$econdhand First Class

A thrift store fanatic shares her shopping secrets

Archive for the category “Thrift store”

Wild, Wonderful, Wooly Sweaters

Brrr! Almost October and for many parts of the country, that means sweater time! Nothing beats the cozy warmth of a slipping into a sweater on a chilly morning. Use these tips to harvest the best sweaters from your local thrift store.

Check fabric content. Sweaters are made from everything from rayon to wool to silk. The warmest sweaters are made from plant fibers such as cotton or animal fibers such as wool or cashmere. There are drawbacks. Sweaters made from cotton or animal fiber can shrink and spring holes. Cotton and silk sweaters often lose color more quickly than sweaters from animal fibers such as wool. Rayon and silk sweaters tend to lose their shape.

Here’s a not very scientific but every experienced chart on the itchy and aah factors for different types of wool.

Check for pilling. Pilling is a result of the short fibers pulling loose from the strand. Sweaters made from natural fibers and synthetics can pill. There is no cure for pilling. The pill shaver doesn’t work very well. Even if you could shave off the pills, if a sweater is prone to pill, then like spring dandelions, there will always be more. Good quality sweaters don’t pill. Poor quality sweaters often do.

Check for holes. Hold up the sweater to the light and gently stretch the knit. The light makes it easy to see any holes in the knit. To check the arms, slip your hand into the arm and spread your fingers. Pull your hand down through the arm, checking for holes as your hand moves. Can you fix a hole in a sweater? Lots of ifs. If the sweater is a good quality knit, such as cashmere or alpaca, the sweater is a dark color, and the hole is small, and you possess good sewing skills, then you might be able to fix the hole.

Check the elasticity in the ribbing. Gently spread the ribbing to see how long before it returns to shape, if at all. Make sure the ribbing in the neck, wrist, and waist still have some spring. Nothing says old sweater like flabby ribbing.

Happy thrifting!


Best Foot Forward

Remember how stiff new shoes can be? Well, good news! If you buy used shoes, someone else got them nice and comfy for you!

Some people are rightly cautious about buying used shoes. Fungi can live in used shoes and happily move into the new foot in town. However, a lot of people buy and wear used footwear without problems. If you do buy used shoes, before you pull a Cinderella and wear that slipper to the ball, be sure to clean and sanitize them completely. For tips, check out Disinfect Used Shoes on wikihow.

Black suede Ferragamos!

When you shop for used shoes:

Sniff. Stinky? Pass.

Make sure everything works.  Eyeholes for laces are intact, zippers zip, buckles buck, whatever is on the shoes should work properly. You don’t want to get those cute boots home only to find out that the zipper on the left boot has lost its teeth.

Decide if wear can be repaired. I fear this tip dates me. Shoe repair shops are becoming as rare as a real receptionist answering a business phone. However, if you are lucky enough to have a shoe repair shop in your area, you can repair some problems if the shoe is good quality. Ripped seams can often be stitched. Certain types of shoes can be resoled, for example, leather-soled shoes, Birkenstocks, and some Clark’s. Check out Resole. If the shoe leather is scuffed, it’s a tough decision. A good polish might help but if the surface has lost the top layer, the leather won’t hold a polish.

Comfy Birkenstocks!

Try them on and always wear a foot covering.  Same rule applies when you try on new shoes but it is even more important here. You don’t just want to make sure the shoes fit right–you want to protect yourself against any creepy things that could be residing in the shoe and hope to come home with you. Wear socks similar to the ones you plan to wear with the shoes. For example, don’t try on heels wearing athletic socks. You won’t get the right fit.

Happy thrifting!

Driven to Re-Purpose or How Else Could I Use It?

Thrift stores aren’t just great places to buy clothes, furniture, towels, sheets, etc. They are also a treasure trove of craft materials. Here’s just a few ideas for using clothes and


Have a gaggle of young girls around the house? Fill a box with fancy clothes, hats, and gloves for dress-up.

I covered this footstool
with a leather skirt.

Recover footstools or dining room chair seats with the leather from old skirts or coats. You could also use the leather to make purses, vests, book covers, etc.

Felt wool skirts, dresses, or coats to make pot holders, quilt pieces, or penny rugs.

Worn wool sweaters or scarves can become gloves, hats, or pieced together, a warm and cozy throw.

Long skirts in beautiful fabric but outdated style get new life as a sleeveless blouse.

Whip up a cozy pillow from a man-sized shirt. Place the buttons so the cover is removable.

Tie a knot or two in a long wooly sock. Pull the knots tight. You’ve got a great and inexpensive dog tug-of-war toy. For more excitement, drop a squeaker in the toe before tying the knots.


Sheets are just big pieces of fabric waiting to be transformed by your next project. Or toss those sheets over the sofa to protect it from splatters when you paint your living room.

Use white cotton sheets as fabric for your tie-dye creations.

Got pets? Cover your bottom sofa cushions with a twin sheet that coordinates with your décor. Removing and washing is a snap.

Fashion great looking pillows out of pretty curtains or old tablecloths.

A friend sewed this cozy
pillow from a sweater.

Sew two cotton or linen napkins together for a quick and easy pillow cover.

Reupholster footstools or small chairs using heavy-duty curtain fabric.

Kitchen aprons hold your tools, brushes, or craft items as you work.

Need more inspiration?

Check out these websites:




How NOT to be a Thrift Store Hoarder

Ok. Take a deep breath. So far you have found a Tommy Bahamas shirt for $5.99, a wonderful walnut veneer side table for $35.00, a handmade pottery vase for $4.98, and a silver and amethyst cross for $12.99. Load ’em up and race for the register, right?

Uh, wait. Didn’t your significant other say if you came home with another wobbly table you would be living under it and not in the house?

So many wonderful things! What’s a bargain hunter to do? Here are a few ideas to keep your house from looking like a warehouse.

  • Upgrade. That walnut veneer table is in great shape. And the side table in your living room is showing the effects of too many late night drink cans and wrestling matches with the kids. Buy the walnut table and donate the other.
  • Buy for a friend. If that shirt or cross is just right for your best friend, whip out your cell phone and send a snapshot to her. Let her know it’s a limited time only opportunity. If she wants it, buy it. If you don’t hear from her, you can always buy it on the chance that someone will want it, but be warned:  down that path lies stuffed closets and 12-step programs.
  • Deco-rotate. That vase is perfect for your dining room table. But you already have carved candlesticks on your table that you nabbed at a thrift store just a month ago. You can’t put everything on the table; your family has to eat somewhere! One fact of human nature is that we often stop seeing things, no matter how beautiful, after a time. So deco-rotate. Display the candlesticks for a couple of months. Then, rotate out the candlesticks and showcase the vase. Both items will look fresh and appealing when they are up in the rotation.

Happy thrifting!

What’s What with Wood Furniture

Every well-furnished home needs tables to eat at, chairs to sit on and end table to put stuff on.

The first decision you’ll want to make is what type of material you want: solid wood, veneer, or laminate. To identify the type of material, look at a corner, especially near the top of the piece.

Solid Wood

Example of a solid oak table

Solid wood furniture can be made from hard wood such as oak, maple, ash, or walnut, or soft wood such as pine. Here’s what to look for:

  • Surface: Run your fingers over the surface. You should feel grooves and uneven areas.
  • Grain: The grain should be irregular and uneven. You might even see knot holes.
  • Edges: The edges should have a grain pattern, but look as if the grain was cut off.
  • Uses: Good for quality furniture, such as tables, chairs, cabinets. Solid wood generally refinishes more easily.Do not use soap and water on solid wood. True solid wood pieces are around but are scarcer every day.

Veneered Wood

Example of veneered door. Notice the edges.

Veneer wood is a thin sheet of real wood is glued or sealed to particle or fiber board or cheaper wood.

  • Surface: Should feel and look the same as solid wood.
  • Edges: There is usually a thin dark line just under the top of the plank. It looks layered, like a layer has been glued down, which in fact it has. Also, the edges and side grain may not match the top grain.
  • Uses: Veneer wood can make good quality furniture, such as tables or cabinets. Make sure the veneer is in good shape, smooth with no cracks, splits. You can refinish veneers but they require a lot more care.


Example of laminated door. The laminate sheet wraps from the side to the top.

A laminate is a sheet of plastic or vinyl printed with a wood grain pattern. The sheet has been pressure sealed or glued to particle or fiber board.

  • Surface: The texture may be flat, like paper.
  • Grain: The grain pattern repeats like a print. The end and sides of the piece may look “wrapped” in the paper. The side grain and end grain are the same.
  • Uses: Laminated furniture is useful for any piece you need to be able to scrub with soap and water, such as a child’s play table. If the finish is scratched but the laminate is in good shape, consider painting the piece.

Want to dig a little deeper into this topic? Check out Wood Furniture Definitions.

You’ll find all types of furniture: solid, veneered, and laminated at thrift stores. Veneered furniture is most common, followed by laminated, but every once in a while, you’ll stumble on that special solid walnut bookcase that will send you running to the register, pronto.

Happy thrifting!

Back to School!

Whether your baby is starting first grade or college, back to school is a great time for shopping thrift and saving cash.

School Clothes

School uniforms at a thrift store

For primary schoolers, some thrift stores have a section for school uniforms. If Tommy or Tanya don’t wear a uniform, check out the racks of pants, jeans, tops, shirts, blouses, and jackets at any thrift store. There’s something to thrill the heart of pre-teens and teens alike and to satisfy a parent’s love of saving money.

With prices so low, your child can have fun mixing and matching outfits with jewelry, hats, and other accessories.

Here are some tips when making clothing purchases:

  • Ask about dressing rooms. There may be just one or two rooms so plan ahead and be courteous.
  • Make sure zippers and buttons work.
  • Look out for stains.

Some thrift stores have a section with crayons, binders, folders, etc. Ask the cashier for help.

Dorm and Apartment Needs

I went shopping with a friend last weekend. Her son is getting his first college apartment. She loaded up on thrift store dishes, glasses, pots and pans, etc. to make sure her son had the basics and her wallet didn’t suffer. She found glasses for $.60-$.80 each and forks and knives for $.10 each.

When buying glassware and dishes, run your fingertip around the rim of the item to check for chips. Hold the item up to the light to look for cracks.

You can also score with inexpensive sheets, blankets, bath towels, dish towels, and nearly anything else an aspiring scholar needs to hit the books at college.

When buying linens, avoid items with pilling, frayed edges, holes, or stains.

Now, if only thrift stores sold the secret for getting them to study!

Happy thrifting!

Assessing Upholstered Furniture

Here are a few tips for finding just the right comfy seating:

Stand back and check the structure.

  • Is the item even, no leaning or sagging? If the legs are loose but the item is in good shape otherwise, you may be able to have the legs repaired.
  • Are the arms the same height and firmly attached? Wobbly arms or uneven arms can be a sign of poor construction. An upholstery expert might be able to fix wobbly arms but there’s no guarantee.
  • Are the cushions present and accounted for?

Get close for the next phase:

  • Apply the stink and stain test, especially to the cushions. A little dirt can be cleaned but beware yellow or brown stains.
  • Is the upholstery in acceptable condition? Wear around the edges might be okay but rips and tears might be unforgivable unless you want to invest in a slip cover or reupholstering the piece. Reupholstering can run into bucks but if the item is good quality, it could be a worthwhile investment.
  • Remove the cushions and feel the springs. Push down. Do the springs spring back with enthusiasm or begrudgingly? Any points sticking up or twisted loose? Maybe the spring hasn’t yet poked its way through the fabric but you’ll eventually get the point when you sit. And the point is pain either way; pain in the bottom when you sit or pain in the wallet when you have the piece “re-sprung” and reupholstered.

If the item has passed all the tests above, take a seat.

  • Listen for groans or squeaks. This is the sofa telling you about its hard life. Listen carefully.
  • Cushions should support you, not gasp and collapse. If you sink to the floor, the foam may have lost its bounce. Replacing foam can be pricey but worth it if the brand is good.

If that sofa or chair is still under consideration, turn it over if possible or tip up the legs to look underneath. Check for signs that critters made their home in the piece such as tears or holes in the fabric. See gobs of nice soft fibers fashioned into a cozy nest? Stains and streaks? Beady eyes peering out? All of these could be signs of an infestation of bugs or pests. A friend once brought home a used sofa. Problem was, the sofa was already occupied by a family of mice. That night, there were some surprised humans and rodents!

In another post, I’ll talk about the cost of re-upholstering a chair or sofa.

Happy thrifting!


Many of our son’s favorite toys were from thrift stores. One such toy was a wooden tic-tac-toe board with Xs and Os. Cars, superheroes, games, you name it, he played with it. 

With the high cost of toys, thrift stores can be a real lifesaver. You just need to take a few precautions. When shopping for toys, follow these guidelines.

  • Buy what you can clean. Not only was the toy likely well-used before it was donated, but while at the thrift store, a multitude of kids have probably played with it while waiting for mom and dad to finish shopping. Click on these links for information on cleaning and sanitizing toys. Plastics (Clorox or Family Management), Wooden toys, and Stuffed toys.
  • Choose a toy in good shape. No cracks, splits, or dangerous edges. For stuffed animals, look for items with no tears, worn spots, spilled stuffing, or missing parts.
  • Check for odor. If you get a whiff of anything, pass unless it’s Strawberry Shortcake and you’re smelling dessert.
  • Make sure all parts present and accounted for. Be sure to apply common sense rules about buying toys for kids such as no sharp edges or small pieces for younger children.
  • If the toy is battery operated, insert the batteries you brought in your kit and test. Nothing is more disheartening to a kid than finding out too late that the airplane doesn’t soar and the car doesn’t zoom.

Once you get the toys home, always clean and sanitize the toy before giving them to your child.

Building a Nifty, Thrifty Wardrobe


Matching is easier with
colorful pieces like this

Thrift stores are wonderful resources for helping you construct a good-looking and versatile wardrobe. Here’s a quick overview of what to look for and why.

Thrift stores aren’t great for basics. Think about it. Your go-to pieces such as your ruffled white blouse and black pants or navy skirt are clothes you wear season after season. Eventually, you notice a frayed cuff or a hole and you toss them. Most everyone else does the same thing. You can look long and hard in a thrift store for a simple white tee in good shape. Better to just buy it new and plan to get a lot of use out of it.

Thrift stores are ideal for wardrobe fillers, those pieces that put punch in your outfits, such as a colorful jacket or blouse. This is where you can have fun shopping and then feel like a million wearing your finds.

Here’s a way to construct an outfit:

Find a blouse or jacket with multiple colors. This could be a print, a plaid, or a weave with different threads. This is your starting point.

Next, look for pieces, such as pants, skirts, blouses, or tees in matching or coordinating colors. For example, in the pictured jacket, the print has several colors, such as greens, pinks, orange, gold, with black accents on a white background. I can wear any of these colors with the jacket. I like to combine a print with a strong color from the print and a coordinating neutral, such as black, white, or beige.

When matching colors, have the item with you. No matter how good your memory is, it’s hard to match shades unless you have a sample. Having tried to match a medium blue, I can tell you there are about 3,231 shades of medium blue, none of which look good with my skirt.,

If you have to visit more than one thrift store to complete your outfit, show the item to the manager or cashier when you enter the store. They will usually mark the item so there’s no misunderstanding when you leave.

Back to the example: Starting with the one jacket, I now have several outfits I can put together. I found olive green pants and pair them with a pink knit top. I toss the jacket over my black pants with a white blouse. I am currently on the hunt for some pink jeans. I know they are on the next rack.

Happy thrifting!

Jeans, Glorious Jeans

Shopping for jeans at a thrift store

Jeans can be a great
value at a thrift store

Jeans, the staple of most wardrobes. Jeans, the symbol that it’s time to have fun and relax. Good news! You can find jeans of all types, styles, and stripe at thrift stores. A huge benefit to buying thrift-store jeans is that they are preshrunk (if they have been worn and washed). Unlike the person who plunks down cash for new jeans, takes them home, tosses them in the wash only to pull out a pair that would fit a poodle, if the jeans fit the first time, they’ll fit every time.

But, before you snap up those cropped cuties, you’ll want to give those jeans a complete check-up.

  • Zipper: Most zippers lock at the top. If that lock fails, your zipper slides down, and you’re showing more than your good taste. Zip that zipper to the top and press the tab down. Then tug on each side of the waistband. If the zipper holds, you’re good. If not, move on. While you’re on the zipper, check out the fly. Make sure the fabric on the flip hasn’t twisted to the side.
  • Button: A button’s job looks easy but sometimes the buttonhole stretches out and sproing! Apply a similar test to the buttons. Button them, then see how they stand up to the pressure.
  • Snaps. Press the snaps together, and then see how much force it takes to get them apart.
  • Stitching. Most jeans have top stitching which makes them very resistant to ripping. But sometimes the sewing machine needle is on a coffee break and misses a few stitches. Check the areas of greatest wear, usually the fly, the crotch and around the pockets.
  • Leg seams. When you hold up the jeans, check the leg and the side seams. Do seams stay straight or do they twist around to the front of the jeans, so the wearer looks as if he is doing the hokey pokey? This means the fabric wasn’t laying properly when the pattern pieces were cut. No amount of ironing will set those jeans straight.
  • Holes. Some holes say I’m edgy and original. Some holes say my mother should choose my clothes. Whether you want holes or how many is up to you. Where the holes are, say, the crotch, can be a matter of public decency.
  • Fabric. Generally, the more cotton the better. Rayon doesn’t hold its shape as well as cotton and cotton/polyester blends fade and wear out faster than all cotton.

Whatever style you like, be it relaxed, boot-cut, or skinny, you’ll find jeans that flatter you and don’t flatten your wallet at a thrift store.

Happy thrifting!

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