10 tips for shopping Goodwill

by Jessie K on January 11, 2012

When I tell people I’m a devoted Goodwill shopper, they usually look at me and say, “How nice for you,” then “I never find anything good there.”

Au contraire, my friend. Treasures abound at your local synethic purse palace!

I would like to share with you a few of my time honored Goodwill shopping rules for success so you never have to worry about making a mistake or wasting your time.

#1. Seek out Goodwills in cities with colleges nearby. College students regularly slough clothing before summer break in May which could mean a treasure trove of hip finds for you — ironic saddle shoes! a color blocked sweater! leggings! — by June.

#2. Seek out Goodwills in secretly hip cities. Thrift shops in indie meccas like Portland, Boise and Savannah are already well picked over leaving scavengers just No Fear tee shirts and ratty long Johns to choose from. But Goodwills in lesser known hot spots like Wichita, Springfield, Staunton and  Jacksonville boast robust (shopping) populations not overrun with artfully distressed hipsters.  Those are the Goodwills you want to hit — the ones with massive selection and zero competition.

#3. That said, only shop Goodwills in regions without an outbreak of bedbugs. Otherwise, that bangin’ 80s stretch mini you scored at Goodwill in Manhattan? Yeah, that will be the gift that keeps on giving until you finally have to burn the rest of your wardrobe to get rid of the infestation. (Sorry, New York! I love you but I don’t want your bedbugs…)

#4.  Give yourself at least 40 minutes to browse…ideally without a small child yanking at the hem of your jacket. Utmost focus is required.  Fashionable finds usually aren’t in plain view but hidden in a sea of color blocking.  Expect to wade through plenty of early 90s mom jeans before finding a current fashionable cut.  Don’t be afraid to really slam those hangers into each other as your rifle through racks.  This is blood sport.

#5. Try on everything.  I don’t have to explain this one, right?  It’s Goodwill, not Barneys.

#6.  Only buy clothes that pass for brand spanking new.  No rips, tears, scuffs, stains, pilling, frays, missing buttons or snaps. No “worn” look allowed.  The item should be impeccable or in a month’s time you will find yourself using it as a dust rag.  Before purchasing anything, ask yourself this question: “Does it look like it comes from Goodwill?”  If the answer is yes, back to the rack it goes.

#7. Forget cheap synthetics.  No matter how Portlandia that dashing green acrylic  jumpsuit from the 70s looks on the rack, it will transform to a distressed and highly flammable clown costume the moment you bring it home.   Seriously.  I have 3 such clown costumes.   I’ve never worn them because I am not a clown.  Natural materials — cotton, wool, leather — on the other hand, look more expensive and feel nicer against your skin so you’ll wear them more.

#8.  Speaking of comfort, forget buying shoes just because they’re cheap.  I must own 6 pairs of funky, eclectic heels from a variety of second hand shops that I have never worn because they’re all cheap, shoddily made and uncomfortable (see tip 6). Only purchase second hand shoes you could conceivably walk a half mile in today.

#9. Buy pieces that already work with your existing wardrobe.  This is a good tip for shopping in general.  It’s ultimately a waste of money to buy a pair of Kiss boots — even if they come with studs and cost only $3.50! — if the rest of your wardrobe suggests Ann Taylor at a community luncheon.  Requires too much wardrobe restructuring, which cancels out any savings from the glam boots.

#10.  That said, don’t be afraid to take a risk!  Sure, you might wear that sequined tube top one time, but it’s only $2.50.  It’s Goodwill.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: