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Jul 17 2017
by Jessica Vuong

A Guide to Thrift Shopping in College

By Jessica Vuong - Jul 17 2017
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We're all college students, so it's no secret that we have to handle our funds very carefully. From buying textbooks to paying tuition for class, dorms and the air you breathe on campus, there's not much money left for buying clothes, decor or miscellaneous things that make you happy. This is where thrift shopping comes in handy. Thrift shopping is a great and environmentally friendly way to afford new items without breaking your piggy bank. Thrift shopping, as fun as it sounds, can be a tiresome activity if you don't approach it efficiently, so here are some tips on how to score the best finds at your local college town's thrift store.

1. Have an idea of what you're looking for.

If you arrive at a thrift store with the pure intention of looking through everything, then you might have a fun time, but you might also impulsively buy a lot of the things you find. If you show up with a purpose, such as searching specifically for skinny jeans, a denim jacket and a baseball cap, you'll know which sections of the store to target. To get a clearer idea of what you want to find, you could also look through your closet before you go shopping to get a feel of what your overall style is. In the meantime, use this as an opportunity to sort through your closet and donate your old clothes to make room for new purchases.


2. Have patience.

Thrift stores sell whatever they receive in donations, so there are many things you could discover. It's not like a department store where there are 10 of the same shirt. This is one of the magical things about a thrift store — you can find almost anything you want, but you do need a lot of patience to look through all the racks of endless clothing possibilities. I recommend listening to a feel-good playlist as you make your way through each aisle of the store.


3. Revisit the thrift store often.

Some days might be better than others, depending what is put out on the racks on the day that you go. Thrift stores get new items donated almost every day so they're constantly putting out new things on their shelves and racks. Grab some friends and turn thrifting into a weekly or biweekly trip so you can comb through all the new arrivals. 


4. Be open-minded.

Since thrift stores sell used/second-hand clothing, the clothes you find might look "meh" on the hanger. Remember to stay open-minded when you're searching through the aisles and think about how you could alter a piece of clothing to your liking. You can do the same with a piece of furniture and some paint. All it takes is some time and creativity. If you think a piece is worth it, bring it home and try upcycling it. There are tons of way to alter a top so it fits you or to refurbish used furniture to spice up your dorm room. 


5. Show up in a simple outfit and try things on.

Show up in a plain t-shirt, jeans and shoes that are easy to slip on and off to make trying on clothes a lot simpler. Wearing a simple outfit will also give you a nice plain palette to determine if whatever you're trying on will look good with the rest of your outfit. Play it safe and try on all the clothing items that catch your eye because the last thing you want is to come home with a bag of clothes that don't really fit you. 


6. Location matters.

While you can find hidden gems at any thrift store, it should be noted that thrift stores in nicer neighborhoods tend to have nicer things. The reason for this is because thrift stores sell whatever they receive in donations, so thrift stores in "fancier" neighborhoods will receive donations from people with more disposable income, giving them higher-end merchandise to sell. This is a little hack for finding more brand-name items at thrift stores. However, a downside to this is that thrift stores in nicer neighborhoods will price their items higher, so be prepared for fancier finds at steeper prices.


7. Keep an eye out for NEW items.

I mean new as in "brand new." That's right, sometimes thrift stores receive brand new, unused items from department stores' leftover inventory or clearance. You know you've hit the jackpot when you find brand new department store quality goods at discounted prices at a thrift store!


8. Go with a friend.

When you're looking through endless racks of clothing, your eyes can start to blur and everything starts looking the same. Bring a friend who has time to spend thrift shopping with you so you can give each other honest feedback on your findings. As a bonus, you'll have someone to keep you company.


9. Search the book aisles for school books.

Don't forget that the thrift store also has a wide selection of books, from cookbooks to fine literature to children's storybooks. Scan through the bookshelves to see if there are any relevant books for your college classes. If your thrift store is located in or near a college town, chances are that you'll find college course related books since students might donate their used textbooks after they're done with a class.


10. Sign up for deals and memberships.

Try asking your local thrift store for any memberships you can join to get even better deals on your future purchases. Some thrift stores, like Savers, offer membership cards where you can get 50 percent off on certain days or 30 percent off if you donate something. You should definitely take advantage of these types of offers if you're a frequent thrifter. Also, remember to sign up for mailing lists to receive timely emails about ongoing sales or clearances. 

Keep these tips in mind, and happy thrifting for a new college wardrobe or for some dorm room decor!

Lead Image Credit: Shanna Camilleri via Unsplash

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Jessica Vuong - University of California, Davis

Jessica is currently attending UC Davis and majoring in Managerial Economics. She was vice-president of teensReach, a community service organization, and has competed in several SJPL art & design contests. She loves coffee, sarcasm, and rainy weather. Follow her on instagram: @jsscvng | pinterest: jessvjess | VSCO: jessvjess

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