Anytime I go home for the holidays, I stop at the local salvation army to stock up on wardrobe essentials. Now, I know what you’re thinking—the thrift store is the last place you’d look for basics. But amidst the racks of 1980s color-blocked wind breakers; musty, floral-couch-print slacks; and sequin baby-doll dresses, there is a plethora of high-quality, neutral items that people normally spend $50-$100+ on at department stores.
The hardest part is knowing where to even begin looking for these items. After a few years of practice, I’ve discovered which sections of the thrift stores are gold mines for wardrobe staples. It takes time and patience, but it’s definitely worth it to save hundreds of dollars on things I wear every day. If you’re eager to save money and always have something chic to wear, look out for these classic items at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store.
P.S. If thrifting grosses you out a bit, follow these tips to overcome the ick factor.
Classic Pencil and A-Line Skirts
I always make a beeline for the skirt section of the thrift store. It’s hard to find a classic midi or pencil skirt on a trip to the mall, but there are lots at the thrift store. The high-waisted A-line and pencil silhouettes were super-popular in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, which means racks full of secondhand skirts in sturdy fabrics such as wool, cotton, and silk. No matter what thrift store I go to, I can always find skirts in plaid, tartan, tweed, and even leather. It’s all very Ali MacGraw circa Love Story, but who doesn’t love an iconic look?
During my last visit to the Salvation Army, I bought five turtleneck sweaters for $35 total with the brands ranging from Columbia to Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. The value of each item is around $40-$80, which means I saved about $300! In your own search, you’ll definitely stumble across plenty of dilapidated sweaters, but there are also lots of high-quality brands that keep their shape over the years.
Still not sure what to look for? Keep your eye out for cotton, cashmere, and wool fabrics that are dense and tightly knitted, not allowing for any light to come through when held up to the light. This usually means ribbed, fisherman, and cable-knit sweaters. If you’re looking for basic investment items, skip the patterned section and go straight to the navy, cream, olive, tan, gray, and black colors that will go with everything else you own.
Nowadays, winter coats are made of synthetic fabrics that usually don’t even have linings. This makes for a very cold winter indeed. Coats produced in the sixties through the nineties are typically made of wool and have silk linings to prevent chilly winds from sneaking in. The style of these coats is more versatile (i.e., no marshmallow jackets here), and they tend to be longer, which is ideal for keeping both your torso and legs warm.
A denim jacket is something you’ll end up wearing more than you’d expect. It’s the perfect layering item underneath your coat and will serve you well into the spring and summer months. The fit and style of denim jackets tend to stay the same (with the except of oversize 1980s acid-wash styles), so there’s really no need to buy a brand-new denim jacket. Jean jackets from the sixties, seventies, and nineties are cut and fitted the same, and they’re typically 100 percent quality cotton denim, unlike today’s polyester stretch blends.
If you’re a fan of the classic white button-down, I entreat you to try out patterned button-downs. Thrift stores literally have hundreds (if not thousands) of adorable striped button-downs that can easily be styled into a Parisian-chic outfit. Many of these striped button-down styles come in neutral colors and can be totally transformed by rolling the sleeves, popping the collar, and tucking in the waist. The borrowed-from-the-boys look is timeless and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion, so why not pick up a couple for just a few bucks?
Digging the cover image above? Check out Allen Company, an online Etsy vintage shop. There are tons of affordable wardrobe must-haves.
This article originally appeared in Verily Magazine.