Vintage Thrift Store Finds to Look For (and What Not to Buy) 

Published October 12, 2022
Friends taking selfie in thrift store

So long as you haven't been living under a rock for the past few years, you're well aware that thrifting has made a huge comeback. Entire Instagram and TikTok accounts are dedicated to buying, selling, and showing off people's thrift store goods. But, not everyone's a longtime pro at hunting for the best deals and finds, and you want to make sure that you get the most for your money and time. So, if you're just dipping your toes into vintage thrift shopping, there are some immediate yeses and some hard nos for the things you should and shouldn't pick up.

Must Haves to Look for When Thrifting

With the tumultuous world we live in, many people are turning towards the small ways they can positively impact the world, and one of those is through thrifting. There's really nothing like browsing the shelves and bins of a slightly musty-smelling local thrift store and seeing what things you can find that speak to you. But, if you're new to the thrifting game, then you should stay on the lookout for these must-have vintage thrift store items.

Dishware and Cutlery

A variety of old teacups, saucers, jugs and other crockery items for sale in a second hand shop window

Dishware and cutlery are great household goods to look for at a thrift store. There are so many colorful, unique, and multi-purpose complete sets just waiting to be added to your cabinets. When it comes to pricing, china and porcelain sets are always going to cost you a pretty penny, and the more pieces a set has, the more expensive it's going to be. Yet, if you've just moved into a new place and want to upgrade the mismatched cups, plates, and bowls you've cobbled together over the years, you should check out the local thrift stores in your area. If you're not into matchy matchy, curating mismatched sets from your favorite thrift shops makes for an eclectic and fun style.

Mirrors

Vintage mirror and decorations

Now, some people have a strong aversion to buying previously owned mirrors for various superstitious reasons, but if you've ever looked at the price tag of a 5-foot tall mirror at any home goods store, then you know it's well worth potentially bringing a few ghosts into your house for the cheap costs alone. Older mirrors can bring an elegant finish to an otherwise well-decorated room, and they usually cost a fraction of the hundreds or thousands of dollars of their retail value.

Books

Books on yard sale

Just like vinyl had its big 21st century zeitgeist moment, so too are physical books having their own. As Millennials and Gen Zers return to reading in the traditional, tactile way, issues surrounding waste and sustainable buying practices come up, leading many to finding their latest literary purchases at the thrift store. You can find new, old, and rare copies of books that're both in and out of print at all kinds of vintage and consignment shops, typically for a few dollars each.

On top of being a low-cost investment, there's also hardly anything you have to watch out for when it comes to buying used books. As long as a book's got all of the pages and the spine's intact, then you're good to go.

Solid Wood Furniture

Vintage furniture on the Flea Market

While home buying seems like a distant dream for most Millennials and Gen Z kids, you can't ignore the fact that wherever you're living needs a few pieces of furniture at the very least. A table, few chairs, desk, dresser, and maybe a bed frame are all items that can drain your bank account quickly; even Ikea with its super cheap furniture will lure you under its spell, and you'll leave with far more of those big blue bags than you expected.

Solid wood furniture (usually vintage when it's found in a thrift store) comes with sturdy joints and is usually much heavier than compressed wood or faux wood pieces are. Wood furniture'll still cost you a bit at the thrift store, but it's built to last a lifetime, so it's a better investment than whatever cheaper option you've got in mind.

Vintage Clothes

Young woman shopping in a vintage clothing store

Clothing is the top tier, number one thing you should always look for at the thrift store. Not only can you help kick fast fashion in its rear end, but you can find unique, special, and one-of-a-kind pieces that aren't available in stores. Given that the costs are significantly cheaper than what you'll pay at, say, a Target, you can afford to splurge on new outfits all the time.

Also, if you're a seasoned vintage thrifter, then you know to always look for the tags first and see which pop up. This is how so many of those TikTokers stumble across vintage designer clothes for a criminally low price.

Things You Should Never Buy From a Thrift Store

Although you might find that your grabby hands come out for the sheer amount of options in a thrift store, you should be a little particular with what items end up in your cart by the time you make it to the register. Here are some things you should never buy from the thrift store unless you're feeling like you want to tempt fate.

Electronics

Fuzzy Television in Corner of Room

It's tricky enough keeping your modern electronics safe and up-to-date, let alone the mysterious ones you find hidden on a thrift store's shelves. Of course, digging for buried treasure is half of the fun of thrifting, but if your gold doubloons take on the shape of a 1980s slow cooker or 1950s vacuum cleaner, then you've unfortunately stumbled across fool's gold. Electronics are a seriously tricky thing to purchase from a thrift store, since they're not usually tested to see if they're in working order, and rewiring them to work with modern voltage takes a lot of work. The only time you should be buying electronics from a thrift store if it's for aesthetics; for example, that 1950s tv console would look great in your mid-century modern inspired living room.

Mattresses/Bedding

Empty Bed in Old Fashioned Bedroom

Mattresses and bedding are hard enough to clean with all the hard chemical wonders that the 21st century has to offer, and yet the prospect of trying to deep clean a used mattress should have you running for the hills. Used bedding is a bit easier to clean since you can run it through multiple wash cycles, but mattresses retain so much dirt and dead skin that it's practically impossible to get it out. After all, the last thing you want to do is rub your skin all over dirt that's older than the Cold War.

Beauty Products

Dresser with makeup and items to get ready

Although the markup in the beauty industry rises every year, don't tempt yourself with any stray beauty items lying around the thrift store. That 1960s rouge might have Instagram-worthy packaging, but it's probably made out of toxic ingredients and definitely shouldn't be tested on your actual skin. Stick to modern beauty products - or vintage-inspired products that use modern ingredients based on historic formulas instead.

Being Thrifty Is Cool Again

Much like neon colors and mullets, thrifting hasn't always been seen as a cool thing, but it's back on the market and everyone's taking their weekly dose. Rifling through thrift store goods to pick out the good from the bad can be an all day task if you don't go in knowing what you should and shouldn't buy. Whether you're looking for thrift store finds to gift or you want to add to your own collection, once you've mastered the thrift shop's song and dance, you'll be able to fill your house with high-quality, cheap, sustainably bought goods that'll have every Gen Z out there giving you a subtle nod of appreciation.

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Vintage Thrift Store Finds to Look For (and What Not to Buy)