This is revised from an earlier post with new tips added!
If you wear size 12 or higher you may find thrifting for clothing intimidating or near impossible. I used to feel the same way! I used to go to the big plus size clothing stores each season and drop upwards of $300. I didn't think that I had any other choice. Since the change in economy and our tighter budget, I stopped doing this. But I still want to be fashionable and enjoy shopping for clothing. The clearance racks can be helpful but there is something much more satisfying about thrifting for clothing. Here are some tips that might help you.
Our local thrift stores usually have 2-4 aisles of clothing labelled as plus. I look there first but I also check the sweater section for cardigans, and the dress section for tunics. I almost always find plus size clothing in the sections not labelled as plus. They were most likely put there by an employee by mistake, mislabeled in the first place or dropped off by an indecisive customer.
Check for "new" items
Most of the clothing I find at thrift stores are from Target. They donate returns and old items that I may have seen at Target just a few weeks before. The tags are still on and sometimes I can compare the clearance price to the thrift store price to make sure I am getting a good deal. Most of the unpopular items end up in the aisles of Goodwill and this can be to my advantage because I am not usually looking for anything super trendy. If there is a shirt with stripes or orange and purple geometric shapes, I will want it and not a lot of other people will.
Try it on...or don't
99% of the time, I don't try anything on. Get to know your body and the size that you are. I know that I will fit for sure in a size 3 (plus) but a size 2 may or may not fit. If I don't feel like going to the fitting rooms, I only pick out things I know for sure will fit me. I don't waste time trying to squeeze into size 12 jeans. This will only discourage you and keep you from buying clothes. And you certainly can't wander around naked!
Build your wardrobe
I don't go to the thrift store to find the perfect pair of jeggings or a warm winter coat. Those things still probably need to be purchased at a new store or plus size vintage store, like Fat Fancy. There may be the rare luck of finding a wool cape coat in size 26 but chances are pretty low. I go thrifting to look for clothing that I can build up my wardrobe with. I am looking for items that I can layer or similar clothing that I might already own but would like in different colors and patterns. I am on the look-out for long shirts, tunics, short dresses, cardigans and accessories. These are things I can wear with the leggings and jeans that I already have at home.
Dress to thrift
Go shopping in your favorite pair of skinny jeans so you can see how tops will look. I do best trying things on when I am wearing leggings because I can try on dresses and if I try on a top, I still have an idea of how it will look with pants. Plus, I am comfortable and don't have to take on and off a complicated dress that zips from the back or tights that require 15 minutes of pulling to get back on. This is important when you may need to take multiple trips into the dressing room. I also pile on clothing so that I don't have to keep dressing and undressing.
Wish you could try a new look but don't want to invest your next paycheck into it? Thrifting is a great way to switch up your look a little bit without going broke. You can go home with a bag of clothing and new possibilities for only $30. Or you can add a zero to that number and get limited options.
But wait! You just told me to experiment! You will quickly be overwhelmed with clothes if you don't discriminate a little bit when thrifting for clothing. I don't go crazy every time or my closet would burst at the seams more than it really is. If a sweater isn't exactly what you are looking for because it is a little baggy and not your favorite style, then pass it up.
I also take a glance at the purses and scarves to see if I might find a style that I have been eyeing. The thrift store offers great prices on bags. Check for wear and tear first though. Make sure the straps are strong and not going to break when you pack it with 10 pounds of makeup, notepads and cameras. We are LARGE, people has some great tips for cleaning a smelly used bag.
Keep your eye on the prize
Get to know your style and favorite pieces and look for clothes that are similar. I know that I like long shirts, tunics, empire waists, vintage patterns, sparkly accents and earthy colors and am not too keen on frills, modern prints and short shirts. I won't spend time looking at clothes in that style and cut, trying them on or taking them home only to never wear them. This strategy also makes my shopping faster because I can scan through a rack quickly. Can we please send a memo out to the plus size clothing designers about their awful choices they make? I really don't want a sheer peasant shirt with a ruffly bottom and huge purple butterflies all over. It isn't in style and I don't think it ever was. But for some reason there are loads of similar tops that have been cast away by some unsatisfied fatty to the thrift store. I can spot one a mile away and it is quickly eliminated as an option.
Keep in mind that you can repair and alter some things, even if you don't have sewing skills. I am known to cut off collars and sleeves. I cut off sleeves when they are too bulky and I know I am just going to wear it with a cardigan. Another tip to the plus size clothing industry: we don't need big ole' baggy sleeves to cover up our plump arms. A lot of us want things that fit and are tailored! Anyway, you can also see where I modified my Red Velvet dress in the bust. This can also be done with items you have thrifted.
Check the fitting rooms for close times
Our local thrift stores shut down their fitting rooms half an hour before they close. This could be alarming if you gathered all your beautiful finds to only discover that you can't try them on. They also usually let you take in a certain amount of items. Unlike Torrid, where I can go in with half the store and spend all night trying everything on, the thrift store only allows 6 items. I start to organize and separate what I want to take in.
You aren't going to discover all your thrifting dreams in one trip. You have to go often. Some trips will yield absolutely nothing and then other times you will strike gold. Give the thrifting Gods a chance to shine on you and for the store to restock. Plus, you will have new energy and ideas to attack those racks!
Wearing plus sizes doesn't mean you are limited to the mall or online shopping. You can become a thrifting pro instead! Be careful, you may get so addicted that the smell of musty clothing gets your heart racing. Check out your local thrift store and you will be surprised at the options! I hope my experience and tips will help you make the jump.