If shopping is a sport, then thrift and vintage shopping should be considered an Olympic event. It requires patience, concentration, a keen eye and plenty of practice.
Luckily, there are plenty of venues for training. Secondhand clothing stores abound in the Charlotte area, offering bargain wares and vintage duds as well as high-end designer consignment merchandise.
Before you head out, become familiar with the types of secondhand stores – each with important differences that budding thrift-shoppers should know.
Consign or go thrifty?
Most thrift stores, like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, are donation-based and sell items for low prices, usually to benefit a nonprofit organization.
Independent rapper Macklemore made Goodwill cool after his hit “Thrift Shop” blew up on the radio and Internet.
“I wear your granddad’s clothes/I look incredible,” he says in the chorus. Plus, the prices at thrift stores are a fraction of the price for the same or similar item in a department store, he notes – and the thrift store clothes have more character.
Consignment stores are similar. They pay customers for clothes or other items and examine each piece for quality. These stores are slightly more expensive than thrift shops, but still way below department store prices.
Consignment is also more curated, so there is less stuff to dig through.
Allie Vick, who works at St. John, a women’s boutique in SouthPark mall, loves shopping at thrift stores. “I have been thrifting ever since I got my driver’s license – over 10 years ago,” said Vick. “I love to thrift because it’s an adventure. It’s like a treasure hunt, you never know what you’re going to find.”
Christi Schiavo, manager of Kitsch-y-Cool Vintage, deviates from the consignment model, stocking her Charlotte store with items purchased for her by buyers from estate sales and other sources outside Charlotte.
“I buy in big bulk,” Schiavo said. “Typically if I can buy in bulk of 100 pieces or more, I can keep my prices lower for the customer.”
Schiavo prices her stock on a “good, better, best” scale.
“Based on rarity, condition, coolness factor and what I pay for it,” she said. There is some flat pricing, though. “Members Only jackets are all $24.”
Vintage shops are also usually higher quality than thrift stores, and carry items that span the decades – usually from the ’80s or older. Shoppers will find old pieces in like-new condition or repurposed pieces from long ago. These stores have higher prices, though are still relatively inexpensive.
A common feature of resale shops is disorganization, but don’t get discouraged.
Hoards of decades-old clothes may occupy bowing clothes racks, and tangled handbag straps may hang off walls.
Embrace the experience
Vick suggests you know what you’re looking for before you dive in.
“Study the trends. It’s really nice to have an idea of what you want when you go to the thrift store because it can be overwhelming,” she said. “Look in places you wouldn’t normally look. A lot of time the workers will stick things in the wrong places.”
She also recommends checking for holes and stains.
Jamie Powell, an avid thrift shopper and designer who manages the Cat Banjo boutique in Raleigh, says that despite the overwhelming amount of stuff, it’s important to dig through everything to find treasures.
Powell’s No. 1 tip: Shopping for thrift outside large cities is a great way to find cool stuff. “Small town random thrift stores have the best stuff,” she said.
Patient thrift store digging pays off, though. Vick says she rarely shops even in higher-end consignment stores now.
“Once you’ve paid $3 for something, it’s hard to pay $19.99 for a dress,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a deal.”
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