I have a new hobby and it involves shopping. Shocking, I know.
I’ve been trolling thrift stores, stocking my closet with luxury goods. You know I never pay retail. A few recent scavenger hunts with my favorite shopping partner Ruth have yielded some truly dazzling finds for very little cash.
At the Salvation Army in June, I was rooting around in a big bin of purses when I reeled in a cute bag with a golden chain and charms. It turned out to be an authentic Fendi handbag made in Italy. It originally retailed at Neiman Marcus for hundreds of dollars. I practically stole it for $5.49. The next week, I found a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes for $7.50.
If you’re looking for cheap thrills, thrifting is where it’s at. There is nothing quite like seeing the words Gucci inscribed on a pair of sunglasses for $2. On another day, I purchased a pair of vintage Ted Lapidus oversized sunglasses made in Paris. My trusty iPhone helped familiarize me with the designer, so I took a chance and forked over $27. (Clearly, the shop’s pricing manager knew who the late designer was, which explained the higher-than-usual price.) My gamble paid off. They sold on eBay for $76.
In August, I found a vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase for $75. I was giddy with joy. The soft-sided Monogram valise, which retails new for $2,350, is worth 10 times what I paid on the resale market.
Thrifting is a hot and hip shopping trend. It’s especially popular with younger shoppers who like the value and sustainability of buying gently used goods. Even Macy’s and JC Penney are showcasing thrifty goods in department stores in new partnerships with ThredUp. If you need something, anything, you’ll find it at the thrift store sooner or later. A lot of stuff is brand new.
I’m really enjoying my new hobby and the thrill of the hunt. If you want to find the best bargains at the lowest possible price, try these tips and tricks.
If you like it, buy it. Items won’t be there for long because merchandise turns over quickly. Also, ask when new merchandise is stocked so you’ll know when to visit. Plus, the more often you visit, the more treasures you’ll find. Also, try to shop early, when stores first open for business to get the best selection.
Usually, most items are 50% off at least one day a week. At Salvation Army Family Stores, it’s Wednesdays. At Goodwill, seniors get 15% off on Tuesdays; for students it’s Wednesdays. Check your favorite thrift’s website to see when the best sale days will be held. Also, most thrifts have a color-coded ticket system. For instance red-tagged items may be 50% off on a certain day each week. Signs are usually posted as you enter stores, or just ask at the register. Don’t be afraid to ask for an extra discount if items are damaged.
Vintage goods are not only cool, they are collectible and can be valuable, too. Check clothing labels on the Vintage Fashion Guild’s website at Vintagefashionguild.org/label-resource.
WHERE TO LOOK
Windows, glass display cases and behind registers are the spots to focus your attention. Don’t be afraid to ask to see items. Check those back racks. Get down. Great finds can be hiding in low-lying bins or under piles of stuff. I have found a few beautiful vintage beaded evening bags mixed in with wallets piled on top of clothing racks. It takes time to go through stuff, so don’t be impatient. You will be rewarded.
Buyer beware: There are a lot of fake designer goods in thrift stores. Before you buy, compare logos and fonts on items you think may be authentic to see if they exactly match real designer versions. Details matter. Most high-end brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton have serial numbers and date codes. There are tons of YouTube tutorials that give tips on how to spot fakes. Also, look for high-quality materials and leathers, heavy hardware, clasps and zippers. Search inside handbags and accessories for tags with holograms and serial numbers (my Fendi bag has both). Closely examine linings and stitching to see if they are secure; make sure they aren’t stained and ripped or they will be harder to sell on the resale market.
If the item is very inexpensive and you’re not sure if it’s real, I’d buy it and do the research later. There are professional authenticating services you can consult, too. I recently purchased a pair of black Gucci sunglasses for $2. I wasn’t sure they were authentic. When I got home, I Googled “how to authenticate Gucci sunglasses.” I found out that the designer prints model numbers on the inside left arms of the shades. I typed in the numbers online and up popped photos of the glasses. They were indeed real! Some online marketplaces were selling them for $100.
WHAT TO BRING
Your smartphone is your best friend. Use it to check items on the fly before you buy to see if a brand you aren’t familiar with is a treasure. Also, bring a magnifying glass or loop to spot teenie makers’ marks stamped on vintage costume jewelry (some brands can be quite valuable) or to read minuscule print on labels sewn deep inside handbags. A magnet is also useful; silver and gold are not magnetic.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
A store’s proximity to ritzy areas matters. Donations come from surrounding neighborhoods.
There is no shortage of second-hand shops, and many support worthy charitable efforts. Salvation Army charges no tax because it’s a nonprofit.
These are some of my favorite haunts: American Thrift (various locations); Salvation Army (various locations); Goodwill (various locations).
UPSCALE CONSIGNMENT SHOPS
These shops carry used designer goods that people are trying to sell. You can save up to 50% to 75% on everything from used Louie Vuitton purses to Hermes scarves and Chanel suits. Consign your high-end thrift-store finds at these stores to make some money or trade for other goods. Most of these shops post items on Facebook to entice you to visit.
Looking to buy an exercise bike or a bedroom dresser? New app-based marketplaces use location services to hook up local buyers and sellers. They are catching on like wildfire, with millions of users. Search on Facebook Marketplace at Facebook.com/marketplace; LetGo.com and Offerup.com, where Goodwill is now posting items.
Lots of wonderful items new and old can be found at tag and garage sales. Go to GSALR.com to find them, or, chart a course of sales in your neighborhood with the free Yard Sale Treasure Map app, which scrapes garage sales listings from Craigslist.org.
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