Making Thrift Store Clothing Your Own

Some people don’t understand how thrift stores and charity shops work, and others don’t want to wear other people’s clothes. But whether you’re flush with money or down to your last penny, thrift store shopping is an environmentally friendly way to find great clothes.

David and I went on shopping spree on Independence Day, coming home with three new shirts for him and a pair of shorts and shirt for me. We spent almost $10. Do you see why we like thrift store shopping?

Misunderstandings About Thrift Stores

Some people have funny ideas about thrift stores and charity shops. They think that if you buy something there, you’re taking something away from a poor person who needs it more than you do. But that’s completely wrong.

Many thrift stores are for-profit companies that exist only to make money. These either buy some of their merchandise from a charitable organization or perhaps give some of their proceeds to a charity. Some have no charitable connections at all. The mini-chain Thrift Town is a good example of a for-profit thrift store chain that supports charitable causes.

Goodwill is an example of an organization that exists to serve a charitable cause. They aren’t in business to sell to so-called poor people. They sell to anyone who want to buy from them. They then use the proceeds for a charitable purpose, in their case putting people to work. Goodwill stores themselves provide jobs to many people, and they also offer career services — funded by their thrift store sales — to many others.

The Salvation Army makes money from its thrift stores that helps homeless people involved in its ministries. And the word “ministries” is a deliberate choice here. The Salvation Army is a church. If you don’t support their very specific belief systems, you may want to think twice about giving them your money, even if it is in exchange for things you want.

Thrift stores aren’t for the underprivileged. They’re for anyone with money to spend in exchange for good prices on used (and sometimes new) merchandise. Your money either goes into the coffers of a company or into the hands of a charity that uses it for whatever cause they support.

Not All Thrift Stores Are The Same

I suggest choosing carefully the charity shops and thrift stores where you do business.

Some are clean, bright, fun places with prices on every item and everything categorized. In exchange for this nice environment, you often pay higher prices than you would at shops where clothes aren’t arranged and merchandise is in boxes or bins that customers must pick through themselves.

Some stores have dressing room. Some don’t. A few have dressing rooms that you’d be better off avoiding.

Some shops wash every item. Some spray them with a strongly scented disinfectant. Some just put things out and let you decide if an item is too smelly or dirty to save.

Everyone has their weird little quirks about cleanliness.

I don’t mind trying on shirts or pants in a moderately well-maintained thrift store dressing room. I draw the line at shoes, however. I don’t buy shoes at thrift stores. You can decide for yourself where your line is.

(This might be a good time to mention that I won’t sit on your sofa. I won’t be enveloped by other people’s rarely cleaned fabrics. I’ll sit in your wooden rocker or pull in a dining room chair. And I would never buy plush furniture at a thrift store.)

Making Thrift Store Clothes Your Own

After that parenthetical paragraph that only somewhat relates to the topic at hand, here are my tips on making thrift store clothing your own.

  • Don’t be afraid to try things on. If that seems creepy to you, think where new clothes have been before you try them on. Schedule thrift store shopping on your way home so you can take a shower, if you must.
  • Don’t settle for things that don’t fit well. You don’t have to buy something every trip, so don’t settle for things that aren’t quite right unless you’re desperate. In my case, that means I turn down lots of shirts that aren’t long enough. When you’re tall, most aren’t.
  • You can learn to repair minor damage. Loose buttons are easy to fix, and if you have a bit more skill you can sew up minor rips in seams and repair other damage.
  • The quality of a worn item may be good enough. I find lots of thrift store clothing that is slightly faded from washing, but I sometimes buy it anyway. Here’s the question to ask yourself: If I had bought this new, would I still wear it when it got to be in this condition? If so, you might as well buy it now if it’s a good enough deal.
  • Stains often come out. It’s okay to take a risk on stained items. Many stains come out easily if soaked for a few hours. Stained collars, in particular, make a shirt look unappealing, but the stain almost always comes out with warm water and detergent.
  • Wash twice before wearing. Each thrift store has a distinctive disinfectant or perfume smell, and clothes washed only once after they come home still smell like the store. Soak every item or wash each one twice before wearing so the clothes smell like your detergent, if that matters to you.
  • What other thrift store clothing tips do you have?

Not A Perfect Shopping Experience, But Close

I admit that the shorts I bought at the thrift store on July 4 are a little tight, but since I rarely wear shorts and my only other pair are too large to stay up without a belt, these will be great for wading in a vacation pool somewhere. Sometimes, a thrift store purchase turns out to be less than you’d hoped. It happens.

Some thrift stores are unpleasant experiences, and you have to decide for yourself whether they’re worth your time.

Saving money, reusing things others have discarded and supporting charitable causes when I can are important to me. That’s why I unashamedly shop at thrift stores. Do you?


    1. I really don’t like other people’s sofas, although when there is no choice I do sit carefully on one now and then. Those big, soft chairs at Barnes and Noble really creep me out, though.


  1. Experience tells me that thrift stores are okay for clothes (around here some of the clothes at thrift stores are the cost of new though), pretty good for small furniture (like end tables), and decent for finding odd things (if you need a weird-shaped container for something, go to the thrift store!)

    I usually draw the line at food though. Some thrift stores up here have various food items, and if you don’t know that they’re careful about what they put out you can wind up with expired stuff (even if it’s still within the date range on the package).

    The other thing to keep in mind is that some thrift stores have products that are designed to be sold at thrift stores. I.e. the item might be a low-quality or poorly-made variant of an item at a regular store, and you should ascertain whether that may be true before you plunk down your cash.

    But for things that “are what they are”, such as clothes, furniture, etc., thrift stores are great!

    1. None of the thrift stores here sell food, but there is a salvage grocery store in Fort Worth called Town Talk, for some reason. I stopped shopping there because it’s inconvenient for me, but the prices are very high and the quality is very low. Even Walmart is often cheaper than they are.

      I don’t shop at stores like Family Dollar or Dollar General and I don’t buy clothes at Walmart for the reason you mentioned — cheaper versions of clothing that are really just junk.

      We do have some expensive thrift stores — like Thrift Town — here also. Goodwill is also trending toward higher prices here. And you should see the prices at Goodwills in Austin!


  2. Here’s a little something you may not know about me – I was Marketing Manager for a chain of UK Charity shops for almost 5 years! Not only should you shop there you should most certainly donate your unwanted items there… A pair of jeans on average generates $5-$10 for the charity (approx £5 over here). When you consider they work on very good mark ups 🙂 this is a great amount of profit for the concern.

    1. You’re right, Jo. Most of my clutter that was worth reselling went to a local Goodwill store. Thrift stores are a good deal for everyone involved.

  3. Oh, how I love thrift shopping. Let me count the reasons. (1) I save money. I bought an entire (large) winter wardrobe for $40 last year. (2) The clothes are far better quality than I can afford new. One of “my” stores regularly has Coldwater Creek clothes, which I adore but would never spring for new. (3) I’m not supporting the cheap imports sold for hugely inflated prices at chain stores. (4) I quickly get bored with clothes (or they turn ugly in my closet). Periodically, I take a load to Goodwill or Thrift Town or Savers, drop it off, then go in and buy another load (for just a few bucks). My favorite is run by an animal welfare group that I strongly support. When I’m wavering about getting rid of something “good”, I think of them and donate it. And of course buy a bunch of stuff.

  4. Jes, can you tell me what some good thrift stores are in Albuquerque? Or if that’s not appropriate, give me hints? We live in Amarillo and go to Albuquerque at least once every couple of years. I have visited a couple of stores and didn’t find much. It’s hard to find up-to-date reviews on the web.

    1. We-ell — how much space do I have? 🙂 The main Goodwill on San Mateo is fantastic. Savers, also on San Mateo is pretty good; sometimes they have new good-brand stuff still with labels. Thrift Town on Menaul I find less reliable but still have made some good finds there. Animal Humane thrift shop on Virginia is great; a little higher-end, but I’m a believer in the cause so I don’t mind paying. For more, go to, a great blog-site about Albuquerque and post the question. The people there are great, friendly and go out of their way to be helpful.

  5. Thanks, Jes. I have been to Savers and Thrift Town. Thanks also for the website, it will also be helpful for other things when we visit.

    1. Glad you made a connection, Jes and Fran. Thanks to both of your for commenting here. Jes, you’re right about the quality issue. I’ve often found $60 name-brand shirts for a few dollars. Jeans are usually too worn to bother with, but I do find them sometimes.


  6. I’ll buy clothes at a thrift store. Electronics and appliances, too, if the price is right and either it looks to be in good shape or I can fix it (I’m handy like that).

    I’m even willing to gamble sometimes, knowing I’m risking little and it’s (hopefully) going to a good cause. If I buy something that doesn’t fit or can’t be fixed, once in a while, oh well, I guess I made a donation instead of a purchase.

    What really irks me though, are the ones that are too proud of their stuff, selling used junk they got for free and wanting near-new-retail prices. Oh, and the for-profit stores that go like vultures to the charity thrift stores, buy up all the best stuff and then resell it for almost-retail prices, depriving “real” shoppers of the charity stores of the best deals.

    1. I gamble on questionable things sometimes, too, but I’m trying to do that less. It seems to rarely work for me.

      I don’t have a problem with resellers at all. If a store’s prices are low enough that a couple of people can make a profit from their items before they reach their end users, that’s fine with me. I suppose that’s what I do in my bookselling business much of the time so I can’t complain about it.

      Our for-profit chain is Thrift Town, and they do often have very high prices. I guess that works for them because they’re a successful chain. It also cuts out the reseller middle man, I would think.

      As I said on your blog, I’m looking forward to your upcoming RV living posts.

  7. Hi Gip, I love shopping in second hand shops. I used to do it all the time but not so much now because I have less time to spare. Thrift store shopping does take time but it’s worth it. You end up looking much more unique with the added satisfaction of saving money and being eco-friendly:)

    So happy to see you still blogging away here and many thanks for mentioning me on your guest blogging page! An honor:)

    1. Yes, I’m still here, diligently saying what I think needs to be said! I still watch your blog too. As always, you’re doing a great job.

      Thrift store shopping can take some time, but I think it’s worth it for the reasons you mentioned.


  8. When our daughter was a toddler we got most of her clothes from thrift stores because we couldn’t buy new as fast as she outgrew them. When she got to the age of playing dress-up I bought “costumes” from thrift stores one year for her birthday. Years later, when we moved from a house to an RV we donated lots of stuff, proof I guess that what comes around goes around.

    1. The best thing about thrift stores is that the things you buy may have already served several people. I like that. I’m just one in a chain. I hope to either wear out every item or send them back again. I sent lots to thrift stores in 2010 and need to send more.

  9. Of course however i’d never buy under garments just seems to risky from thrift store if furinsher I’m not talking a couch I rather sit on floor unless couch is leather then sit on that plush fabric and take chance I mean like a night stand or something was in good condition and reasonably priced and I needed i’d buy it. One thing say you see something you just love the fabric of but its not your size if your handy with sewing machine or needle and thread don’t be afraid to turn the old into new. I’m planing a trip as soon as have cash to thrift store to look for couple shirts in my size but I also plan to buy some men’s shirts or better yet sweaters to turn into skirts as fabric is up to 3 dollars a yard minimum and that adds up about as much as buying a new wardrobe when you are 5’3 on one and 5’5 on other leg and are mostly legs. Why not buy new wardrobe cause stores idea of mosest these days disturb my head and I want truly what I feel is modest modesty and up here that skirt better be warm and touch your ankles and you better be wearing something underneath in winter as it gets that cold. I shirts to cover me not parts of me to short or show ur brast even long sleves execpt turtle necks whicg still want to show your belly. Sorry I want my torso covered whole leg in fall and winter and just below need in summer we don’t tecnically have a spring up here. I’m in part of indiana nearly in Michigan we get cold and lots of. it. So say your walking thru thrift store you see a shirt you like really like its not your size take it home if have some sewing skill turn it into a neat little gest or skirt depending on you and size of item and turn it new.

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