How to Shop Goodwill

Ah, Goodwill. We know what you’re thinking—sequined holiday sweaters and acid wash mommy jeans. Well, there is some of that—but you may not realize that amidst the trove of fashion faux-pas, there are some bonafide gems to be discovered. If you can just get past the mothball smell, and remember that thrift shopping is a cornerstone for many a budget trend-setter.

We wouldn’t want you to head in unarmed, however, so Angela’s compiled some useful tips to make the most of your thrift shopping experience:

Never-worn items. You may not know this, but Goodwill frequently has with-tags items on the racks from retailers, for super cheap prices. I’ve gotten brand new totally cute shoes by Isaac Mizrahi for Target and Xhilaration—never worn and with pricetags—for between $3 and $5 a pair. I recently picked up a beautiful brown pinstripe XOXO jacket—regularly priced $49.99—for 15 bucks, with tags. And this week, I saw a navy pinstripe jacket by Isaac Mizrahi for Target for just 5 bucks—but had to leave it behind because it just didn’t quite flatter me. Darn it.

Gently used pieces. Even if you’re looking at items that have come from someone else’s closet, used doesn’t always mean used up. Look for items that don’t typically get worn to death. Goodwill is a great place for winter jackets (especially the wool dress kind), suiting jackets, and workwear skirts. It seems that women often tire of—or not longer fit into—these items before they’ve outlived their usefulness or style potential. There are some big shoulder pads and wacky tablecloth patterns in there so you’ll have to keep your fashion wits about you, but it’s not uncommon to find a classic wool coat or perfectly acceptable houndstooth skirt if you wade through a little of the yuk.

Know what not to buy. Of course, Goodwill is not a department store, so it shouldn’t be a one-stop shopping experience for all your wardrobe needs. Areas to avoid:

~ anything denim (believe me, the previous owner got all they could get from these items)
~ knit tops (they’re usually washed out, stretched out, or just plain out)
~ most anything black or white (most people don’t wash their black or white items properly, so you’ll be hard pressed to find anything black or white that doesn’t look as though it’s been worked over by someone else, and that’s just not pretty)