thrifting tips & tricks
Hello, and thanks for joining me if you've come over from Rachel's blog, The Pond Farmhouse! I'm honored to be joining the fantastic women of #thriftingwiththegals this week. Speaking of thrifting (and I always do!) many of you have been asking for some tips and tricks for thrifting and I have finally gotten around to pulling together the lessons I have learned. But first, I am going to take you on a journey through my thrifting history.
Growing up, my mother taught me that quality beats quantity and we always had a liking for designer labels but could not afford designer prices. Hence, we hunted at thrift and consignment shops for some staple and specialty wardrobe pieces. Our go-to shop was the Junior League Thrift Shop. As a member of the Junior League, my mother would see the nearly new designer items that women donated. One of my fondest memories of my first trip to Boston was shopping at the JL Thrift Shop on Newbury Street. I picked up some amazing designer items at a fraction of the cost all while supporting the great work that the women of the league do within the community. Recently, I unearthed a photo of me in my thrifted velvet and lace black dress that we purchased during that trip- oh how I loved it. Fast forward about 10 years, and I, myself, became a member of the Junior League of Boston; however, sadly the thrift store had shuttered it's doors.
During my early twenties, strapped for cash as I worked two jobs post college and saved for graduate school, I would shop regularly at the Garment District in Cambridge, MA. There you paid by the pound. Yes, you read that correctly. You would wade through clothes and place in a garbage bag and pay what it weighed. I still have some of the Ralph Lauren button down shirts, a French designer wool pencil skirt, and a few other items from that time in my life- again, quality counts. Second Time Around was another great consignment shop with a location on the famed Newbury Street as well as in Harvard Square. During graduate school, I would regularly consign my clothes to help supplement my income- living in Boston was/is expensive!
I expanded from thrifted clothing to housewares during my college years. There is an amazing Salvation Army on the east side of Providence, RI that we could walk to from campus. As seniors, many of us lived off campus and had zero furniture and even less money. Back in the day, you didn't buy from Ikea but rather would thrift your furniture or, if you were lucky, take from your parent's attic. To this day, I still have the cast iron pans that I thrifted from that Salvo for about $5 and the jadeite-green dresser that my friend snatched up still haunts my dreams. Why was that Salvo so good? Location, location, location. It was the only game in town within a very wealthy neighborhood. The residents of the glorious mansions of the College Hill area of Providence would all donate their unwanted items- from long standing New Englanders to college professors alike. It was a gold mine. I've actually visited it since and it still holds up to is reputation.
Growing up, when we traveled to major cities, we would make sure to incorporate thrift stores into our itinerary. In New York City, is was thrift shops that supported the ACT UP HIV/AIDS movement along with the Junior League and some hospital thrifts- these now have all pretty much merged into the Housing Works thrift chain. In France, pre-Google, I found a book listing all of the thrift shops in Paris and I came home with Hermes scarfs, a Louis Vuitton hand bag, and a bunch of other treasured vintage items. In Singapore, yup, you guessed it, I went with a list of second hand shops and came home with some beautiful jewelry. In Belgium, home of the diamond, I helped find my sister a breathtaking Art Deco sapphire and diamond ring that even Princess Di would have loved.
So, what have I learned during my global thrifting adventures?
- Go often. If you can, you need to set up a regular schedule for thrifts. Unlike retail stores, they are getting new inventory on a daily basis. Frequency will increase the chances that you will find some great items and help you build a rapport with the staff depending on the size of the thrift. My go-to shops know me by name, what I search for, and even follow me on IG. Some folks have bars and restaurants where everyone knows their name- I have thrift shops.
- Do your research. If you can't go regularly, or I guess even if you can, try to find out if they have certain restock days, if they have social media accounts, or a web presence where they share their new inventory. That can help determine if you should make that extra effort to go. Visiting a new place? It is so easy now to hop on the internet and look up thrifting hot spots. Different areas may specialize in different items. And of course, you need to know your stuff. That is a much longer post and I will dedicate future posts to items that I specialize in; but, I will share that I did extensive research into determining reproduction from real designer handbags before I waded into that pond oversees and it really paid off.
- Leave no stone unturned. I search every aisle, every shelf. Typically thrifts either have volunteer staff or are understaffed and not everything is in the correct place. You may find dishware in the frame aisle, you just never know.
- Harness your inner Inspector Gadget. Look at all items before you purchase and bring tools! They are secondhand after all. Are there chips or cracks, does clothing or other fabric items have holes or tears that you can't repair? Does the label say 100% wool? While I don't set wool on fire (the test to determine the presence of synthetic and I actually have friends that will) I do have a small black light for jadeite and other uranium glass, a magnet for determining solid brass, and use my eye to decipher glass from crystal and newer from vintage milk glass. Even though items are low cost, you typically don't want to invest a ton of money into getting into usable condition, or at least I don't. I can get out most stains, I can clean a variety of scratch marks on dishware, but I am not going to go full DIY on items and I can't turn acrylic into wool so giving the items a once over is clutch.
- Have an open mind and think outside the box. Don't be that person on House Hunters that can't see past the ugly paint color. That amazing vase with ugly faux flowers? Take the flowers out. Amazing faux flowers in an ugly vase? Ditch the vase. That cool silver plated chaffing dish with great lines? Use it to hold books. Fun vintage tin with great graphics? Make it a planter for flowers. Let your mind be creative, it's one of the best parts about thrifting.
Those are some of my basic tips that I hope you find helpful for your future hunts. Please comment below, or on my IG, with any tips and tricks that you have picked up over the years. Let's learn together! And for those of you that are local to the north shore of MA, here are some of my favorite thrift stores and consignment shops.
- Second Glance Thrift Store (Gloucester)
- Beverly Bootstraps Thrift Shop (Beverly)
- Witch City Consignment & Thrift (Salem)
- Savers (Danvers)
- Cape Ann Thrift Store (Gloucester)
- Magic Hat Thrift Shop (Marblehead)
- Habitat for Humanity ReStore (Peabody)
- Lifebridge Thrift Shop (Salem)
- St. John's Community Shop (Beverly Farms)
- Stock Exchange (Manchester-by-the-Sea)
I've really enjoyed joining the ladies at #thriftingwiththegals this week and I hope that you hop on over to Ann's Dabbling and Decorating blog and follow her on IG at @dabbling_and_decorating!
Be sure to check out all the amazing blog's from the lovely ladies at #thriftingwiththegals including
Kim- Shiplap and Shells
Robyn- Robyn's French Nest
Stacy- Bricks n' Blooms
Kristin- White Arrows Home
Rachel- The Pond's Farmhouse
Hi Emily, thanks for the great tips and tricks for thrifting. Reading your article really brought back memories for me. I was a member of the Junior League of Baltimore where we had a thrift store. Members volunteered to work two shifts a month. I loved seeing all the treasures coming in. One such treasure is a beautiful portrait that hangs on my wall to this day some twenty years later in our home in Sammamish, WA.
I’m so glad you joined us! I love all your tips and love that you learned them making memories with your mom! That is so special!
Thank you for all the wonderful tips, Emily! I have has so much fun this week thrifting with you, and learning more about you and your blog. I can’t wait to follow along and see what you’re up to going forward.
Thank you so much for joining us this week Emily. So fun👏🏻👏🏻
Such wonderful thrifting and vintage hunting tips! Loved reading this!