Is Thrift-Store Shopping a Ticket to Frumpsville

In search of money saving deals, and cheeky styles, you check out a local thrift store. Upon entering the store, you find racks and racks of clothes loosely labeled by types of items and sizes. The clothes are stuffed into the racks, aisles are narrow, the floors are filthy, and the changing rooms are dismal. After a few minutes of checking out the racks, you leave, dejected because you did not find one thing that interested you. Neon blue polyester pants are not your style. All the how-to articles about saving money say shopping thrift stores for clothes is the way to go, that you can find great, fashionable clothes, cheap, at these places. "The thrift stores by my house must be the worst in the world!" you are thinking as you drive away, making a beeline to the nearest major mall.

Shopping in thrift stores is something that takes time to learn. It really is an acquired skill. In large retail stores, customers are hand-fed the latest fashions and colors through the use of displays and mannequins placed strategically in the store. The shopping ads in the Sunday paper give us glimpses of how to mix and match clothes, and it is just about guaranteed that what you see in the paper will be in the store when you go there. This is not so with thrift stores. The displays are few, and shoppers do have to wade through lots of undesirable and unfashionable items before coming across the pearl finds that are there. It is possible, though, to be a successful, money-saving thrift store shopper without sacrificing style and quality.

First, shoppers need to let go of environment aesthetics. Thrift stores are not usually pretty. It costs money for pleasant lighting and snazzy displays. Shoppers at thrift stores are there to save money, and in order to do so, store trappings go out the window. Otherwise, the stores could not offer the terrific prices they do. The dressing rooms will be bare bones. Signage will be minimal. Remember that you are there to shop for specific clothing items, not for a pleasure trip.

Before you go shopping, prepare a list of what you are looking for. This will help you concentrate your energy in focused directions, and reduce the chances of shopper burn out while combing the racks. There will be lots of housecoats and pilled cardigans intermixed with DKNY garments and Eddie Bauer essentials. This is where you can use those Sunday store ads to you advantage. You can use the ads, as a guide for things to look for, as long as you keep in mind you will need to be flexible about color or brand.

Patience is essential for thrift store shopping. Without it, you will never give yourself a chance to find all the terrific clothes waiting to join your wardrobe. You may need to check the store several times before finding the right skirt to match your baby-blue angora sweater. If you are looking for a flattering evening dress for your boss's retirement party, don't wait until the week of the event to begin looking, because you will panic and run to the mall to find the perfect dress.

Also, with thrift store shopping, it is imperative to think ahead a season. Don't expect to buy the warmest ski coat at a thrift store during winter. Remember, the store's supply is all donation fed. People usually donate out of season clothing to make room for what they need now. Look for winter coats in the heat of summer. Need shorts for summer? Start looking before spring rains arrive

Buyer beware applies more so to thrift store shoppers. Make a thorough inspection of the clothing item: check seams, zippers, buttons, the crotch areas and hemlines. Look for stains, thin spots in the fabric, pulls in the yarn of sweaters. Another helpful tool is the tag inside the clothes. It will testify to how often the item has been worn and washed. Is the tag faded and difficult to read? There may not be much life left in the clothing item, even if it looks terrific on the hanger right now. Try clothes on before you purchase them, to make sure they fit. This will help you to find flaws easier as well. Familiarize yourself with the store's return policy. Do you get cash back or only store credit? How many days do you have to return items? Who wants to buy something, only to donate it back in a few months' time or, worse yet, throw it away?

Last, keep an open mind when shopping. Can you sew on a button? That blazer with a missing button might be just right for you, because the extra button is still attached to the inside of the jacket. Do a pair of leather boots just need a stiff polishing, or are they horribly scuffed? Is a seam separation a minor, repairable flaw, or part of an unraveling host of unacceptable flaws? Again, check those clothing tags inside the garment.

The Liz Claiborne skirt with a small seam tear might be worth the purchase, if it has been gently worn and washed. The tags will tell.

With a little patience, determination and an open mind, you too can be a money-saving thrift store shopper. Thrift stores are a wonderful way to stretch budgets, save resources and, as an added bonus, reduce landfill usage. For each item you buy secondhand, that is one less thing being tossed in the garbage. The best thing is you do not have to sacrifice your fashion sense to be budget savvy. Those terrific deals are out there, waiting to join your wardrobe.

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