Advanced guide to thrifting

Decided to throw together this guide / ramble / inspiration because even if it helps one person I’ll feel like it’s gone to use. I’ve always been conscious of what I wore but it wasn’t until around 19 / 20 years old when my maturity began to show in my clothing choices. I had direction, inspiration and a basic understanding of fit etc, but what I didn’t have was the bank account to support my new found hobby. Enter thrifting. Thrifting for alot of you is still unchartered waters. Many of you don’t know where to start and some of you have no intentions whatsoever of trying it. That’s fine, it’s not for everyone, but for those willing to take the time, hopefully this “guide to thrifting” will help you make the most of your treasure hunts.

First off, to be successful at thrifting you need to go often, and for the most part look through the entire store as to not miss that new arrival that is just made for you. This is what alot of people have trouble with, they either don’t have the time, or they don’t have the interest, but if you’ve decided thrifting is for you then that’s awesome. For me, thrifting is relaxing. It’s a chance for me to wander the isles at my own leisure, not be bugged by pesky sales pressure and it’s as if I have an entirely new wardrobe to play with. If nothing else, it has served as some time for me to escape from my busy schedule; finding anything to take home on top of that is simply a bonus. That is definitely the attitude you need to have if you’re going to start thrifting. You will not find something EVERY single time you go. Some days it’s as if your twin just dropped off a bunch of clothes for you, others you find yourself questioning why those racks of clothes had ever been allowed to see the light of day. Do not get discouraged, frequency is the key to success.

There are three things that are important to note when you hit the stores and actually start looking for items:

1) Condition of the piece

2) Price of the piece

3) Fit of the piece

1) Condition of the piece:

It should be common knowledge that almost everything in thrift stores has been preowned and due to this fact, has been “pre worn”. This means that sometimes the clothes will show those signs of wear and sometimes can ruin the piece entirely.


  • look for stains on the collars and cuffs of dress shirts as well as the arm pits. If it’s a shirt you aren’t in love with, my suggestion is to pass on to the next one. White dress shirts are a dime a dozen so if the shirt you picked up is more stain than white it probably isn’t worth your time to clean. However, if it’s something unique, something you can’t just put back regardless of the stains, here’s a guide that has yet to fail me .
  • look for any holes, tears, fraying, missing buttons, broken zips etc. I personally find the details in a mans outfit to be the things that contribute to his style the most. It’s hard to look stylish with holes in your crotch or cuff buttons missing. That being said, know what you can fix. Many shirts and jackets have extra buttons sewn to the inside of the garment in case you do manage to lose one. This will save you the hassle of trying to match a spare button and 5 mins with a needle and thread and you’re as good as new. I don’t usually bother with broken zips, but if you need it fixed, your local tailor should be able to replace it for around $15 depending on the job. Holes are sometimes hard to spot first time around. A quick check is to hold it up to the light, holes will jump out at you right away.

Bottom line, know what you can fix and whether it will even be worth your time and money to fix it.

2) Price of the piece:

Back when I first started thrifting it seemed that places were almost paying YOU to take the clothes because the prices were so cheap. Recently though, thrift stores have seen a huge increase in popularity (Macklemore….) and their prices have been on the rise too. Simple supply and demand, something is only worth as much as people are willing to pay. I never thought I would have to mention price being an issue but the simple fact is that I’ve seen thrift stores try and charge almost retail prices. Knowledge is your best weapon in a thrift store. If you know how much an item retails for, awesome, if you know how much it’s going for on sites like ebay, even better. This is why a smartphone is your best tool to carry on your scavenger hunts. If you can quickly search an item, you may find out that just because the piece is in a thrift store doesn’t mean it’s the best deal you can get. However, alot can be said for physically having that item in front of you where you can try it on and inspect it. If ebay listing are within 20% of the thrifted item (accounting for s&h), then I usually go with the thrifted item because I know EXACTLY what I’m getting. More than 20% though and the savings online are just too enticing to overcome.

You also need to account for after purchase spending, i.e your tailoring costs. I’ll touch on this more a little later but basically if you pick up a large peacoat for $20 when really you’re a size small, you’re looking at spending probably over $100 to reconstruct that coat when $120 may have bought you the same coat brand new in a size small.

Bottom line, know the general pricing of similar items and how much you will need to spend at the tailors to determine whether you are really getting a deal.

3) Fit of the piece

If you’ve been lurking around MFA for a while I’m sure that you’ve realized that fit is of the utmost importance to a successful outfit. You’ve heard it countless times but a well fitting cheap suit is going to look better than an expensive suit that looks like a hand-me-down from your overweight uncle with enough excess material to shelter a small family. This is where beginners can really benefit from thrifting. You will undoubtedly make mistakes with fit early on in your search for style, why not make them cheap mistakes. Spending $3 on a shirt and finding out the fit is off somewhere down the road will not be as deflating as if you were to do the same with a $60 shirt. I’ve been there myself, shelled out the cash, worn it past the return date and then woke up one morning thinking “jesus…..when did I think wearing a sail was acceptable as a dress shirt?” Culminating your style is a long process, most of us do not have the money to experiment and iron out the kinks, but with thrifting, you can learn those lessons quicker and with smaller consequences. There’s only so much you can learn from viewing posts of “correct fit” and what not. Get out there, use the knowledge you have to get the best fit you can find, and then fine tune from there. Whether you like it or not fashion has become a hobby for you, so don’t worry about spending a little money to get better. Now once you feel like you have a grasp on what clothes should fit like, it’s time to move into tailoring.


This is where thrifting pays off the most. Because you’ve kept your initial costs down when buying an item, that means you’ve freed up a little cash to spend at your tailors. This means (if you’ve done everything correctly) that you can get a good quality piece that fits you like a glove still for a fraction of the cost of a brand new item. I mentioned it previously, but know what CAN be tailored (pretty much anything) and most importantly, know whats WORTH tailoring. If a jacket needs to be completely reconstructed, chances are that the price to tailor it will exceed what you would pay for that item in stores (ofcourse this is different if it’s some $1500 designer jacket). Something as simple as lengthening the sleeves can take a jacket from just off to just right.

**************BUY A SEWING MACHINE ****************

If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you get yourself a sewing machine and start learning some basic tailoring. Funny enough I picked mine up at a thrift store for $15 so that in itself doesn’t have to be a big investment.This is something that I really regret not getting into sooner because it’s changed my style A LOT. I’m sure it’s happened to you when you’ve gone thrifting, that one item you love but the sleeves are just a tad short, or the legs are just a tiny bit too wide. Before I would just throw them back to the piles and be bitter that it didn’t come how I wanted it. Well now, no problem, I MAKE it the way I want it. One point though is when I recommend this to people they think that a sewing machine will solve all their problems right away. That’s not going to happen. It’s frustrating at first, time consuming, some of my frankenstein creations early on should never have seen the light of day, but if you stick at it you get quicker and cleaner, now I’m down to slimming down a pair of pants in 20 mins and a shirt in 30. You can literally learn anything you want from the internet, there are plenty of great guides out there to get you started, plenty on youtube and here is the one that I use when doing my shirts

Here’s some before 

and after 

projects. Before 

and After 

Quick Tips:

If you’re a little pressed for time, these tips may help you out a bit.

  • Develop a system. I have an order for the sections I look at in a store. It goes shoes, jackets, shirts, pants, t-shirts, bags, accessories. Most of that is just personal preference but the shoes I recommend being first. If you find a pair that you like, put them on while you browse through the rest of the store, you’ll find out pretty quickly if they’re going to be comfortable or not. Building a system also takes the guess work out of missing something. If you follow your order you will have looked through the entire stock and not missed a thing.
  • Your sense of touch is your best friend. When out in retail stores you should be getting acquainted with what “quality” feels like. Touch the clothes, do they feel soft, sturdy, just generally well made, this one is tougher to explain but it’s something that you will develop over time. Once you know what quality feels like, you can apply it to thrifting. Put the palm of your hand on the the clothing and start walking down the isle, you’ll know when to stop and take a better look.
  • Know what you need and stick to it. I don’t usually recommend this because sometimes the best finds are unexpected, but if you’re in a rush just stick to looking at things you need. If you have 50 shirts at home but no jackets, then it doesn’t make sense to spend time looking through the shirts section. Stick to your sizing aswell. Most of the time I look up and down a size because sometimes clothing is just blatantly mislabeled (a 32 pant is labeled and sorted into the 34 section), but again, if you’re in a rush you will have to pass on the chance that there’s something worth while mislabeled.

General Tips

  • don’t be afraid to look in the woman’s section. They often have more interesting fabrics and patterns than guys clothing. The thing that gives away that you may be wearing womens clothing (apart from the fact that they button opposite to mens clothing) is the cut. Extra room in the chest, tighter throughout the waist and wider at the hips. If you were to wear as is, it would be obvious you were in womans clothing, but now since you’re a master a DIY tailoring (because you bought a sewing machine like I told you) you can alter the fit completely. Now, apart from the buttons on the other side, noone is the wiser. Plus they sometimes put mens belts in the womens section and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be able to find pocket squares in with their scarves. See the potential in an item. Things that catch my eye are the unique pieces. I have the basics (OCBD’s, dark denim, white v necks) but those are just pieces that allow you to add your personal twist. When I say the “potential” in an item I mean you need to see it for more than just the individual piece it is, you need to see how it would fit in your wardrobe, how you could alter it to make it better, how it could be something you could enjoy later as your style evolves. Thrift stores are full of one offs, capitalize on this and you’ll have an individual piece you can call your own.
  • KEEP TRACK OF YOUR SPENDING. I keep a little book in my room that I note every purchase I make. It’s hard to keep track of how much you are REALLY spending because $5 doesn’t seem like much, but once you get hooked it become $5 here, $10 there, $7 there and it begins to add up.
  • Buy out of season. Thrift stores operate through donations. Now it doesn’t make sense that someone is going to donate their wool pea coat in the dead of winter when they would still most likely need it. Instead, you find that thrift stores are generally one season behind. Winter coats and boots come in in the beginning of spring, shorts and boat shoes come in at the start of Autumn. This is where a bit of confidence in your purchases comes in. You are purchasing something that you most likely won’t be wearing for 9 months so I wouldn’t recommend buying “trendy” items. Something like a navy pea coat is a timeless classic, the day it is no longer stylish will be a dark day, so things like that will be a solid purchase.

Now this isn’t to brag about my wardrobe because there are others on MFA that have far more impressive wardrobes, but I thought I would show you what taking my own advice has gotten me over the months. Here’s a few of my finds, pictures could have been better but they do the job.

For those of you still in the early days of developing your style I would assume that you’re making your fair share of mistakes, which is awesome. You learn alot more from your mistakes than you do your successes and really all of this is just a learning process for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new, experiment, have fun with it, it’s a great hobby that many people don’t really view as one, but the returns of it are HUGE. A great outfit will do more for your self esteem, confidence, and self presentation than anything else. People do tend to take things a little too seriously sometimes though, take a chance, if it doesn’t work out remember they’re just clothes, you can take them off haha. Make sure that this “finding your style” is a fun process for you. If it’s simply a step by step for you, that will reflect in your style, you will look like a robot just following a how to guide (yes I see the irony that this advice is in a how to guide). You’ll know you’ve found your groove when people you know point things out that they know you would wear.

Finally, CONFIDENCE IS KEY. This is by far the biggest thing you need to master. Once you’re confident in your own skin, everything will just start falling into place. A confident guy taking a chance by wearing something different, say a vintage blazer with wide peak lapels will look 100 times better than a guy in a Saville Row suit who fidgets with himself, avoids eye contact, all that jazz. Make your choices and stand by them because remember, at one point when you bought that item you thought you would be a lady (or guy) slayin’ suave motha fucka!

Any questions guys just let me know, when I have the time I’m more than happy to answer them :)

Thanks to Vaeltaja for reminding me, know the area’s of the thrift stores. It makes sense that people with more money buy more expensive clothes and in turn donate those clothes, so the “richer” neighbourhoods generally have higher quality thrift stores. That being said, don’t forego the thrift stores in the sketchier parts of town. Some of my best finds come from skid row.


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