There are good thrift stores and there are bad thrift stores. Ask around, do a little online checking, and the best way is to just go and check it out. Worst case scenario is you come out empty handed, but best case is you find that wonderful item you've been looking for at a bargain basement price! I've had many a time that I walked out of one of my regular stores empty handed, it really is a bit like playing the stock market, every day is a different game.
Be patient. If you are looking for a particular item, chances are you aren't going to find it on your first trip out, or even your second or third. But it usually turns up. The amber colored glasses I posted about earlier are a perfect example of that. And if it doesn't turn up by the time you need it or your patience has worn out, then it wasn't meant to be.
Know your size--and not just that you wear a 14 or a Medium--take your measurements and jot them down. Take a tape measure with you. LOTS of clothing ends up in thrift stores because it is mis-sized, so while it may say it is a large on the tag, it is in truth a small according to the measurements. Yesterday is a perfect example. I love mens sweaters, and generally I wear a medium. I bought three yesterday, two mediums and one large. The two mediums fit me great, the large--it's too small!!! Fortunately it is in brand new condition and a major name brand, so I will flip it on Ebay and at least get my money back. Many items can be missing the size tags too. Also keep in mind that fitting rooms are hit and miss at thrift stores, I've been in ones with very nice fitting rooms and ones with none at all. Return policies vary from store to store too, most do not accept returns, I'm more surprised when I'm at one that does!
Go with an open mind. Sure, it's great when you find exactly what you are looking for, but often times it's those items that you stumble across during the hunt that give you the most satisfaction. In late summer I knew I wanted some sort of decoration in a fall theme for the two windows in our dining room. I was so excited when I stumbled across two stained glass luminarias in orange glass with a leaf pattern on it. Truly one of those "I'll know it when I see it" situations.
Heather and I went on one of our trips to Pittsburgh to the two Red White and Blue stores and we did very well. The back seat of my station wagon was covered to the max, if we had been in an accident, they would have had to dig through all the stuff to find us. I was most excited because I found several items I had been looking for.
Here's my stack of clothing I ended up with--the one navy sweater is the one I mentioned before that doesn't fit, oh well. Another one is on the edge, I'm going to launder it and see if I can't stretch it a bit, it runs short, but not horrible. The navy blue Ralph Lauren sweater is the one I was hunting for and perfect fit--yay! And the best part is that because it's the end of a season, most of them were only $2.95, the most expensive is the one that doesn't fit, it was all of $3.97 on a half price tag. Where else can you get a like new Brooks Brothers cricket style sweater for $2.95??
I got this pair of scarves for $2.95. I love scarves to dress up an outfit or to tie on to a purse ala Elle Woods. Scarves at full retail are way overpriced, thrifting is by far the best way to get them.
I was beyond thrilled to find this blue Atlas canning jar. It is missing the seal, but for what I want it for it really isn't necessary. Heather said she has seen seals somewhere for sale, I will have to keep an eye out for them. And again, all of $2.95.
Last but not least, I found this bag of Christmas cards for--you guessed it--$2.95! (perhaps I need to go play 295 on the lottery?) RW&B is trying to clear out the last of the Christmas items to make room and they had bagged up all sorts of "like" things and priced them to sell. Not a big fan of the Winnie the Pooh ones, I will probably use those for giving cash gifts in to younger relatives. I was especially happy with the ones where you insert a photo, the crafter in me will definitely use them.
For more thrifting adventures, be sure to check out Young Heart , she is an active thrifter who also has tons of fun links to other people who love to do it too. And good luck! :)