Thrift store tips

A few days ago I promised I’d write up a guide to thrifting once I had some free time; I finally found some. This is by no means inclusive of everything.

Also, don’t use any of this information for evil. Cleaning out a thrift store of everything decent just to go flip on Ebay for a few bucks is a dick move. Get the stuff in your size, or something that you absolutely cannot pass up, otherwise leave it for someone else to find. Ok, now on to the tips.


Shirts are one of the hardest items of clothing to pick out in a thrift store. Generally, you won’t be able to tell the difference in fabric quality by sight or touch, unless the fabric is downright terrible. The big differentiators for shirts are fit (which is dictated by brand) or other materials. Here are a few basic guidelines to pick out quality shirts:

  • When you first start, look for solid colored or very simple patterned shirts (tattersall, gingham, etc.) While it isn’t a hard and fast rule, most of the higher-end brands in a thrift store will have basic patterns and colors in strong, but not vibrant, colors. It is also going to be easier for you to match those once you take them home.
  • When you spot a shirt that looks decent, your eyes will immediately go to the label for the brand name. I’ve posted a list of pretty high quality brands below. If the shirt you are viewing isn’t on that list, it doesn’t mean it is bad quality, but you should probably be at least a little suspect and check the details.
  • Look at the buttons and buttonholes on a shirt. High quality shirts will have Mother of Pearl Buttons  which are generally thicker and have a dull sheen to them compared to the plastic buttons found on cheaper shirts. Also, the button holes on higher-quality shirts will be stitched better, and will be less likely to fray.
  • Try the shirt on. A medium from 1990 is not equal to a medium today; and there are many shirts in thrift stores that are even older than that. It doesn’t matter how boxy it is, you want it to fit in 3 places: the shoulders, the arms, and body length. If the seams aren’t resting on the edge of your shoulders, the shirt does not fit, put it back on the rack. If the shirt is boxy, take it to a tailor. They can bring it in for $5-10, or you can DIY.
  • Finally, if it has passed every test, look the shirt over thoroughly to make sure that it isn’t missing any buttons, is free of rips, and doesn’t have any noticeable stains. I’ve brought home shirts I was very excited about only to find out they were completely unwearable. Don’t make my mistake.


  • You can pretty much just scan the racks for anything that looks remotely wearable. Don’t look just at the shined or pretty shoes; those beat up wingtips in the corner could look amazing after they have been polished.
  • For dress shoes, you are going to want a full leather upper and probably a leather bottom. You can look at the ones with rubber bottoms, but generally that means poorer quality (this isn’t always the case though. There are plenty of exceptions)
  • Examine the shoe for cracking where the leather has folded and any wear at the toes or the heel. For a high-quality pair of shoes like Allen Edmonds or Alden, a little bit of wear isn’t going to be too noticeable. If the shoes are made of cheap leather, it can look quite bad.
  • Obviously, try them on to make sure they fit before you buy them.


  • This one is pretty simple; they need to fit in the waist, crotch, and be the correct length. You can buy long and shorten, but you can’t buy short and lengthen.
  • Check the pockets before you buy, sometimes people stuff a bunch of shit in there and forget about it. This can both a good and bad thing.


Suits are a total crapshoot at a thrift store. There are going to be hundreds of shitty Stafford suits with a few gems mixed in. A lot of cheap brands will try to use luxe fabrics with their suits to seem high-class, which means you can’t just run your fingers across them to pick out quality. You basically just want to go down the rack and ignore anything that isn’t something you’d wear (for example, I’d never wear a double-breasted, so I ignore all of those. I would never wear a brown suit, so I ignore those. Etc.) Once you find something that looks like you’d wear it, dig a little deeper.

  • Check the inside of the jacket; the brand or designer will be there. There will usually also be a white tag in the interior chest pocket that has sizes.
  • European suits will be sized 10 sizes larger than American. A 50R European is a 40R American.
  • The best suits are fully canvassed. To check this, pinch the suit at the bottom button and slide your fingerrs up and down. You should feel a loose piece of canvas between your fingers. If it isn’t loose, that means that the suit is fused, and lesser quality. It is difficult to describe, but the first time you stumble over a high-quality suit, try it with that and then with a cheap suit and notice the difference.
  • Working button holes on the sleeves are usually a sign of quality, although recently there have been a number of cheaper brands who have been doing this.
  • If you find an odd jacket for a suit, check the pants rack. Often times you’ll find the matching pants there.

General thrifting tips

  • If you go to the sweater rack, put the back of your palm on the clothes and just run your hand down the rack. This takes 10 seconds, and you’ll immediately pick out anything cashmere.
  • Check the women’s belts and scarves area. A lot of men’s belts get put there, and the scarf area will almost always have pocket squares.
  • Check the jewelry counter; you can occasionally score some vintage cufflinks, tie bars, and possibly even a nice watch. Or pick up some nice jewelry for the girlfriend on the cheap.
  • The best time to go thrifting is right after a big sale. They always put new stock on the floor after a big sale.
  • Find out when your store brings out new merchandise; show up near that time. Often times it’ll still be on the cart before they have a chance to put it on the racks, just browse those. You’ll have your first pick at the newest stuff.
  • Check off-season items. My best winter coats showed up in the spring.
  • Smartphones are your best friend in a thrift store. If you don’t know the brand, you can google them and quickly get an idea of the quality.

To really get quality stuff out of thrift stores, you need to go often. You may only end up buying something 1 out of 3 times, but the more you are there the better chance you have of finding some great deals. Drop by during your lunch break, or when you are running errands, and make it a weekly occurrence. You are bound to find some quality clothes eventually, and save a ton of money doing it.

I just wrote up a quick list of brands that, if I saw in a thrift store, I’d definitely consider buying. Most of these are high-quality, and the name alone means they are going to be fairly well made. I’ve excluded a few brands, such as Rolex or Louis Vuitton, because 99% of the ones you find at a thrift store will be fakes.

The list:

  • Alden
  • Allen Edmonds
  • APC
  • Armani Collezioni
  • Barbour
  • Ben Sherman
  • Ben Silver
  • Brioni
  • Brooks Brothers
  • Burberry
  • Canali
  • Cartier
  • Charvet
  • Citizens of Humanity
  • Coach
  • Crocket and Jones
  • Dior Homme
  • Dunhill
  • Ermenegeldo Zegna
  • Fendi
  • Florsheim
  • Frye
  • Gucci
  • Hermes
  • Hickey Freeman
  • J Crew
  • J Press
  • Jil Sander
  • John Lobb
  • John Varvatos
  • Kiton
  • Lacoste
  • Lands End
  • Lanvin
  • Lilly Pulitzer
  • Loro Piana
  • Marc Jacobs
  • Murray’s
  • Nordstrom
  • Nudie
  • Omega
  • Patagonia
  • Paul Smith
  • Peal & Co.
  • Polo Ralph Lauren
  • Prada
  • Pyscho Bunny
  • Raf Simons
  • Rag & Bone
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Red Wing
  • Robert Talbott
  • RRL
  • Saddleback
  • Salvatore Ferragamo
  • Southern Tide
  • Southern Proper
  • Sperry
  • TAG Heuer
  • The North Face
  • Theory
  • Thomas Pink
  • Tod’s
  • Tom Ford
  • Tommy Bahama
  • Tumi
  • Turnbull & Asser
  • Vilebrequin
  • Yves Saint Laurent

I’m sure I’ve missed dozens of others, so feel free to add in any I’ve forgotten.

[edit] abadonn pointed out that Put This On has a pretty extensive list of suit brands for thrifting, so check those out as well.

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