·Wear undergarments that cover everything. The clothes aren't guaranteed to be clean, so the less contact with your skin, the better. (Sorry if that grosses you out, but its reality.)
·Try on everything, and don't be scared to try on too many items. Just because the pants are your favorite brand and marked with your size does not mean they will fit. Someone might have donated them because they shrank 2 sizes in the dryer. OH! And while you’re by the fitting room, check the stuff people have already tried on! Those racks can be really good.
·Especially in pants, know what brands and sizes fit you. Be willing to try on a size bigger than you normally wear. And don’t ever pick up a pair of pants that don’t have butt pockets. Knowing those things make it a lot easier when you go through the rack of 400 pairs of pants. And I’ve found that 85% of the time I strike out on pants, but when you find one pair that fits the chances of finding another pair are greater because probably someone donated more than 1 pair.
·Shirt racks. Recently, I’ve started looking at the bottom of the shirts instead of the top. A shirt that is too short in the torso is bad, so it is easier just to look at the bottoms of the hanging shirts and see if there are any longer ones. I don’t do too well finding good shirts. Sometimes t-shirts, but you can find new Old Navy clearance t-shirts for cheap. (My best bet for shirts is going to the real store when they have additional 40% off clearance. Banana Republic just had it, but it ended yesterday and I missed it! The Limited had it every weekend from Thanksgiving to New Years.)
·I think sweaters and jackets are the best things to buy in a thrift store. Suede/leather is really expensive to get dry cleaned- so stay away from those. (I once bought my mom a beautiful suede jacket for $6, but when she looked into getting it cleaned the prices started at $50+)
·I think the biggest hurdle is finding the right stores. I really only go to 2 stores: Goodwill in Peoria (probably the biggest Goodwill ever), and one seemingly random little place on Cave Creek Rd, just north of Cactus by Dairy Queen. The random little place was recommended by the goddess coworker. I know that they get items from a bigger consignment store. So I get the emails from the big consignment store and when they advertise that their new season of clothes is going to be revealed on a specific day, I know they are getting rid of the ending season's inventory, so go to the cast off store that day. (Umm… yeah. I really am that pathetic. But hey, I got a perfect Banana Republic jacket for $3 and Express editor pants for $1.50.) If you don't live in Phoenix, I would suggest asking other thrift shoppers who are dressed nicely. I’ve done that before. One lady was trying on a jacket and I said, “Oh, that jacket looks so good on you. You have to get it.” “Thanks, but what would I wear with it?” “Good point. What other stores do you like to shop at? Do you know any hidden gems?”
·Thrift shoppers can physically get really pushy and invade your territory. Do not let them rush you. When I'm feeling my personal space being invaded, I’ll stop going through the rack, look at the pushy person with a “Are you seriously trying to push me?” glare. Some people aren’t deterred by the glare though. I also recommend the use of a shopping cart. It helps indicate your personal bubble.
·Make sure you have hand sanitizer with you, and go to the bathroom before you leave your house.
·Be nice to the workers. If you don't understand the store's system- ask! Tell them it is your first time there. Maybe they have sales on specific days, or have a sister store nearby.
Side note: Iron-on fabric tape is a wonderful invention. You can hem the bottom of your pants just using that stuff and an iron. And if you get it wrong you can just heat it up and peal it apart. They sell it at Target by the sewing machines and it is around $5. Die-hard seamstresses hate it, so keep it a secret from the sewers in your life.
Thrift store shopping is hard. It takes time and a lot of patience, so don't get discouraged if you don't snag Stuart Weitzman heels for $4 on your first outing (it took me a couple years to find mine!) And don’t ever feel like you have to buy something. Some days you strike out. Other days you strike it big.