How to Dress to Impress for Less: My Thrift Store Outfits

Thanks to Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and countless other, lesser-known heroes brave enough to proudly confess that they have shopped second-handedly, thrift stores around the country, nay, around the world, are thriving! I am one such hero, and I am here to regale you of some of my vintage adventures. This is the first time I’ve ever discussed my thrift store outfits on public Internet programming, so to commemorate the occasion I’ll be playing my own soundtrack.  

I shop almost exclusively at thrift stores for my clothes. Why? I want the haute couture look without cashing out on my 401K. At thrift stores, I can find designer threads at threadbare prices with great consistency. Particularly on my last visit I happened to pick up some darn fine pieces, and I’d like to take the time now to share them with you.

Before I stepped foot through the store, I did some research. If you don’t already have an idea of what style you’d like to slip into, drawing from precedence can be very helpful. I go through photos from blogs, outfits from my favorite movies, paintings, and so much more all for inspiration. Here’s just some of the source material I culled together:  

As you can see, when doing my research I tend to gravitate toward men (as clothes for this sex generally conform to my body much more comfortably than for the other), who also happen to be famous actors of a bygone era (⅔ are sadly no longer with us). Dustin Hoffman fits the more nebbish type, but awkwardly self-confident; Steve McQueen, the rogue heartthrob daredevil; and Paul Newman, the brash but honorable mensch. One thing these men all had in common: they had style. They wore tight-fitting clothes. They mostly donned solid colors, with the exception of some subtle patterns. And in general they enjoyed layering.

I also visited to educate myself on what trends would hold sway in Spring 2014. The fashion shows around the world debuted pieces that were heavy on floral patterns (not really for me, but O.K.), lots of solid patterns, some lighter hues alongside some very saturated warm ones, and SO MANY of blazers. 

I gleaned ideas from these images and premieres, not necessarily to replicate but to guide my sartorial compass. I knew I wanted to buy three pieces that would constitute a singular outfit – pants, shirt, blazer – so I could wear it as one whole going out, but I wanted the pieces to function independently so I could swap them in or out, and I also wanted to effect a rather vintage look. 

Equipped with a general concept to run with, I visited the Wasteland on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, CA, where I go to get most of my thrift store outfits. Watch out for real hawkers though: sometimes thrift store owners will unreasonably jack their prices up to account for the “rarity” of the clothing they stock. Don’t waste your time at joints like these. Used clothing should be discounted. I like Wasteland because their prices are fair, and the wares are tidy.  

I also went in with some shopping-spree parameters. I knew I didn’t want to spend much more than $100 total. I knew for certain I didn’t want to spend much more than $50 on any one article of clothing. And I knew that whatever I bought would need to be configurable with any future outfit, to get the most mileage out of my dollar. To stick to these rules, I ditched my credit cards. In my opinion, it’s best to go into a store with cash: take only the amount of cash you can afford to lose at that very moment, leave the plastic at home. Going shopping can sometimes be like falling down the Las Vegas rabbit hole, and when you wake up you’ve lost your house. Self-control is all I will say.

But back to clothes.  

First I wanted to find some bottoms, as I was running low on functional pants (most of mine had some holes in various conspicuous places) and they also help set the tone for the rest of the outfit. I was also looking for something versatile, and nothing spells versatile like denim – it goes with everything, even denim. I also knew that the spring equinox was right around the corner, and that lighter pastels (in a number of fashion show outfits) were going to be hot this season. My eye went immediately to a pair of cerulean skinny jeans from the brand April 77 – good year – for just $35. They sit nicely below the waist and under my hip bones, and also possess some elasticity for maximum (secret) comfort.


I found some similar jeans online at by Buffalo David Bitton. The colors are virtually the same, though the latter are straight-leg instead of skinny, which might be your preference. They're a tad more expensive because they're brand spanking new, but with a coupon code you can probably knock 10% off depending on the deal.  

Next, I found a fantastic red and white gingham button down shirt in my size (medium) for $22. I wanted something with a distinctive pattern (like McQueen’s shirt above) and this was the one that really popped. I can’t tell you what the brand was, as the original tag was missing. But the starchy crispness of the pleats and the remarkable condition indicated a well-designed piece of clothing. The color scheme was more befitting of a fall month, but in LA seasons are almost illusory, so the Angelenos will forgive me.

That was the shirt from afar, and here’s a microscopic look at the pattern:


That could definitely work in April, right?

Anyway, you can find an analog at J.C. Penney. It’s made by IZOD, it comes in a variety of colors, like baked apple (delicious as it is please to the eye) and right now you can get it at a bargain, only $29. If you use a J.C. Penney coupon, you can make it even more affordable. This is a real steal.

Next I had to complete the ensemble. I went over to the outerwear rack. Most of the pieces there were well over $100, and I was not about to drop that kind of dough. However, and I still can’t figure out why, I found a Steven Alan sportcoat for only $55. If you ask me how, I’ll tell you: tenacity! Thrift stores and flea markets are gold mines that require just as much digging. 

The blazer has got a wool shell and a polyester lining. It’s a gray tweed with some subtle blue checkers. It flows, which is perfect for the imminent heat waves, but can contain the heat for those chilly nights. It’s the best. Here’s what the thrift store outfit looks like in concert.


And a closeup of the blazer:

Now, J. Crew, a clothier for which I have great respect, carries a similar garment, but it’s going to cost you a bit. The Ludlow Sportcoat in Mini-Houndstooth Indian Cotton runs in the same navy, pale-blue hue, is more tuned to the songs of spring, but still has that 1960’s Martha’s Vineyard feel. But it will run you about $188, so make sure to take advantage of a promo deal.

That’s the ensemble, and it cost me a total of $112 before tax, which is pretty darn good considering the brands, quality, and number of pieces I took home. Stayed tuned for next month’s edition of My Thrift Store Outfits.  

(Image courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)  

By: Seth

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