My Friend, the Thrift Store (Part 1)


The thrift store is my friend.  We have a close relationship.  I visit often and bring it gifts from our home, and it gives me gifts, too.  In fact, the gifts my thrift store has given me make up the backbone of my wardrobe.  My sister and I began “thrifting” when we were in high school.  We had a route of really good (i.e. really cheap) thrift stores that we would visit from time to time.  I think this dismayed my father, not because he’s against thrift stores in any way but because, being a tomboy, I came back with some “interesting” finds (old man adjustable waistband pants—which I still say were awesome, orthopedic looking shoes probably from the ‘70’s, etc.).  I still stand by these purchases, but I will admit that they probably didn’t do much for me.   :0)

Some of my better finds have included an authentic military pea coat for $25, a free surfboard, free Dr. Martens shoes, a vintage hat in perfect condition, Guess leather pants for $15 (these may make an appearance on the blog as I’m “transforming” them), Marimekko pillowcases (free), a Burberry plaid scarf (free),  a new L.L.Bean toiletries bag for $3, a new looking Brooks Brothers shirt dress for $10, and on and on.  (Full disclosure:  we have a “free” thrift store near us where you can take whatever you want, so maybe that’s cheating a bit, but it just feels like an extra good deal to me.)

Over the years, I discovered new thrift stores, tried out new styles, and came up with some strategies for visiting these treasure troves…strategies that really came into focus once I had children and had to develop time management skills when shopping.  I can really wax eloquent (some might say long-winded, but we’ll stick with eloquent) when it comes to finding deals at these venues, so we’ll break this subject up into a few posts, and maybe even go more in depth on the subject of antique shopping somewhere down the road.

Here are my thrifting philosophies.  Hopefully they’ll help you as well.  These apply to thrift stores and generally to antique-type flea markets.

Ask yourself what you are looking for.

I look for things in three categories:

1.  Useable now

Thrifting with Pattern and Branch

Brooks Brothers dress and trendy boots, ready to wear after washing!

Look for clothing or other items in good condition—once you wash them, you can use them.  This is also a great place to look for trendy items if you want to try out a fad, but don’t want to invest much money in it.

2.  Needs only small repairs

Thrifting with Pattern and Branch

This vintage dress needed only small alterations. The Italian sweater was ready to go after cleaning.

How much are you willing to do to this item to make it work?  I will happily replace a button.  Sometimes I’m willing to hem something.  The more excited I am about a piece, the more I’m willing to do to make it work, but if I just don’t feel like doing the repair, or if it seems like it’s in such bad shape that it’s not even worth the low price, I leave it.

3.  Raw materials for use in other projects

Thrifting with Pattern and Branch

Sheets and pillowcases ready to be made into something “new”.

Look for things you can make into other things.  I nearly always look through the sheets.  They provide a lot of fabric for a low price.  They are great as a stand-in for muslin if you like to make practice versions of a garment before sewing a final product.  Vintage sheets and pillowcases can also make cute pillowcase dresses for little girls, skirts and shirts for adults, etc.  Also look for leather garments if you want to try sewing clutches, leather details on clothing, or other small items.  I even found a large faux fur coat that I hope to transform into a pullover a la The Selfish Seamstress (hopefully I’ll be able to show you the finished product as a success and not a craft fail).

In the next post we’ll talk about using time as efficiently as possible, so you can maximize your shopping experience.

About Lisa Poblenz (patternandbranch)

I love sewing and taking pictures! Pattern and Branch is my sewing blog with periodic photography posts (and occasional other side wanderings). It's a journal of my creative practice that I hope will add to the wider community and serve as a personal record to help me remember the details of my projects (because sometimes I need help with that). Welcome to this space! Join in the conversation!

10 responses »

  1. I’ve just started on my next project (bunkbed play house and bunkbed castle for the kid’s new rooms when we move) and went to Savers this week to get sheets for fabric! We should totally go thrifting sometime, or come on over to the G and T and we can go together. 🙂


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