Ashley MacInnis: The Frenzied Fashionista


The 10 Commandments of Thrift Store Shopping

A Fashionista's Guide to Frugal Finds for the Whole Family

The 10 Commandments of Thrift Store Shopping

Like most parents, I’m always looking for ways I can stretch my hard-earned dollars just a little further. With a fast-growing son and my penchant for pretty things, staying stylish on a frugal budget can be a challenge. One of my favourite ways to keep our clothing costs down is by shopping second-hand whenever possible.

Since my son is growing at an alarming rate (he’s six and wears anything from a size 8 to a size 12), it seems like I always have a bag of his too-small clothes hanging on the closet door handle waiting to be donated. This means more room in our closets for new styles for me, and new, bigger styles for him – without breaking the bank.

Walking into a Value Village can be an overwhelming experience: there is just so. much. stuff. With thousands of items hitting the shelves and racks at Value Villages across Canada every day, this means there’s something for absolutely everyone.

Unlike your favourite department stores, you’ll almost never find two or three of the same piece: items are sorted by size and function in large racks, so you’ll need some patience and elbow grease to find something perfect for you. I've put together a list of tips to make it easier for you as you get set to become a thrift-shopping fashionista!

1. Have a Set Goal In Mind Before You Shop

To make sure you don’t overspend and/or buy what you don’t need, this tip is important. Want a new outfit for Mama? Hit the dresses section first: it’s a one-stop ensemble. 

We needed shorts on our most recent trip, so we specifically hit that section and we looked at sizes larger than we wear because you can always have a great second-hand piece tailored when the prices are that great - and kids are always growing. Since Finley really likes button-down shirts, we got a whack of those and we even found a pair of pants he already had in the next size up! 

2. Know Your Budget

It’s only a steal if you don’t overspend. Just want something new? Set a's amazing how easily you can spend $100. (Not that I know from experience or anything...)

Know what you want to spend (or can afford to spend), and stick to it. Be ruthless: if you don’t love it enough to wear it out of the store, leave it. You don’t want to end up dropping it off, unworn, next month when you hit the racks again!

3. Pay Attention to the Details

The key to success when thrift shopping is to check each item carefully for signs of wear like stains or rips and determine whether or not they’re fixable. For example, I scored a beautiful, unique silver ring that was black with tarnish, but after holding it, I knew it was worth the effort and now I have this great piece of jewellery on my hand! By looking at every item - even those a size larger than we needed - I was able to find shorts and a shirt with the original tags still on for my son! 

Look at labels, too because you can also find designer items if you're lucky! I scored Banana Republic and Gap shorts, plus a lululemon dress for myself. For Finley, I found Gap and Old Navy shirts and Firefly shorts.

4. Be Bold

Since Value Village can often be a goldmine for the styles of yesteryear, it’s a great spot to score funky and vintage pieces that you can easily incorporate into a modern wardrobe. I like to pair funky prints with solid neutrals but if you’re not feeling so bold, try wearing a vintage brooch or bracelet instead to subtly add some flair to your look. I love “granny sweaters” paired with skinny jeans and Converse for a cozy, casual look.

5. Take Lots of Time

With racks quite literally bursting with goodies, a Value Village trip is not quick in-and-out can take time to sort through everything and find the perfect pieces. Having said that, knowing the best time to go is important! I always find Sundays, just before lunch, to be "the" perfect time since the store is quiet! 

  Tip: If you're shopping with the kiddos I highly recommend taking a trip to the toy wall. We love grabbing something fun for Finley to A) keep him entertained and B) reward him for enduring the "torture" that is looking at ladies' clothes for an hour on a sunny Sunday afternoon. (He's a real champ, this kid.)

6. Dress For the Occasion

Want to avoid dressing room line-ups? Leggings, a long tank and a cardigan or other easy-to-remove sweater make trying on pieces a breeze. Sure, you might not be able to try on pants but you can try skirts, shirts, sweaters, and even dresses for size while standing in the aisle.

7. Donate and Save More

Make a little room in your closet and score additional savings when you donate at your local Value Village. Not only will donating free up space for all your new goodies, it helps keep your unloved clothing out of the landfill while also supporting your community’s charitable organizations. Plus, you save more – and that’s something we can all enjoy!

8. Consider Your Closet

Be sure to keep your existing wardrobe in mind, and think of outfits you can create with each piece you pick up. Many of us are often stuck in a rut of buying similar pieces over and over. If you already own two white button-downs, put the one you’re eyeing back. Why not grab a great sweater vest to pair with the ones you already have instead?

9. Shop By Outfit

If you’re shopping for a special event, put the outfit together in the store rather than grabbing separate pieces if you can, and be sure to try it all on at once. Remember how I said to consider your own closet? If you want to find a piece to pair with something you already own, bring it with you or wear it so you can make the perfect outfit without any uncertainty.

10. Look Everywhere!

I’ve actually found some of my favourite buys in unusual places. I scored a fantastic sweater once in the men’s section, and on more than one occasion I’ve even gotten cool pieces out of the kid’s clothing racks. Don’t overlook an aisle simply because you think it’s “not for you." If so, you’re missing out on treasures.

Don't forget to think outside of the shoebox, either. Sometimes housewares, like a random bowl, can make a perfect jewellery holder for your bathroom vanity or an old chair can be used to lay clothes out on in your bedroom.