I don’t thrift often, but when I do the return on my investment of time and money is often relatively high. Sometimes I will go out for a day and hit a bunch of thrift stores whereas other times I will simply stumble upon one and stop in. I rarely will not go into a thrift store when I pass one, you never know what you’ll find and if you have never been there before it is a good idea to scope the place out for future visits (if possible).
To keep expectations reasonable I should say I don’t think I have ever thrifted something that didn’t require alterations, which is acceptable to my mind. Obviously, the idea is to limit the need for alterations, but don’t go out expecting to avoid them altogether. Even buying a jacket for $15 and putting in $60 of alterations gives me a jacket that cost $75, whereas as I am used to spending at least $400 for a jacket.
So anyway, in short I have found there are four potential outcomes to my (and probably your) thrifting efforts that I think it is useful to keep in mind. Each of which have a time and place and the latter three can help you better your wardrobe.
1. Buying something that I will never alter or wear. I often bought items like this because I liked the fabric or style or I was being impulsive. These items eventually get donated to my local stores (I refuse to donate to Goodwill as I don’t view it as a true charity).
2. Buying something that I will alter and wear that I didn’t necessarily need, but I wanted at the time. Or something that I would never spend the money on to buy new. I have a few aggressively patterned jackets that fall into this category.
3. Buying something that I will alter and wear that will hold me over until I can buy something custom that I will be happier with. As an example, I recently purchased a summer weight blue sports jacket that after alterations fits well but I am not happy with the lapels and gorge height of it.
4. Buying something that will completely eliminate the need for a future purchase. For example, last week I found a pair of brown suede bit loafers from Cole Haan (from a time when the brand made shoes of good quality).
A bit more back story is needed to fully asses the value of the 4th type of good. I have been wanting a pair of brown suede or brown calf bit loafers for nearly two years but hadn’t gotten around the justifying the expense yet as they are many items I need more than them. But my patience was rewarded. Instead of spending between $325-550 (Alden of Gucci basically) I spent $15. Years of wear are expected from these shoes and after cleaning them with some Saphir suede cleaner they should look noticeably better. I figure I saved at least $300, not bad for a few minutes work and a few years waiting. I wouldn’t recommend putting off more essential purchases like a blazer, first (or second) suit or first (or second) pair of dress shoes in hopes of finding suitable options in a thrift store. So I think this strategy works better for second or third tier ‘necessities.’ But nonetheless, I recommend taking every chance you get to stop in a thrift store, you never know what you’ll find.