How to Cash in on Thrift Shop Gems

Young man shopping at a thrift store.

The thrill of thrift shopping is the joy of discovery. You never know what you’ll find when you dig through the vintage and used clothes at a thrift shop, and the occasional lucky find can net you some real gems. Don’t be content simply to browse; you can cash in on the wealth of one-of-a-kind finds at thrift shop by taking a more discerning approach. With a little savvy and patience, you can sift through thrift shop selections and separate out the gems you can either resell or keep as collector’s items.

Do Your Research

As with any shopping venture, you’ll find the most value if you do a bit of research first. Know what eras and styles are in high demand and which ones can’t command a high price tag. Brush up on vintage trends and fashions to get a better idea of what you’re looking for. Antiques and vintage researchers often produce brief articles that list more sought-after items and the periods in which they were most popular. Knowing some of the finer details about a given item can also help you gauge its value.

Be Open-Minded

Shopping at thrift stores requires an open mind. Many stores get donations from households that have been in the same family for generations so you may find unique items that cannot be found in mainstream stores. As such, don’t be confined to the idea of a “normal” shopping experience. Instead of a linear approach, take a more creative and intuitive approach and look for the items that call out to you the most. There may also be some surprises that look like plain-old items on the surface, but that may be worth a lot more than they appear.

Check for Brands and Labels

With clothing and textiles, brands can make a big difference in terms of how valuable an item is. Check for tags that indicate the age of the garment and any signatures or brand labels. There may also be more current labels with higher prices than the inexpensive items that crowd the shelves. Pay attention to quality name brands. Departments stores often carry them, and you can pay an inflated price for them there, but you might find them at a thrift store for much less.

Look for Flaws

Sometimes, you can actually make more money with an item that is in need of repair. Therefore, note any flaws that can be fixed up easily. If an item looks damaged but can otherwise still be used, you can have it repaired – often for a nominal fee – and then either resell it or keep it as part of your collection. If a particular item has sentimental value then it can be preserved without any changes.

Be Wary of Machine-Washable Fabrics

Unless you’re experienced with vintage clothing, be wary of machine-washable fabrics which can easily be ruined by a cycle in a modern machine. Before purchasing, examine the fabric tags to determine how the item should be washed and see if you’re willing to do that kind of care.

Look for Special Occasions

More unique occasions also come with bigger opportunities at thrift stores. Look for eveningwear, gowns, and bridal attire. All of them are at least somewhat valuable and most often quite expensive. Eveningwear is a decent bet – even if it’s a little dated – because sexier and trendier fashions make for more valuable finds.

Check for Bottles and Snuff Boxes

Bottles are items with major potential for thrift stores. Even if the label is off, you may be able to tell from the shape and size if the bottle is from a certain era. Dusty bottles are usually from earlier periods and many even have distinct shapes that can give you a clue. Also look out for snuff boxes, which are often quite small and made of valuable metals like gold, silver and copper.

Shop the Right Way

When you go to a thrift store to shop for gems, it pays to keep an eye out for those elusive one-of-a-kind finds while also observing the common sense protocols that come with thrift shopping. Wear comfortable clothes that allow you to move around freely as you rummage through the shelves. Get familiar with the store’s layout and familiarize yourself with the aisles. If you are on the hunt for gems, don’t neglect the miscellaneous sections. Some stores organize items like crockery and silverware and those can be treasure troves for those in the know.

Final thought

Whether you’re in the market for a previously owned gem or are looking to turn a profit, there is a wealth of hidden potential in thrift shops. What can feel like a gamble as you dig through piles of used clothes and rummage through dusty heirlooms can result in an incredible find that can become a collector’s item, or provide you with an unexpected surprise. Get in tune with your local thrift stores and approach your shopping with some research and a sharp eye, and you’ll be sure to find some gems soon enough.