I’ve been a merry thrift shopper for the better part of 30 years and am happy to impart a few bits of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. As you get yourself ready for fall — whether you’re a student, someone who appreciates giving duds a second spin or a combination of both — I offer you these tips and send you on your way.


• Dress appropriately. And by this, I mean wear footwear that slides or slips off easily. Avoid complicated ensembles with lots of buckles and such, and leave your jacket in the car. This speeds things up in the dressing room significantly. Also, if you are wearing sandals or flip-flops, bring a pair of socks with you in case you want to try on some funky old shoes or boots.

• Try stuff on. Some thrift shops don’t allow returns, and by trying something on, you are far more likely to discover hidden tears and stains.

• Don’t fret if you think something should fit you and it doesn’t. Clothing shrinks due to too much laundering or the wrong kind of laundering. Additionally, vintage clothing ran smaller than today’s duds. If the number on the tag bothers you that much, you can remove it (carefully) when you get home.

• For the ladies out there, I’ll just say this directly: Don’t thrift when you’re PMS’ing. Enough said.

• Only thrift in good health. Sometimes old clothes can have a rather, shall we say, troubling odor. Sometimes it’s a musty one; sometimes it’s evident that a cat has done its business on a particular piece. Either way, if your sniffer doesn’t work because of a cold or allergies, you won’t be able to tell. Trust me on this.

• Before every purchase, ask yourself two important questions: Do I love this or just like it? Can I visualize myself wearing it on a semi-regular basis? Let the answers be your guide, or else you’ll end up with a bursting closet (like mine) and a shrunken wallet, because even thrift shop purchases can add up quickly.

• And lastly — I don’t really have to tell you this, do I? Well, I’m going to, just in case. No matter how clean something appears or smells, for the love of Pete, wash everything before you wear it.