How to Shop Goodwill

Updated January 19, 2019

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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)

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30 replies on “How to Shop Goodwill”

In general, I agree. But I wanted to mention that I have successfully bought jeans at Salvation army. I was in the process of losing weight and short of cash, so I trolled the racks for a pair to tide me over. They were my favorites until they became too large. Best of all I bought them for all of $2.00.
I’d also mention that it’s worth it to shop thrifts located near high-end neighborhoods. The selection is often better. There are 2 Goodwills in my town and I have found this to be true.

I have to disagree about “anything” denim; the point is to examine what you’re buying.
Some of my best-fitting pairs of jeans have been from Goodwill or Savers.  Given the condition they were in, it’s likely that someone bought them and outgrew them or just didn’t like the style, then donated them.
Don’t buy things that look worn, stressed at the seams, etc (unless you’re buying a cheap item for a costume) and you should be fine.
Also, be free with sizing.  Since sizing has changed so many times over the years, a vintage size 16 will (unfortunately for some of us and fortunately for other, smaller gals) not be nearly as big as a modern-day 16.  That, and other brands may run differently than the ones you usually buy, etc, etc.
Also, in my opinion?  Shower before and after you go.  It’s not a rule, just… a strong suggestion.  😛

I don’t really shop Goodwill as there isn’t one terribly convenient to my home, but I do shop Value Village (I am almost ashamed to say) weekly, which I love.  Ours is situated in a relatively upscale area, so there is always a lot of nice clothing and shoes to choose from.  Thrift stores have been INVALUABLE to me this past year, as I’ve lost 60 lbs, and haven’t always stayed in one size for very long.  There’s no use buying a whole new wardrobe if you’re only going to be in it for a month or two… but you don’t want to look all frumpy all the time either.  I actually have had really great luck with buying jeans there… a lot of barely worn name-brand items show up to be snagged by ME!

Man, I thought I was the only one who knew about the never worn items at Goodwill! I got three plain Abercrombie and Fitch tank tops with tags on them ($15.50 each?! For tissue-thin fabric? No wonder I’ve never set foot in that store) for $.50 each.

I usually go for the never worn items because I’m still coming to terms with being okay with wearing a stranger’s clothes… I’m getting better, though.

I once found a DKNY tomato red blazer for $15.00. I also found a wonderful pair of caramel brown Nine West pumps for $8.00; I’m ashamed to say I didn’t buy them…

That’s a great tip Nancy and Joanne—picking up “transition” items if you’re in the process of losing weight! And I’m with you MizHalsegan—I always try it on, because it’s not such a deal if it doesn’t fit or just doesn’t look good when you get it home.

We wrote about William Good, by the way, a little while back: you can read more here:

And finally, don’t forget that purchasing items at Goodwill (and other charity-based thrift stores) is an easy way to support a good cause, too. It never hurts to create a little good shopping karma . . .

The Goodwill near my hometown has a direct link to Target stores in the area – that means all of those amazing designer lines (Luella, Paul & Joe, Proenza Schouler, etc.) ended up on their racks after they’d gone through clearance.  I could swipe nearly whole collections for $15.

My best acquisitions:

A suede Luella motorcycle jacket with scalloped edges, originally 110.00 (that you can see on the runway, in fact) for $10.

A cream leather Paul and Joe jacket with ruffles down the zipper, originally $105.00, for $10

My beloved vintage 1970’s winter coat – a lovely burnt orange color in heavy wool, double-breasted with babydoll seams and a belt.  It’s falling apart now since I’ve worn it so long, but for $7, it was soo worth it.

A pair of adorable Born flats (probably about $85+) for $2.

Izaac Mizrahi camel kitten heels for $2.

Miraculously, all of these things came in my size, and I was always so tickled because I have bought items from every Target designer line outright, and here, for the teeny price of a couple dollars, I could score the whole thing.  Goodwill has been very good to me!

However, I will say that I haven’t found a Goodwill as excellent as this one… my local one now isn’t anywhere near as stocked with lovely items.  A bummer indeed.

I have known this for years! Only because at one time I had zip for a budget—
Last month I found
(for the first time in my life
——Blazer that actually fit me properly-with a designer name tag for 5$
—-a designer purse-like new for 3$
—-a mans Londen Fog Mid lenght coat with a zip out liner for 10$
—-A Liz Claiborn silk dress with tags still on for 15$
—-my favorite was
a 20 inch rope of REAL cultured pearls with Pink Jade spacers for 25 cents!!!!!!!
They all thought they were plastic
—-AND a QUEEN size Wicker Headboard for 15$ (worth a few hundred at least)

Do you have suggestions for how to care for black or white items? (as you mentioned most people don’t care for them correctly.) maybe a post on it…? 😉

Good tips! In NYC a lot of the Goodwills are pretty picked over, but we also have some great ‘exchanges’ where you can bring in your old clothes for store credit or cash – like Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange. Sigh, I miss Domsey’s warehouse in Brooklyn, you used to be able to get clothing by the pound and it was cheap, with some great finds!

I’ve been buying at Goodwill and other “thrifty” places for many years. It’s sort of like shopping at an indoor yard sale: sometimes you find great bargains, and sometimes you don’t. You need to know your personal style, and be willing to try on a lot of stuff. You also need to know to go to “higher end” towns. Chances are better there. Patience can pay off, especially if you are looking for your kids. My boys grow very fast, and it’s saved me a lot of $

I got one of my best winter coats at Goodwill about 8 years ago.  It’s a camel-colored VERY heavy wool long coat by Pendleton. It is classically-styled with princess seams (so it’s fitted, but not too tight) and lapels that are perfect (not too wide, not too narrow).  The only alteration I made was to remove the belt loops and ditch the belt.  I want to say that I only paid about $20 for it, and it looked pristine/unworn.  And I did mention that I get compliments on it constantly?

My best most recent find was a gray light wool pencil skirt. I wear it to death, it goes with everything. For $3. I would add too, make sure you try stuff on when you can. No returns for size!

Kathy, I had to post a comment on this because my mom has literally made her local Goodwill in Charlotte a second home.  She’s given it the monkier ‘GW Boutique’.  She has purchased all sorts of fabulous finds too.  A set of lamps for her guest bedroom, a (never worn) cotton belted shirtdress for me and a knit mockneck top from Henri Bendel that I adore.  The latter has become such a staple in my wardrobe.  As if the bargains aren’t boutiful enough at the GW Boutique, she particularly shops on Tuesday to ensure she receives her senior citizen discount.  I think my mom manages to score such amazing items because she has the time to search for them – she’s is retired after all.  Mi madre is also sure to never bother with items that are stained, ripped or otherwise damaged beyond repair.  So, patience and a keen eye for style are very necessary when shoping Goodwill.

Great post and tips! But I have to disagree about the denim comment. I just got a pair of First Issue trouser jeans @ Goodwill for $7—no tags but clearly had never been worn. I think a lot of denim gets outgrown by people gaining or losing weight well before the denim loses its looks or life. It’s also a great source for little evening bags since a lot of those are purchased specifically to match one outfit for one event and that’s it. I’ve found several there that I love.

Goodwills in Brooklyn, ny?

i know this may sound odd, but I have never found ANYTHING good in any goodwills stores in brooklyn, i dunno maybe i havent gotten lucky, but can anyone recomend a good one in this area?


The Goodwills in Brooklyn are overpriced for one, but I have found some great things at the one on Livingston St downtown, AND the one on Fulton St (alllll the way down fulton st.. practically in Bed Stuy) which is in a pretty bad neighborhood but it is a nice, new and well taken care of store.

My favorite Goodwill ever is upstate NY in Vails Gate – it is HUGE and VERY clean and has GREAT prices.

You might also like to try Canal Jeans by Brooklyn College (take the 2 train to the last stop in Brooklyn and walk down Nostrand Ave). They have bins and bins of clothes for $1.99 buy one get one free!! I have found the most amazing things there- some are new, some are samples and some are vintage. It is one of my favorite stores EVER.

Oh I love Goodwill soooooooooo much! While I’m sipping a $20 bottle of wine I make sure the goblet comes cheap for $0.25 a piece. Also: my todays “loot” was extremely benefactory. I’ve gotten 9 pieces of “Bougies La Francaise” candles for $0.50. (Just looked it up online: the price tag is $60 for twenty pieces.) I never even liked candles before. But burning this beauty makes all the difference.
Also my wrist watch of two years comes from Goodwille. It is a copy of a Franck Mueller watch – the Crazy Times or something it’s called. I’ve paid $7 for a brand new one. The real watch goes for $30,000!!!!
I could go on and on with books, linen, some clothing items and other things. But I better get back admiring my newfound treasures for now.

I just came from Goodwill as it happens, with some nice goodies. I stumbled on this post because I really wanted to find some information on brands to look for at Goodwills. After taking time to inspect items, I think I’m finally catching on to knowing better quality fabric and structure by sight & touch. However, I would really love to find out some of the quality, possibly more vintage brand names to watch for as I’m prowling. Some things are easy, but vintage items often retain their quality, color, shape etc, as well many have classic style appeal. How about a follow up, How To Shop @ Goodwill: Brand Names Old & New? Thanks!

Personally, i have to agree with Sandra… it depends on the denim itself! I bought a gently worn, and i mean very gently (feels brand new), J Crew white denim jacket. Its beautiful and I went online and actually found it on sale for 98$!!! I picked it up for 5$!

i was a good will two weeks ago and i been looking for a down jacket and i was looking aroun i spoted a mountain hardware running jacket barely use i was like wow wow cool so damn happy and as i was looking for jackets i foind couple columbias rain jacket i have rain jackets so i ignore it and i was looking i spot a freaking marmot zeus down jacket i was like wtf haha so huppy and guess how much i pay ??????????? 5.98 dollars maybe twice use lucky me ha later people

I digress about not buying any denim items. I had found new items still with tags on on the racks and barely used jeans as well that I had been able to wear well for several years.

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