glamour on a budget

Some months ago the ever-resourceful Bargain Queen posted about the logistics of shopping in secondhand stores; when to go, who to befriend, etc. Well, I'm not rehashing that; she did a fabulous job and there's no point. I am going to share some of the best tricks I've found for dressing with taste and style on a very small budget.
Do buy good quality. At a thrift store, the acrylic discount-chain sweater costs the same amount as the handknit 100% wool one; buy the wool. Skip the teen-store skirt and buy the fully-lined one. There are exceptions (if it's fifty cents, if you are putting together a costume), but most of the time it costs exactly the same to buy cheap clothing as it does to buy well-made pieces.
Don't confuse brand name with quality. There are companies that regularly produce excellent quality clothing that will occasionally pop out a real corker. On the other hand, there are little-known brands that produce well-made clothing. Learn to recognize good construction and quality materials. On the other hand, at least a passing familiarity with who makes which lines will help you figure out which white tshirt will last more than 10 washings (Ann Taylor, Gap) and which won't (White Stag, Charlotte Russe).
Do buy what suits you. I can't tell you how many times I've purchased something because it's "a classic" and I should really have (fill in the blank). And then I either never wear it, or hate it every time I do, because I look like such a dork.
Don't buy it only because it's such a good deal. Currently in my closet: at least three sweaters purchased because they were only a dollar or two and they're 100% wool! And I can always felt them or something! I can, and maybe someday I will. But for now they're taking up closet space and certainly NOT getting worn.
Do try everything on. I don't know about you, but I cannot buy pants without trying them on first. Even within the same brand, different pairs of pants fit me differently, and I have to try before I buy. It's probably amazing how much money I've saved this way. Many a "maybe" has been quickly blacklisted by a quick try-on.
Don't expect there to be dressing rooms everywhere. My favorite local thrift shop (it has fifty cent Mondays!) also has no dressings rooms, so we have to create our own. Always wear a close-fitting tee or tank under everything so you can try on shirts or sweaters over that. Even dresses can be tried on if your pants aren't too bulky. If you want to try on pants, either wear a full skirt and pull them on underneath, or borrow a full skirt from one of the racks: instant dressing room! (Yes, people WILL give you weird looks. But that's ok.)
Do know what's easy to find secondhand. Shirts for the office, both long and short-sleeved. Tshirts. Sweaters. Jeans. Vintage dresses. Scarves. These things are ususally plentiful, especially if you're a spot-removal wizard. (Note: don't even bother buying anything that has stains under the arms. It's just too much work to remove.)
Don't try to get everything from an op shop. With the money you've saved shopped at a thrift store, save up and purchase good-quality classics that will last for a lifetime with proper care. I've never had any sort of luck finding suits at the thrift store; by the time they get there they're worn to a ribbon. It's worth investing in the pefect black suit, though. Good shoes are also worth it; they can make or break your outfit.

So those are my thrifting tips. What have I forgotten? What are your favorite tricks for secondhand shopping?


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