How to Buy and Alter Thrift Store Clothes

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You can find great bargains and unique clothing items at thrift stores. Often filled with outdated garb that can distract you from finding what you need to buy, thrift stores can seem overwhelming. With a shopping list, persistence, and a good tailor, you can easily buy and alter thrift store clothes.

Things You'll Need

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Fashion magazines
  • Tailor or sewing supplies

Make a Shopping List

  • Before heading to a thrift store, gather inspiration to guide your shopping. Flip through your favorite fashion magazines and tear out pictures of appealing outfits. You can also find inspiring pictures in books and movies or on the Internet.

  • Take a look inside your closet and note which items are missing to complete an outfit. Do you need a new winter coat? Have you worn through your favorite pair of jeans?

  • Create a shopping list based upon the pictures you've collected the items missing from your closet.

Go Shopping

  • Bring your shopping list with you to the thrift store. As you browse through the racks, glance at your shopping list. Try to visualize the potential in each item. For example, if you like a dress that happens to be floor-length, keep in mind that you can have it altered into a cute minidress for a night out.

  • Try on all of the clothes that catch your eye. If something fits perfectly, you are in luck. If an item does not fit properly, consider whether you can realistically have it altered. You could easily turn a romper into a dress or shorten a hemline. However, it may not be easy to shorten the sleeves on a hand-knit sweater.

  • If you found some items that you want to buy, take time to check the quality. Look for stains, rips and snags. Also check the price tag and consider whether or not you will have to pay for alterations. If you are shopping at a bargain thrift store like Goodwill, you can usually get a great deal, even with alteration costs. On the other hand, if the item is more expensive, alterations may not be cost-effective.

Get Alterations

  • If you know how to sew, you can try to do any necessary alterations yourself. Otherwise, try to find a good seamstress or tailor in town. It may help to ask for recommendations from friends or family members.

  • If you have inspirational pictures, bring them to your tailor. For example, if you want to alter a blazer, bring pictures of the type of fit you want for your blazer. Also, be prepared to try on the clothes for your tailor, especially if you want to alter a fitted piece.

  • When you pick up your items from the tailor, check the quality of the alterations. Do not be afraid to express concerns if the alteration does not meet your expectations. Sometimes, a second fitting may be required.

  • Have fun wearing your "thrifted" clothes. When someone compliments your attire, you can simply say, "It's vintage!"

Tips & Warnings

  • Be realistic about what you can find at Goodwill. Look for classic pieces over cutting-edge trends.
  • Get creative: sleeves and pants can be cuffed, over-sized dresses and tunics can be belted, and shoulder pads can be removed.
  • You may not find much during your first visit to a thrift store. Check back another day when new merchandise has arrived, or consider visiting other thrift stores in town.

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