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A Diamond In The Rough: Mining The Thrift Store For Treasure

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

A Diamond In The Rough: Mining The Thrift Store For Treasure

Lawrence was my great accomplice and fellow middle child whose imagination knew no bounds. The power of our inventive minds took us on infinite adventures. Most notable of all our expeditions centered around what we understood to be “deep molten rock excavations.” Unfortunately for our parents, that meant digging up rows upon rows of carefully planted flower beds in search of “diamonds” and other semi-precious stones. We were convinced that among the heaps of rocks, if we just looked hard enough, we would find our diamond in the rough. Hunger, skin-burrowing insects and fading sunlight could not stop us. And most importantly, we were convinced that finding this special diamond would open a portal that could be used for our greatest endeavor yet: spontaneous teleportation. The idea of miraculously escaping the clutches of bullies and watching endless episodes of Star Trek unsupervised elated us throughout our excavations. Unfortunately, the day to join the ranks of Spock and captain Packard never came, but the lesson of searching for the treasure among the rubble has always stayed with me.

Fast forward to my twenties when I found myself living in Detroit, Michigan. To my left was a Chinese buffet that opened until 4 AM and to my right was a gently used mattress store. On the horizon were vacant lots and the distant neon outline of an establishment promising “Better Steaks and Hotter Girls.” I made it. I was on 8 Mile in route to The Salvation Army. Inside the store, I found rows upon rows of musty cotton tees and stringy club wear ensembles. A sensible person would have left. But I was a middle child whose history of “deep molten rock excavations” compelled her to stay for the search. The hangers shrieked and squealed as I moved them along the racks. I made my way through the store completely unphased by the armpit tears, crotch holes and fresh grease stains that greeted me. After an hour-long quest, my staunch militance was rewarded with a tailored navy St. John jacket and silk BCBG MaxAzria dress.

What I found at The Salvation Army that day in the middle of 8 Mile simply should not be. It breaks every elitist rule that tells you “Nice things belong in nice places” and “If you want something that is quality made, you will have to pay.” The Salvation Army and thrift stores like it are the great equalizers: they give every person the same opportunity to find beautiful quality items without the oppressive price tags.

Yes, you will have to be patient and filter through the highwater-mom jeans and Mr. Rogers-era sweaters.

Yes, it is musty and yes, the origins of that stain are questionable.

But if you are patient and follow a few simple guidelines you will be surprised at the diamonds in the rough that await you.

Kat wearing $500 BCBG dress found at thrift store for $20

Thrift Guideline #1: Make A Shopping List to Avoid Overwhelm

Do not be like the fool who comes ill prepared for her day of destiny. When your eyes lock onto the sea of t-shirts made in every color under the sun, look away and do not make contact as it will undoubtedly overwhelm your senses. Being mentally unprepared to take in the organized chaos of a thrift store may cause vertigo, nausea, malaise and in rare cases, adult onset constipation. Let’s face it, thrift stores are visually taxing and those who are unprepared to shop in this environment leave before the adventure has even begun. To optimize your experience and prevent this series of unfortunate side effects, there is one simple rule: create a list of top 3 items, ranked by priority, with a prescribed amount of digging time assigned to each item. In my case this week at the thrift store, my list went as follows, in order of greatest priority to least:

1. Dress (30 minutes)

2. Skirt (20 minutes)

3. Blouse (10 minutes)

A simple top three list structures your time and search, bringing order and discipline to what often feels like a bottomless thrift buffet. Imperative in a successful thrift shopping experience is to identify your thrift threshold. My burnout point at a thrift store is one hour, so I allocate my time according to the ranking of my items based on what I want the most. If I can’t find the items on my search list within the allocated time, I abort the mission entirely. Setting a shopping time limit is good for the soul and is key to combat thrift exhaustion, and it helped me find the elegant dress pictured above quickly and efficiently.

Kat wearing ASOS one shoulder dress from thrift store

Thrift Guideline #2: Avoid Buying Items That Are Similar To What's In Your Closet

Just because it is $5.00 does not mean you should have it. Unfortunately, when price tags shrink, so does our reasoning. Markdowns and blowout sales somehow reduce our minds into a child like state where all we can do is nod our heads and say “But, baby want more.” I am admittedly vulnerable to this mindset and have found the best way to combat it is with a simple question: “Do I have anything like it?” Answering this question honestly will save you from the temptation to purchase everything in sight. Make your money count. Duplicates and triplicates of the same item in a different color will do nothing for building an evolving wardrobe. This simple question will help you to be mindful as you purchase and choose items that are distinct. In my case this week, the simple question led me to a gorgeous pleated BCBG runway dress with an original retail price of $500 (featured above) and this asymmetrical one shoulder ditty from ASOS (also featured above) that screams “Eat your heart out, Tinkerbell!”

Kat wearing white lace skirt found in a thrift store

Thrift Guideline #3: Avoid Buying Items With Overt Signs of Wear

There are two kinds of people in this world: people who look like they shop at thrift stores and people who shop at thrift stores. I will never fully understand tattered, grandpa wear and 80’s button-up women’s vests as intentional style choices. They will always feel ironic. Thrift stores are the great mavericks of the retail world, the beloved rule breakers. They level the playing field, offering high-end quality engineered pieces at mystifying prices. To forgo that opportunity and reach for a pair of ripped houndstooth bell bottoms is an injustice in and of itself. They key to selecting polished pieces while paying thrift store prices is to ask a simple question “Would you give it away as a gift to a loved one?” I realize that used clothing is a peculiar gift, but it’s an ideal litmus test. Armpit stains, arm holes, snags, missing buttons, faded designs, light pilling are often justifiable for our own thrift purposes. “I’ll fix it later” and “It’s good enough” are excuses for items of which you should steer clear. If you would not give this away to a dear friend, it’s likely not a worthy purchase for yourself. This lace skirt (pictured above) that I found for 8 dollars, on the other hand, is something I would slap a bow on and give to my best friend in a heartbeat.

Come Thrift With Me!

If you venture inside the labyrinth of racks at your nearest thrift store, bring your list and guidelines to give yourself the best chance at success. Some of the best pieces I have found for clients have been lightly consigned pieces from thrift stores that consistently evoke the same reaction: “You got this from a thrift store?!!” If your style needs a boost and you want to work with me to find some lightly consigned items, consider Seven’s Short Term Investment and we can get started right away after your free consultation!

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Sep 03, 2018

Hey Susan, No!!!! 5 Salmon colored tops? Time to stage an intervention! Lol. I get it, sometimes when you fall in love with the make and quality of an item, you want to get enough to last a life time. I hate the feeling of coming home from a shopping expedition only to feel like I wasted my money on things that I don't love. The question of " would you give it to a beloved friend" has been really helpful for me in saying NO to pieces that don't build a wardrobe long term. Thanks for your comment!


Sep 02, 2018

Kat these dresses are really lovely. I'm probably guilty of buying 4 or 5 of the same items at a thrift store. I think the idea of giving it to a friend as a litmus test is great! On the other hand, I do love my 5 salmon colored tanks. Time to grow I guess?


Aug 31, 2018

Hey Patty, I love when folks are in utter disbelief of my thrift store finds :). It feels like we are cheating the system !! Unfortunately in terms of business wear, it has been very very seldom that I have found pieces that are appropriate for an office setting. I will occasionally find a great tailored pant, but suit jackets are a rare find.


Aug 30, 2018

Kat, I love that you love thrift stores! While I don't shop there exclusively, some of my favorite items I've gotten from our neighborhood Goodwill for prices that I could never find elsewhere. And no one ever knows that what I'm wearing is second hand! I feel like the Goodwill is fashion's best kept secret :)

Have you ever found good work wear at a thrift store? I only find causal pieces usually.


Aug 29, 2018

Hey Meryl! Visit the one on Woodstock when you are in the area. I promise you won't be disappointed.

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