This is Part Tres in my How-to-Shop-Cheap series. If you missed my first Thrifting Tip, you can check it out here. For the second, click here.
So you've rooted around the racks, tried on everything that caught your eye, and now you're trying to decide what to exchange for your hard-earned cash. The appeal of thrifting is exactly what makes it so dangerous - there are lots of treasures to be found, but you can also get caught-up by a lot of junk.
Consignment and thrift items are cheap (at least, they SHOULD be - more on that later), but that doesn't mean you should buy crappy things. It's tempting to say, "But it's only 99 cents!", and get something silly that you won't really use. But I beg of you, don't do it - your money can be put to better use.
My general rule is: if I wouldn't pay full price for it, I shouldn't thrift it. There's some room for error in terms of missing buttons, stray threads, etc., but there's no excuse for items with real damage. Generally, be wary of cotton shirts - 99% of the cotton I find is pilled beyond belief, and really looks its age. Yeah, there are fabric shavers, and you can even use a razor to remove the fuzz, but most of the time, pilled items just aren't worth the hassle. Remember that when you remove the fuzzies, you're also making the garment thinner - thus reducing its lifespan. A lot of people like to browse the t-shirts at Goodwill, but I avoid them; I'm past ironic sloganwear, and it's tough to find good quality cotton at Salvation Army.
This is also where I'll encourage you not to buy "joke" items. Sure, everyone needs a few ridiculous props for Halloween and the like, but once you're out of college, opportunities to wear crazy joke clothing are few and far between. If you wouldn't wear it unironically, then maybe you shouldn't get it. I find lots of insane, amazing things when I'm thrift-shopping, but I rarely buy any of them. If I purchased even half the stuff I try on, I'd be completely broke. What would you rather spend your money on: joke clothes that work one day a year, or things you can cycle into your everyday wardrobe?
Remember when I went to Clothing Warehouse a couple months ago and spent too much money? Well I was breaking this rule. In the end, my purchases averaged $20 a dress - and that's just too much money for preworn clothes. I might authorize you to spend that much money on something in PERFECT condition, but two of those dresses were damaged - what was I thinking?? Don't get sucked-in by the lure of "vintage," and don't sacrifice quality for kitsch.
Official Galen Thrifting Tip: Be Selective.