Thrift Etiquette

A lit bit of common courtesy towards staff and fellow patrons can make a big difference when shopping.  Thrift stores are no different from retail stores in this respect, although some of the unique aspects of thrifting call for a few tweaks.  Read on for some pointers on how to employ basic thrifting etiquette for an all-around enjoyable shopping experience.


  • Don’t donate crap.  Nobody wants your holey, used underwear or your broken television…unless they do.  Some stores take items in any condition and sell what they can’t put on the floor to garment recyclers, scrap dealers, etc. or sell things for parts; they may also recycle certain items.  Check with your local donation spot of choice to see what they accept so you aren’t flooding them with junk they have to just turn around and trash.  If they can’t take it, it’s possible that online classifieds like Craig’s List or FreeCycle (be honest about item condition!) or your local sanitation department, dump, or recyclers will (again, call to check–there are fees for properly disposing of things like TVs and fridges).
    Locals in Atlanta can go to Keep Atlanta Beautiful’s website to find a home for hard-to-dispose of items (including textile recycling for that holey underwear!).
  • Don’t paw through new arrivals.  If it hasn’t made it to its home on the sales floor, it’s out of bounds.  This applies to donated items sitting in a collection area that haven’t yet been sorted by staff–it’s super gauche, oh wait I mean ILLEGAL, to purloin things that someone else meant to be a donation to help advance the mission of the thrift store.  This principle also applies to merchandise ready for sale but not yet on the rack.  You know that Goodwill announcement that always seems to play right in the middle of your favorite song being piped over the speakers? “Please allow our sales associates time to put new items on the floor.  Then, let the treasure hunt continue!” Cheesy, but good advice.
  • Chaperone your kid(s).  If they’re not old enough to be trying on their own clothes, they’re not old enough to be left unsupervised.  Seriously, no matter how tempting it is or how quick you think you’ll be, don’t just dump your kid/s in the toy aisle and head for the dressing room.  Either leave kids at home, give them something to entertain them while they hang out in your cart, or, if they’re older, make a deal: Mom/Dad gets 20 minutes to try things on while you wait patiently, then you get to pick out a book to take home.
  • Don’t hog the aisles.  Thrift stores can get tight–they’ve got a lot of sweet merchandise and often not very much space in which to put it.  Be aware of shoppers around you and make way as they move down the aisle; if you have a cart, keep it close to the side of the aisle you’re perusing.
  • Play leap frog.  Use your peripheral vision to keep an eye on whether you are about to collide with someone trying to search through the same rack or section.  If you’re on a collision course, swap spots and let them browse where you just were while you continue on down the line.  If this means you have to skip a section of the rack to let them come on through, no biggie; you can always circle back when they’ve finished.
  • If clothes fall off the rack, put them back on.  Many thrift stores have a rather motley crew of hangers and their donated clothes may not fit the hangers’ size or shape very well.  This means that even when you’re casually browsing it’s easy to bump something off the hanger and onto the floor.  Be a non-jerk and put the clothes you dump back on the hangers.  It shows respect for the store staff/volunteers, especially in a non-profit store that can’t afford enough staff to constantly police the aisles.  And you’re helping to spread the Gospel of Thrift by creating an aesthetically pleasing environment for newbies–no one wants to shop in a store with clothes all over the floor.
  • Follow the dressing room rules. We’ve all been stuck behind someone taking for. ever. while they try on seemingly every garment in the store, and it ain’t pretty; the frustration is amplified in a thrift store with only a few dressing rooms instead of the typical 8 or 10 found in a retail establishment.  If there’s a line to try things on (or it’s busy enough that there soon will be), do your fellow shoppers a favor and stick to any posted limits instead of wheeling in the entirety of your over-stuffed cart.  Even if there are no rules posted, try to keep it short so others aren’t stuck in line.
    Pro tip: don’t be afraid to use the fitting rooms on the other side of the store if they’re free!  Just because they’re not next to the section of clothing you’re perusing doesn’t mean you can’t use them.
  • Take care of your rejects.  The only thing more annoying than waiting 20 minutes to try on clothes is to finally get in the fitting room and discover it’s plastered in someone else’s rejects and there’s no place to put your own selections, not to mention your bag or the clothes you’re currently wearing.  It’s also a pain for staff to have to schlep a mountain of clothes out of a dressing room all at once, particularly when none of them were put back on their hangers.  Yes, it’s their job to return clothes to the sales floor, but you don’t have to make it harder for them–and again, they may be understaffed or completely volunteer.  So figure out where rejected items are supposed to go (hooks on the outside of the fitting room door?  A rack off to the side?) and put ‘er there, pardner.
  • Leave the door open as you leave the stall.  In some thrift shops the fitting rooms have a “locked” default which means that if you let it close, anyone waiting in line has to go find an employee to open it for them before they can try things on.  Finding a door left slightly ajar for you is like a little thrift store high!
  • If someone asks your opinion, follow the Golden Rule.  The phenomenon known as thrifting camaraderie often leads to strangers soliciting your advice re: something they’re trying on.  Respond how you’d want someone to reply to your own queries: with honesty and kindness.  No one wants to go home with something heinous because the person they asked for an opinion couldn’t give it to them straight; but neither does anyone want to be told “That makes you look fat” or “Wow, my grandma was buried in something that looked just like your dress!”  How about “It’s a little tight, I’d go for something that loves your figure more” or “Hmm, as it is right now I think it’s aging you a bit…got a fun red belt or some rockin’ heels to kick it up a notch?”
    Pro tip: If someone is trying on something you love but they’re clearly not thrilled with how it looks on them, it’s okay to ask for it like so: “Ehhh, I don’t really think this is me…”  “That’s too bad.  If you’re not going to take it, though, I’d love to try it on.”
  • Skip the bag.  If you can fit your purchases in your arms or personal bag, skip the plastic bag they give you.  It’ll save them a few cents and you’ll do the environment a solid at the same time.

What are your favorite thrifting etiquette tips?  Said another way…what are your thrifting pet peeves that could be easily be avoided with a bit of tact or thoughtfulness?


2 thoughts on “Thrift Etiquette

  1. Hi, name is Phil and i gotta say your page really impressed me, i am a wheel for the the veterans thrift store in spokane and i could only dream of having some folks even get the notion that a list like that even exists. thank you have a great week

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