A few of my friends were interested in how to get a new look without spending tons of money, so I wrote up a little guide on how to successfully Marshalls dive. I don’t remember where I got all the initial ideas from, but the washing the pillowcase frequently was, I remember, from galadarling.com.

So here we go:

Wendy’s Guide on Thrift-Store/Marshall’s/TJMaxx etc Diving

First, some general guidelines:

1)      Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find something right away. The stock in these stores is always changing, so one day you might find three great pieces and one day come up with nothing.

2)      On a similar note, the trick is to keep coming back. Is there a store near you, one which you could visit frequently? Keep popping in. Keep popping in once or twice every two weeks, even if it’s only for a few minutes. What’s great is that there’s a Marshall’s in my hometown in a big shopping plaza, so after my mom gets groceries she just goes in and out. It’s not super time-consuming.

3)      That said, if you don’t have the time to frequently revisit, be prepared to devote a good three to four hours of a weekend to digging. I only go to Marshall’s when I go home, but when I’m there I’m there for hours on end. I can safely say that a few hours in there can yield sweet rewards.

4)      Make sure you’re dressed comfortably. You’re going to be trying on a lot of things so make sure there aren’t too many buttons/snaps on your clothes (unless you don’t mind taking your time). Don’t get discouraged if they don’t fit the first time around—there’s going to be a Round 2 and 3 and possibly 4 of sweeping the store.

5)      Look on all the racks. A lot of times the sizes get mixed up, so you’ll find a small in a large section or vice versa. If you see something cute, grab it first, then check the size tag—you might just be in luck!

6)      Dig. Dig. Dig. DIG. You might have to comb the same rack two or three times; I know I’ve missed a thing or two on my first look around. I like to think of the first look as a general overview and the second and third as a detailed examination. You get the idea.

7)      Know your sizes! You have a ton of mixed brands all thrown together on one rack, so you might be a size 33 in one and a 36 in another. Don’t feel embarrassed about having to up a size because every brand is made a little differently. Sometimes you might also have to grab the same pair of jeans in two different sizes just to play it safe.

Second, some rules for pricing:

1)      All those cheap prices–$5 for a t-shirt, $10 for a skirt, $16 for a dress and so on are going to rack up fast, so if you have a budget you might want to prioritize your pieces, otherwise you might wind up paying $70-$100. But consider how much you’re paying for how many pieces of clothing, and if it’s still a good deal, go for it. Another thing I like to do is take the price of the clothing and divide it by the number of times I’m going to wear it per year, and if it’s a reasonable sum then I’ll buy it. This especially holds for pricey clothing, because you want to get the most wear out of it if you’re paying a lot.

2)      Designer clothing will be a bit on the pricier side, even at stores like these. However, if it’s well-made and you really like it, go for it, because in regular retail it’ll be way more expensive.

3)      Clearance rack first! I’ve found a super nice pair of jeans for $10. The exhilaration when one realizes that is almost enough to make you run up to the register, buy it and run out. But seriously the clearance rack first.

My rules of thumb for when it comes to picking clothing:

  • If it feels like plastic, it probably is. That slithery shiny polyester material may be cheap but it is a big, BIG no-no. Just because your clothing’s cheap doesn’t mean it has to look cheap. It will also chafe your skin and discolor very, very quickly. It might even melt in the dryer. Ick! Look at the tag for the material—cotton, acrylic and softer materials are all right.
    • This applies to tights as well. I prefer acrylic and cotton tights to polyester and nylon; it’s just more breathable on the skin.
  • Look at the way the clothing is sewn together. Look CAREFULLY. If it feels flimsy or, worse, you hear a couple threads ripping as you’re trying it on, reconsider, unless you’re good with a needle and can easily sew some tighter stitches on. Or a stitch comes loose and it doesn’t make the whole thing fall apart, etc.
  • More delicate tops and dresses are going to need a little extra attention when it comes time to wash them. You don’t have to wash a dress every time you wear it (unless you bought it at a thrift store—then it’s always a good idea to run all your clothing through the washers once before you wear them) but when you do, wash all delicates (dresses, tights, bras, chiffon/silk things) in a pillowcase tied with a hairtie. You will save yourself so much hassle and so many tears from detangling or having the clothing rip in the washing machine. Plus, it’s just a good idea to wash your pillowcase once a week because you’re basically rubbing your face full of oil and makeup and whatnot into a piece of cloth, which can clog up your pores, so if you wash any bedding frequently, it should be a pillowcase. Most things will hold up all right in the dryer, but very sheer things of course are better off being line-dried.

Now, one of my most favorite things. You guessed it, shoes:

  • Admittedly I haven’t always followed this rule because I’m a sucker for pretty shoes, but comfort is very important, of course, especially if you’re going to be wearing the shoes frequently. And there are such things as comfortable shoes outside of jogging sneakers. It all depends on what kind of arch you have. Do you have a low, medium or high arch? Personally, I have rather flat feet, so shoes with a little bit of a heel are optimal for me. I’ve heard that high heels work really well for people with a high arch, but it varies from person to person. Play it by ear.
  • Again, like with clothing, you can tell really cheap shoes. Look at the shoes carefully. What do they feel like? Hard, flexible, plastic or faux leather? Check the tag if you’re not sure (I’m not even sure sometimes). Generally, real leather shoes are softer and easier on the feet, which is why I’ve always paid a bit more for the real deal. But if you’re vegan or against leather, then high-quality faux leather should work just fine.
  • Make sure you try the shoes on. This is such a given, but really try them on. Walk around the store a few times. Is it still comfortable? Do they get more comfortable the more you keep them on your feet? Personally I love heels that are lined with suede, making it easier on your feet. If they’re heels, make sure you can walk in them!
  • Flats are some of the easiest and hardest shoes to find. When buying flats, make sure they’re snug against your feet. I would go down a size when it comes to buying flats because they can stretch, especially if they’re made of leather—leather is more flexible than plastic. Loose flats will drive you crazy, so unless you’re prepared to stuff tons of tissues in the toes, go down a size or don’t buy them. No matter how cute they are.
  • Unless they’re a gift from God (and I have had shoes that are a gift from God) all shoes are going to require some breaking in, so wear them in gradual increments. I made the mistake of wearing unbroken shoes on a day where there was going to be quite a bit of walking. The huge blisters on my heels can speak for themselves.

Here are what I consider some reasonable prices. I’m going to start at $5 for all of them and cut them off at a certain place. If you can find something awesome for less, more power to you and you are blessed indeed. Of course, things can be more or less depending on the designer—if it’s a nice designer and it’s marked down 75% of regular retail price, then hell yes it’s a steal! But designers aside, then this what I would normally pay:

Tops: $5-$15

Skirts: $5-$25

Dresses: $5-$25 (anything above, and you can probably find a nicer version in a place like Macy’s or something)

Jeans: $5-$25 (ditto the above)

Shoes: $5-$40 (shoes are a bit more expensive, especially nicer ones. $40 for shoes is actually really good considering how well they’re made, because you’re going to be wearing them a lot, so the price per wear ratio gets low).

Jackets: $5-$100 (again, jackets and coats are versatile and will last you a long, long time, so paying $45 for something you’re going to wear everyday of the winter will keep the price per wear ratio low).

Suits: $5-$75 (admittedly I don’t know that much about suits. It seemed like a reasonable cutoff).

So I’ve racked my brain for all I know about this stuff, and this is what I’ve got. Happy diving, you guys—I’m sure you’ll come up with awesome outfits. : D