize your hands before you start and after you leave!   

As you walk in, you will see crowded clothing racks; aisles of housewares, toys, and furniture; shelves of lamps and books; and so on. I typically start with the home goods. I go through slowly, aisle by aisle. What types of things am I looking for? Well, I collect vintage Pyrex dishes, so I am always looking for those. I love brass and colorful glass candleholders. I like to look for nice baskets for gift giving and for storage around the house. You never know what you’re going to find, so just go slow and steady. People often donate brand new, never used items: candles, packs of greeting cards, glassware, puzzles, etc., and I love finding those.

I never skip the book section. From biographies to fiction to how-to-garden manuals, there is always something for me in these aisles. I am currently working on my embroidery skills and I’ve found countless books and guides to help me with my new hobby! Vegan cookbooks, yoga manuals, children’s books—most items here are usually under $3. There are plenty of bookish bargains waiting to be found! Especially when most of us are staying indoors a lot more this winter, it’s always nice to have a stack of good books to snuggle up with when temperatures drop. 

Time for the clothes

Amanda smiling in front of clothes racks

Of course, as someone who sells vintage clothes for a living, this is my favorite section of the thrift store. First, when clothes shopping, I try not to have an agenda. I go in with an empty basket and an open mind. If you spend your time looking for something super specific, you may pass by a lot of really neat items along the way.

Don’t just look for your size! Not to add to your stress, new thrifter, but you need to look at all the sizes. First, pieces get mixed together and miscategorized all the time. Garments may be placed in the wrong section—a super cute housedress might have been placed in the pajama section for example or a great blazer may have ended up with the winter coats. A women’s extra small vintage tee shirt could end up in the kids’ section. That’s why I look at everything.

Second, sizing is so wonky these days, especially with vanity sizing, that each store’s version of a “medium” is different. A vintage large can actually be tiny. A vintage size 16 is more like a 10/12 in modern sizing. So, ignore the labels, look through all of the sizes and wear what you love—if it fits who cares what the number on the tag says. Sometimes I wear a modern medium, other times I’m an extra large. It never hurts to look at everything.

There are no rules

Thrifting for clothes is an opportunity to be playful with your closet, put things together you normally wouldn’t: try a floral pantsuit, experiment with pops of color, maybe give those high-waist jeans a try for once. Seek out staples. Push yourself a little. Get creative. Style is meant to be fun. Remember, there are no rules. Wear what makes you feel good!

Edit your cart

Before you check out, look for stains, tears, and repairs needed. Are you willing to do the work to make them wearable? Will you really replace that button? Lastly, do you love it? If you’re just buying it because it’s cheap or it’s a good deal, put it back. I like to ask myself, “Where will this go?” I may love a lamp, but if I don’t need a lamp or have the perfect place for it, cheap or not, I’ve learned not to put it in my cart because it will just end up as clutter in my basement. 

What about secondhand gifts?

Yep, I thrift gifts. Sure, some people may feel uncomfortable giving friends and family things they’ve found at the thrift store. I say, get over it. All year, I am thinking about my loved ones when I thrift. Then, when their birthday comes around, I have that perfect present I know they’ll love. A vintage gumball machine, a vintage worn-in-perfectly Levi’s jacket in their exact size, earrings and a vintage Vera scarf in their favorite colors, a beautiful secondhand planter with a cactus from your local greenhouse, a crackle glass vase for your mother-in-law who collects them, or a first-edition of your best friend’s favorite book. These gifts are full of heart, thought, meaning, care, and love. Who cares if they’re thrifted? I’d rather get a secondhand, thoughtfully procured gift than a new sweater (that I don’t love and that probably won’t fit and will likely fall apart after two wears) any darn day!

Which thrift store has the best stuff?

I most often get asked where I find all the good vintage or what’s your favorite thrifting spot? Sadly, there isn’t one thrift store with “all the good vintage.” The reason I find so much vintage and have such good luck is because I am out there all the time. I may find a huge haul one day at one specific shop and the next week find nothing. I keep going back because it is about who has donated and who has picked through before you get there. A lot of times—most times—it’s luck.

Tandem Vintage owner Amanda Baumann is a thrifter, collector, and vintage enthusiast. You can find her on Instagram, where she has weekly Story Sales and posts lots of pictures of her thrift finds and snaps of her three rescued pups: Scarlett, Mora, and Neko. Have any questions about thrifting? Email her at tandemvintagemn@gmail.com.

Now that warm weather has arrived – and with it, the desire to clean and declutter – this a great time to get serious about donating usable goods that are taking up space in your overcrowded home.