Roundup: How To Score Killer Goodwill Finds

I started thrift-shopping at Goodwill a little over a year ago, right when I realized 80’s fashion was making a major comeback. I wanted the decade’s euphoric, maximalist aesthetic! I wanted those razor-sharp shoulders! Asymmetric ruffles! Lantern sleeves! And ah, those dramatic turtlenecks, too.

Instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars for cool, vintage-inspired looks fresh out of Moda Operandi’s designer trunkshows, I decided to go straight to the source. I wanted to be able to find clothes that were actually from the 80’s and cost less than $20 a piece. And yes, in case you’re wondering, this is totally possible. Not only can it be done, but if you have the right tricks in place, you can get away with slashing your monthly shopping budget in half while staying ahead of trends.

Find the right Goodwill

This is probably the most useful piece of advice I can give you. I’ve heard a lot of friends say, ‘My Goodwill never has cool things.’ If you feel the same way, well, you’re probably right. Not all Goodwills are created equal. When I first started thrifting, I decided to jaunt off to the store’s location in Beverly Hills, thinking it would be a treasure trove of vintage merch. My rationale was: the wealthier the neighborhood, the better the donations. Apparently, I wasn’t the only millennial with that very same thought. In reality, the place was a mess. I’m talking piles of footprint-patterned clothes on the floor, too many elbows to fight through, and most importantly, clothes that were just not worth it. Ultimately, the less-frequented Goodwill that’s right here in my neck of the woods, the one that’s just across the street from my apartment, became my favorite.

Learn to enjoy the experience

The truth is, you’re not always going to find that gem you came in looking for. Sometimes, you’ll leave the store totally empty-handed, thinking about how your two-hour hunt was a complete waste of time. Going through mounds of old clothes is tedious. Doing so surrounded by a musty, thrift-store aroma is borderline unpleasant. Which is why I urge you to somehow make the process fun. Personally, I use my time at Goodwill to unwind. As a writer, my brain does most of the work all day. When I’m sifting through clothes, my mind takes a break and my hands take over. I typically listen to music when I thrift, so make sure to have a groovy, 80’s playlist at the ready when you decide to go Goodwill Hunting (Ha! See what I did there? Genius). Bonus points: bring a friend along, grab drinks later and make a day out of it.

If you can, go during the week

I realize most people don’t have flexible schedules like I do, but I feel like I have to put this out there anyway. Goodwill on, say, a Wednesday is a totally different space than Goodwill on a Saturday. It’s quiet, and everything’s just spick and span. You don’t have to wait too long in line for the fitting room, and you have the luxury of browsing through racks of clothes without being rushed by another overzealous thrifter. Another nifty trick is to ask a (semi-)friendly Goodwill employee when the store introduces a new wave of donations to the floor. Even though my Goodwill brings in fresh merch every 20 minutes, I’ve heard some other Goodwills process donations on specific days.

Don’t look for something specific

I’ve been reading recs from bloggers saying you should go in with a specific list in mind so you don’t waste too much time. I disagree with that. When you go thrift-shopping, chances are, you’re not going to find the exact thing you need or want. Why set yourself up for disappointment? Instead, keep an open mind, and look everywhere. Things get misplaced often. I once found a pretty a slinky, spaghetti-strap dress in the sleepwear section. Take your time, and really, really dig in!

Factor in hidden costs

Before you whip out that credit card, make sure you are really getting a good deal. For example, I once found a dress with a pretty hefty (for Goodwill, anyway), $16 price tag. On the surface, it seems like a steal, right? OK, hear me out. The dress was a beautiful, pearly white. We all know, by laws of fabric and color, white is sort of a magnet for stains, and this dress was no exception. Add to that the fact that the fabric was silk, which pretty much guaranteed a trip to the dry-cleaner’s. Tacking on an extra $15 to the total cost, I also had to consider the thumb-sized tear which also needed to be addressed. All to say, at the end, I realized I’d be spending way too much on a piece of clothing when I could easily purchase a brand spankin’ new slip for the same amount of money.

Triple-check what you decide to buy

I kind of mentioned it in the previous point, but I feel like I can’t stress this enough. Go through what you pick with a fine-tooth comb. Sometimes, I get so excited when I stumble across a trendy silhouette that I’m completely blind to the piece’s flaws. Examine the rips and tears, the handwork of the stitching, the zippers and—I know, gross—underarm stains. (Some deodorant stains are no biggie, but there are some stubborn spots that even the mightiest of products can’t obliterate). And lastly, if you do end up with an item of clothing that needs a little TLC, make sure you are actually up for the challenge. The last thing you want is a closet full of unloved clothing that gather dust and add unnecessary clutter to your home.

And that’s about it! Here’s a few snaps of my favorite vintage finds! Happy Hunting.

As an Los Angeles-based journalist and fashion writer, Mari Alexander highlights local and global talents through runway reviews, designer interviews, and trend reports.

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