If you're convinced that all thrift store clothes are shabby, it's time to fine-tune your shopping style.

4 minute read

I have a psychologist friend who wore thrift store clothing all the way through grad school, including internships requiring professional attire. My friend wasn’t wearing moth-eaten sweaters while listening to her clients’ problems, though.

That’s because she knew how to find quality clothing in thrift stores. You can be stylish wearing thrift store clothes, too, if you know what you’re doing. Here are my best tips for finding thrift store clothing that rocks for the office, date night, or even just your living room sofa.

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1. Look for new clothing

Look for new clothing

You can find brand-new shirts, blouses, sweaters, pajamas, and pants donated by someone who never wore them. People buy new clothes impulsively, especially on sale, and then forget all about them after stuffing their new outfits in the closet.

Have you ever received a sweater that wasn’t your style as a gift? Lots of people have, and those clothes get donated to the thrift store, and some still have the original tags attached. After some practice, it’s easy to spot the never-washed creases of new clothing.

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2. Take time to browse

Take time to browse

To find nice clothes at the thrift store, you’ll need to spend some time pushing hangers around while searching for quality stuff. Along the way, you’ll come across pilled sweaters, coffee-stained pants, and stretched-out T-shirts and blouses that reek of some thoughtless donor’s perfume. However, it pays to sort the wheat from the chaff.

That’s because you’ll also find new, gently used, and even high-end clothing — especially when it comes to women’s suits, dresses, pants, and shirts. Just think about all those professionals who have to look sharp at their jobs every day. Often, those people dry-cleaned or washed all those expensive outfits delicately, so the clothing looks almost brand new.

Find out: How to Save Money on Clothing Without Giving Up Your Style

3. Avoid settling

Avoid settling

Just because you’re trying to save money on clothes doesn’t mean anything goes. Don’t buy that sweater if it’s old and worn. If you love a shirt that’s in pristine condition but is too large, put it back, because you’ll never be happy wearing it.

I go by this guideline when thrift-store shopping: If I don’t love this item enough that I’d pay full price for it at a retail store, I’m not buying it now.

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4. Avoid sub-par thrift stores

Avoid sub par thrift stores

It’s a rare thrift store that isn’t a bit dingy. However, people still donate nice clothes to thrift stores that have cobwebs in the corners and linoleum floors. However, avoid thrift stores that accept clothing that any normal person would toss in the trash.

I’m talking about thread-bare, faded stuff with unsightly stains and clothes that have been washed a million times. If most of the clothing in a thrift store is low-quality, hunt down a better store.

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5. Honor your gross-out boundaries

Honor your gross out boundaries

When it comes to thrift store clothing, we all have a line we just can’t cross. For example, even though I see lots of cool shoes at thrift stores, I don’t buy them. Being that close to an unknown person’s foot is just a little too intimate for me.

If the idea of wearing a stranger’s shoes, swimsuit, lingerie or pajama pants rubs you the wrong way, stick with shirts, sweaters, jackets, and coats. Or, only buy those items if they’ve obviously never been worn.

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6. Launder what you buy

Launder what you buy

Even if the person who donated clothing washed it first, you don’t know where it’s been stored or who’s tried it on. Always wash or dry clean clothing you purchase at a thrift store, even if it’s still got the Macy’s tag attached. When buying items that will need to be dry cleaned, be sure to figure that cost into the total price.

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7. Never pay too much

Never pay too much

What’s the point of paying $12 for a used shirt when you can buy a new one on clearance at a department store for about the same price? Also, find out what days local thrift stores offer discounts on certain items or color-coded tags. If you’re over 55, shop on senior discount day.

Now that you know how you can buy nice clothes, even on a shoestring budget, take a portion of your thrift store savings and stash it in a coffee can every time you shop. Eventually, you’ll have enough to cash in on some “real” new clothes at your favorite retail store.

Find out: 6 Tips for Putting a Stop to Anxiety Shopping

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC