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  • Nicole Wagner

Special Guest Series: Shopping on the Cheap Part II – Tips and Tricks


In the second part of our Special Guest Series, Nichole shares her tips for making the most of every shopping trip; scoring those amazing finds and what to do with them when you get home.

Enjoy! (Don’t miss her first post “Creative Shopping in Austin”.)

Pre-Shopping Checklist: Before you start shopping there are a few steps you can take to prepare and make your trip more successful.

1) Know your brands. Understanding relative quality differences between Forever 21 mall-brands and a high quality designer piece can help you decide whether a piece is worthwhile in its current state. This is especially important if you’re looking for vintage pieces. Personally, I try to stay away from lower quality garments. Even when purchased new they can only stand a few washes before falling apart.

2) Learn a little about garment construction. Occasionally a “quick” fashion piece will be structurally sound and will be worth buying if it fits well. Look for small stitch length, nice linings, seams that are bound, French or flat felled, spare buttons, clean button holes and smooth zippers. These are all signs that the garment is well made.

3) Know what you already have. Me and my obsessive personality love Stylebook for iOS. It’s a great way to keep track of items in your closet, especially those you’re trying to create an outfit around. Of course, regular photos will also accomplish this.

4) Know your sizes. You’ll save a ton of time in the dressing room if you know a general size range you’re looking in or if you know which size you usually take in brand “x”. If you’re looking at vintage, remember that sizes have changed greatly in the past 60 years and consider taking your measurement and using that as a guide.

5) Wear close-fitting clothes while shopping. Sometimes (frequently) there will be a line for a dressing room. Having the option of trying on a blouse over a camisole is a great timesaver. Also, wear or bring socks. Even if you’re not looking for shoes, you’ll undoubtedly encounter a great pair of shoes or dirty dressing room floors. Sometimes both.

At the Shop Hooray! You’re finally out shopping. This is the fun part.

1) Decide whether to scan or scour. If you’re looking for something specific, scouring might be the best course. Otherwise, I like to slowly walk past racks looking for colors or prints that catch my eye. The way I look at, if the color and print aren’t right the rest doesn’t matter. YMMV. You can also look for signatures of designers and brands that you like (This is the place where being familiar with brands is helpful. I can usually spot Gunne Sax dresses and Frye boots within seconds.)

2) Keep in mind what can and can’t be fixed. Some basic alterations are cheap or incredibly easy to DIY (jean hemming with the original hem for example). Replacing or repairing zippers, blazers with linings, and so forth can be costly. Again, knowing the approximate value of the piece will help you decide if its worth fixing.

3) Take a good look. Just as you look for quality while shopping, watch for ripped seams, holey pockets, missing buttons, loose threads and busted zippers (especially invisible zippers that have ripped their tape, there’s no way to fix this.). Some stores will offer a discount on damaged merchandise but most sell as-is.

4) Don’t be fooled by organization. Even when a store offers size, style and/or color sorting it’s a good idea to take at least a quick scan around the rest of the store. Even the most efficiently organized shops will have misplaced items. This is especially the case in stores with color tags, as sometimes people will stash their finds in hopes they’ll go undiscovered come sale time.

5) Look for classic pieces, especially when doing a scour. You won’t find gold every single trip but every once in awhile you’ll find the perfect shoes/hat/dress/whatever and it will last you forever.

6) Don’t give up! Stock often moves quickly and new stuff is added all the time. Frequent scan trips are your friend and eventually the law of averages will work in your favor.

When you get home

1) Very first thing, wash your hands. This is self explanatory, but is even more important in the case of thrift stores. Consider keeping hand sanitizer in your bag is you’re going to multiple stores.

2) Wash everything that can be washed. For reals, throw it in the machine as soon as you get home. Again, this is especially true for thrift stores because not everyone washes their donations and it may have been awhile since it was donated even if it was washed.

3) Take care of cleaning everything else. Silk dress? Most can be washed with lukewarm water and a tiny bit of shampoo (lay flat to dry!) Same with wool. Cigarette smoke can be removed with either a vinegar pre-rinse or by placing the items in a zip top bag with newspaper for a few days. Scummy crud on the insides of shoes? Try some baking soda and a few drops of water to scrub it out. If your purchases include something leather (not suede!) give it a nice brush-down with a soft rag and then condition using a leather conditioner. After conditioning, spray with a nice water repellant for leather.

4) Hem and mend each piece. Put aside anything that needs hemming, mending, resoling, etc. If it winds up in your closet without getting fixed, when you go to wear it the first time you’ll be disappointed. If you’re doing your own repairs, get busy! Otherwise, Mr. And Mrs. Sew-It-All are a good choice for clothing alterations and for shoes, I recommend Sammie’s Shoe Repair.

Enjoy your treasure hunting!

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