How to go thrift shopping for upcycling 2

How to go thrift shopping for upcycling

Thrift shopping tips and hacks for successful upcycling projects

In this post, you will learn actionable tips and hacks on how to go thrift shopping for upcycling.

I love shopping in second hand or thrift stores. I have my favorites stores and excited to try new ones. Thrifting is a way to obtain quality garments at a reasonable price, it boosts creativity through giving a “second chance” a new life to old, but still wearable clothes.

It’s one of the best practices to create sustainable fashion.

I’ve been thrift shopping for years, dating back to my childhood. It all started with us being poor, and we couldn’t afford big brands, quality clothes. The local stores were full of inadequate quality clothing, and they were also pricey.

I enjoyed thrifting, it felt an adventure, a treasure hunt. I dressed in unique outfits for pennies. Back then, I didn’t know how to refashion them (I sewed a hole or fixed a zipper), but with time I started to experiment.

These days I can afford quality, store-bought clothes, but they are not the same as used to be. I purchase some essential items, but I still stick with thrifting instead. It turned into a hobby.

If you want to thrift shop for refashioning or upcycle, you came to the right place. I gathered the best tips and practices for a successful thrifting stroll.

Let’s dive in!

Plan ahead before thrift shopping

Planning ahead keeps you focused and on a budget.

How to plan ahead for thrift store shopping?

  • Gather inspiration

You might be creative and come up with your own clothes ideas, but sometimes all of us need a little inspiration.

  • Save photos with fashion inspiration or the project you want to make. Pinterest is full of stunning outfits and refashion ideas and tutorials.
  • Hunt for ideas when you’re shopping in malls, or browsing your favorite online shops.
  • Show them to the sellers or cashiers. They will let you know if they have something similar, or on which rack you should look for something similar.


  • Determine a budget threshold. It’s so easy to pile up cheap items and then paying a fortune at the cashier.
  • Paying with cash, and leaving your credit card home, helps to keep that limit.
Thrift shopping tips

What is the best time to shop at a thrift store?

In my experience, it’s better to go thrifting in the mornings or midday. Stores put out new merchandise at the start of the day.

The best practice is to make friends with the staff. They can provide you with valuable information. For example, they will let you know when they get new donations.

In some second-hand stores, I tell the clerk what I am looking for, and they put it aside for me. It’s a huge advantage when you are searching for items for a specific project. It saves you a lot of time because you don’t have to hunt for it store after store and time after time.

How to dress for thrift shopping?

Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Pick a bag that leaves your arms and free.

Choose a form-fitting top, shirt, and leggings or biker shorts. When the store doesn’t have a fitting room, put on the clothes anywhere, making outfit changes fast and effective.


Thrift shopping is exhausting sometimes. And not only because the shop is spacious. Going through each article on the hangers, or digging up the bins is a lot of work. 

You have to learn to scan the aisles. It takes practice to do it efficiently, but it’s rewarding and saves you a ton of time.

Scan with your eyes for prints and colors, and with your fingers for quality fabrics.

Keep an open mind

Even though you go with a plan, be flexible. For example, old fashioned dresses that seem ugly at first sight have huge potential. They have the right quantity and quality of the fabric. 

Some garments need a little extra love, a new coat of paint, scrubbing, or bleaching.

Thrift shopping tips

Feel the material 

Always scour for quality fabrics and prints. Touch them to decide if they worth your attention, but check on the tags what they are made of.

Opt for linen, cotton, silk, wool textiles, and avoid cheap synthetic materials. 

Usable fabric

When you’ve found the perfect fit, estimate the actual, usable material and consider details that eat up the cloth, like elastics, pockets, plackets, etc.

Don’t get distracted by shapes and styles

If you plan to do a complete makeover, don’t let yourself distracted by shapes and forms. 

What to look for:

  • the quality of the fabric, 
  • the print, 
  • the quantity (does it have enough material for the project), 
  • the changeable elements (color, holes, smells, stains),
  • factors you can’t change (composition).
Thrift shopping tips

Size up or down?

Size up clothes are more comfortable to work with. However, it’s hard to refashion a large piece of clothing without sewing. If you don’t want to sew, choose clothes that are one or two sizes larger.

Don’t get discouraged when you find something smaller than your size. With an insertion and a couple of tricks, adjust them to your shape and size.

If you don’t have enough material to work with, collect other matching pieces to combine them. Find other items that harmonize in color, details, texture, prints.

Nifty details

Keep an eye out for fashionable adornments, buttons, pockets, ribbons, lace insertion, belts, or other stuff that can be useful for your project.

They spice up boring outfits.

Thrift shopping tips

Changeable elements

When purchasing second-hand articles consider factors you may change, for example, the color of the garment with bleach or dyeing. Mend or cover holes. Remove stains and odors with homemade techniques.

    How to remove stains? 

There are multiple ways to get rid of stains from textiles.

For delicate fabrics, mix warm water and automatic dishwasher detergent. Soak the item and leave it overnight. Repeat if needed, changing the mixture. Then clean as usual.

Another stain-removing mixture: equal parts of Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid and hydrogen peroxide. Add in baking soda to create a paste. Let it sit on the blot for at least 30 minutes, rinse and wash it. You may need to repeat the process or treat the spot longer. Be aware that the mixture may damage the fabric (if it’s delicate). If you adore the item you just found, test it out where it’s not visible.

I use the Vanish bar soap to clear away stains. Wet the soap bar and rub it on the stain, wait for half an hour. I don’t rinse it, just put it in the washing machine.

    How to remove smells?

Sharp odors are hard to remove from clothes. Every thrift store has it’s own scent, some are lighter, some are stronger.

To eliminate smells, pre-soak the items in vinegar and water. Apply ammonia if the scent is strong. Rinse with water before washing as usual.

If a mild residue scent persists, repeat this process. The odor won’t last with the second wash.

I wash new and thrift store-bought clothes with laundry sanitizer. Laundry sanitizers kill bacteria and remove some of the smells.

Check the return rack

Other folks have already done the job for you. Go through the return rack for real gems that didn’t fit the person who tried it on. An easy way to find something gorgeous when you have limited time for thrifting.

Thrift shopping tips

Take your time going over your finds

Remember that buying from second hand or thrift stores are final sales. So before paying for your goodies, take your time and examine thoroughly every piece you found. 

It happened to me multiple times that I fell in love with an item and paid for it right away. After washing it, I realized that it had lots of small holes. I stitched or covered a couple, but not all of them. I ended up throwing it out.

What to look for, or the elements you can’t/don’t want to change:

  • small holes (they are hard to mend, it’s possible to cover them with a piece of fabric or lace, but they don’t worth the time and effort),
  • though stains (spots bleached out by the sun are hard or impossible to dye and items with discolored spots that you can’t cut out or cover are a waste of money), 
  • thinned out fabric (no matter how beautiful is that shirt, worn-out garments are trash), 
  • items prone to lint (remove fuzz with a razor or a lint remover, but with time and wearing, sooner or later they will come back), 
  • fraying fibers and patches (parts of the clothing that go through constant rubbing).

Be persistent

Hunting for cool second-hand clothes is overwhelming and tiring. It takes time to find the perfect item for an excellent refashioning project.

Don’t get discouraged when you leave empty-handed. You have to go a lot and be patient.

Thrift shopping tips

Bonus Tips

  • Take a friend with you.

Thrift shopping is more fun when you’re not alone. Two heads are better than one, show your friend your inspiration outfit, to help you with the treasure hunting.

  • Check the men’s section.

Men’s clothes, shirts, and T-shirts are simple to refashion. Turn them into gorgeous blouses, dresses, skirts, aprons, pillowcases, and others.

  • Choose the location wisely

Smaller, outlying thrift shops have the best treasures. They are not frequented by a lot of people, so all the good stuff is waiting for us!

Conclusion on thrift shopping for upcycling

These tips will help you to become more successful in second hand or thrift store shopping even though they won’t grant you instant results.

Don’t stress it! Keep a handy list on your phone with your desired clothes and an open mind while entering a shop.

You have to take your time, be persistent, and don’t forget to enjoy the “treasure hunting.”

Do you have any other thrift store shopping tips or hacks? Do you like to go thrift shopping? Which one was your favorite tip?

Leave a comment.

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How to Go Thrift Shopping for Upcycling

15+ thrift shopping tips for clothes upcycling

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