A Thrifting Guidemap: How to find Grails in the Thrift Store

Thrifting is unlike any other retail experience. Each rack holds its own unique items, some could have been sold a few weeks ago online, while others could be decades old. I have spent up to 2 hours at a thrift store out of pure curiosity about what each section had. 

Thrifting holds a lot of benefits: the clothing items are a fraction of retail cost, they help promote second-hand clothing, and many thrift stores fund job programs or community organizations. However, finding great items at a thrift store can be a daunting task, especially when someone doesn’t have hours to go through an entire thrift store. Here are some tips to maximizing a thrifting trip as well as some of the gems I have found while thrifting. 

#1 Don’t Restrict Yourself to Sections 

One major difference between thrifting and retail experience is the organization of the stores. Many thrift stores sort their clothes by category (Men’s t-shirts, activewear, jackets, sweaters, kids, etc), however, I have found great items in sections that traditionally I would not look for clothes in retail stores. Oftentimes, a lot of the clothes are ambiguous to what category they fit into, if clothes can be put into gendered categories at all. Additionally, the items of thrift stores can be moved around by shoppers into the wrong sections. Whenever thrifting, I encourage people to explore other sections because you can never know what hidden gems will be there! 

My friend and I were exploring the housewares section and found this really cool wooden tennis racket!

#2 Always Check out the Fresh Racks First

A way that many thrift stores stock their stores with new donations is to bring out new items on racks first, then the employees on the main floor sort the clothes into the corresponding sections. Whenever new racks come out, I always stop what I’m doing to check them out because these are the items that have not yet been picked through by other people in the store. 

I found this vintage Nike crewneck in the heavy winter jacket section and it was the newest/first item on the rack!

#3 Thrifting can be Online

Especially during COVID times, thrifting is typically not the top priority for many people. However, there are a lot of opportunities to buy second hand clothing online. There are many sites/apps like Mercari, and Poshmark, where people can buy and sell used clothes. Additionally, places like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Offerup, etc are great sources for finding great deals. One little known fact is that the Goodwill and Salvation army have online stores! The majority of the items listed on the site are up for auction, so prices are more expensive than brick and mortar thrift stores. However, it can be a lot easier to find specific items. Just by typing “Patagonia” into the search bar, you can find a lot of great items and the process is much quicker than going into a physical store.

I found these new with tag Blundstones on Facebook Marketplace for a third of the price!

#4 Engage with the Staff

Building a relationship with the people that work at thrift stores enhances the thrifting experience. There have been many times where I have bonded with the person ringing me up over the great stuff I found that day. Additionally, creating a positive relationship with the staff allows the opportunity to learn more about how the thrift store operates. For example, I now know that Berkeley Goodwill brings out the newest racks of clothes (10-12!) on Wednesdays. The simple act of smiling, greeting, and wishing people a great day at Goodwill can help personalize the thrifting experience and create a sense of community. 

#5 Be Open to Unbranded Items or Different Items 

I think when entering a thrift shop, it is always best to have an open mind. If you enter hoping to find a specific skirt from a specific brand, you most likely will not be successful. Broadening the scope of what you are searching for can not only make the thrifting experience more successful but also expand your personal style!

This is a vintage St. John’s Bay surf t-shirt that I found at the ReUSE Store. I have no idea what the brand of this shirt is, but it was too cool not to get!


My friend rockin’ a really cool graphic long sleeve from a farm in Washington. (Found at the Berkeley Goodwill)

#6 Always Try on Items

Sizing can be extremely variant across brands. Especially when vintage sizing is mixed in with more recent clothes. This is most likely because brands have different benchmarks and measurements for each size. As a result, a Levi’s size 2 may not be equivalent to a Madewell size 2. In general, I’ve found it difficult to determine if I have a “true size” because brands seem to have completely different concepts of what size is.  In my personal experience, I have found that my size in vintage clothing is a few sizes up from my modern day sizes. If you find a cool piece at a thrift store that has a tag size that is not your typical size, still try it on!

I found this vintage 1980’s Levi’s ski jacket at the Berkeley goodwill. The size tag says 11/12. I have no idea what a 11/12 is but it fits me well!