Introduction to Thrift Shopping
I've been going to thrift shops, or charity shops, for a few years now. As a result, a good half or so of my wardrobe comes from them (and by good half, I do mean the good half - most of my higher quality pieces are second hand). I love buying my clothing second hand for many reasons - but mostly, the ability to get high quality items for very low cost.
As I mentioned, with patience one can find all sorts of high quality goods - I've found a lot of business style wear by brands such as Cue, Veronika Maine, Jigsaw, and Review. I've found brand new pairs of jeans by Sass & Bide - I paid $20 for these, a fairly large discount from their retail price of $150 - $300. Likewise, thrift shopping allows you to try styles or items you wouldn't usually try, owing to the price, and diversity of items.
Whilst the quality and price are the biggest attraction points to thrift shopping, they aren't the only benefits. Buying second hand is more environmentally and socially conscious - less waste, and most thrift shops are charity shops, so the money you spend there goes to helping those in need. It's always nice to know that my money is helping those in poverty or with mental illness, rather than to companies that have socially and environmentally unfit practices.
Also, depending on your opinion on animal products, thrift shops are excellent for leather or fur - I personally believe that buying such products second hand is not morally questionable, but that's my own opinion.
I go to The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul's, and Lifeline. This really depends on where you live though, so look into charity shops, but also consignment shops, and vintage shops (although these won't be as cheap usually).
Area also makes a big difference with regards to item quality/type and price. Have a look at your local store, and if you find the items don't reflect your taste or the price is too high, commute to another area - the items in a store mostly represent what was donated in that area. Some things are shipped around and to different stores, but again, they will ship items according to the area. More affluent areas tend to have higher prices, and more 'designer' brands. However, that isn't to say only 'certain' stores have good quality items - the type of items available will vary more, and they will tend to reflect the culture of the area.
Patience, for one. It takes time to properly look through a thrift shop - things are roughly organised by item type, but they aren't strictly organised. This is something that you'll get better at with time and practice, but also by having a good idea of what suits your personal style and shape. I've grown up sewing, and have found that a knowledge of tailoring, shape, and fabric really speeds things up.
Before you try things on, have a look at the garment quickly - the vast majority of things I buy are in good to great condition, but sometimes items are ripped, or stained, or something of the like. If it doesn't say 'sold as is' on the tag and it's damaged, you can ask for a discount. Check out what fabric it's made of, and the care instructions, especially if you'd prefer not to hand wash or dry clean.
Make sure you try things on, and check that it fits you properly. If it's too big or too small, or it's just a weird cut and you cannot reasonably fix it yourself or pay a tailor to, you won't wear it. If it's an item you are really in love with, you could always try looking for it on ebay, but realistically, if it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. And then of course, as with any purchase, ask yourself how it fits in with items you currently own, whether it is made redundant by something you already own and whether you would buy it new and for full price - although I wouldn't get too hung up on this, as thrift shops are an excellent way to explore styles you aren't sure about.
If you can sew or like to DIY things (or are willing to try), ask yourself if you can alter the item to make it what you want (I hem a lot of the dresses I buy, but don't usually make large scale alterations to size/shape), or if you can make it more interesting with new buttons, embellishments, or the like.
The best way to thrift shop is to regularly visit a set of stores - I have three in my area, so I usually go to at least two (I sometimes skip the more expensive one). Many items will stay in the store long term, until the right person walks in, but the more trendy and stylish items don't usually stay long, so regularity is key. If you have the time, volunteer - they usually get first pick.
Other than that, enjoy yourself - there are some downright hilarious items of clothing in thrift shops. And don't forget to check out the accessories :)