I started thrifting not so much because it was cool, but because it was 2005, I was in high school making minimum wage, Teen Vogue was telling me that vintage was what all the French girls were wearing, and vintage stores, where the merchandise was curated and subsequently marked-up, simply weren’t an option.
Bold, green, and barely seventeen (youth!), I decided that I could do my own curating, thank you very much.
I began perusing local thrift stores to the dismay of my—albeit progressive— horrified Filipino father. Rummaging through donated goods didn’t exactly scream success, the currency of which we were still negotiating as newly landed immigrants to Canada. He imposed a ban.
Little did he know that thrifting would become a sacred family activity ten years down the line, and that the ban, doomed from the beginning, would be short-lived.
Like all nascent thrifters, I started out with less vision than a newly hatched turtle. I grabbed anything and everything that resembled the pieces I was seeing in magazines, with little regard to quality and fit. In my first year of thrifting, I traversed more sartorial genres than Carrie Bradshaw ever did on all six seasons of Sex and the City.
Thankfully, thirteen years of near religious devotion to my favourite budget bougie pastime have allowed me to hone in on a few basic tenets. Here they are for your thrifting pleasure.
Rule #1: Focus on fabric.
The whole point of thrifting is to find quality pieces at a bargain. If you buy something simply because it’s cheap, then one man’s trash has effectively become your own. With fabric being the only part of the garment you can’t change (more on what you can change later), this is the first level of criteria I use to pilfer through what can sometimes feel like endless racks of our past decade’s mistakes.
Rule #2: Fit is important, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
That’s what a tailor is for. If something is well made but perhaps could use a sharper waistline here, or a shorter hemline there, consider buying it anyways and getting it altered. An inexpensive trip to the seamstress means getting an (almost) custom piece at a fraction of the price.
Rule #3: As the List It guy on HGTV always says—location, location, location.
Downtown thrift stores tend to be picked over. For the really good stuff, go to the suburbs. For the really, really good stuff, go to suburbs with an affluent older demographic (think, where would Bunny MacDougal have donated her goods?).
Rule #4: Visit the men’s and little boys’ sections.
Outside of browsing size sections other than your own (because see Rule #2), I always scour these racks for original versions of pieces womenswear designers often reference (oversized blazers and crisp button-ups for the first, and shrunken tees and worn-in sweatshirts for the second).
Rule #5: Bring snacks!
Because snacks make everything better and all hunters, sartorial or otherwise, are better for them.
And finally, an abridged list of my greatest conquests to keep you motivated:
• Manolo croc mules that were sitting pretty in a San Francisco thrift store for $30
• A vintage Balenciaga dress (very probably from the Cristóbal era) that I found at a Salvation Army for $7
• Two perfect pairs of 90’s 501’s that were going for $2 a piece
• And countless others with nametags you wouldn’t recognize, but with silhouettes I’ll never get rid of (like the little black dress and handbag you see here).