How to Thrift for Gifts this Holiday Season

With the holidays coming up, I encourage everyone to thrift for gifts if you’re able. You’ll be giving unique presents, saving money, and helping to reduce the waste that comes with the holiday season. With that said: not all thrift finds are equal. If you’re shopping for somebody who isn’t into thrifting or “doesn’t get it” they could be put off by the idea of a second hand gift. 

With that in mind, I try to keep a few rules in mind if I’m thrifting for a gift for a less thrifty (but very lovely!) recipient. 

In years past, I’ve done a mix of thrift finds and brand new store bought items as gifts, but this year I’m challenging myself to thrift the bulk of my gifts. This is so I can: give more generously, focus on finding thoughtful gifts, and reduce my footprint by shopping secondhand. 

Where I thrift for gifts online

I’ve got a referral code for the first two – if you sign up and buy with either we both get bonuses!

  • Poshmark – I buy and sell on Poshmark fairly frequently. I follow a lot of big influencers who sell high end pieces they get sent by PR companies for cheap. I score $250 sweaters and dresses for $20 on the regular by consistently keeping an eye on Posh. Each individual seller gets to stock and price their shop on Poshmark, and you can negotiate the prices. Follow this link and use code “MORGANTIMM” for a $10 shop credit  for free! If you buy something, I get credited $10, too!
  • Thredup – I’ve never sold on Thredup, but I have found some great New With Tag pieces there. Their model is a little different than Poshmark, where rather than individual sellers, people send their clothes to ThredUp and they price and sell the items and negotiation isn’t an option. With that said, ThredUp prices very fairly where you wouldn’t want to negotiate regardless. This link will give you $10 to shop for free! I’ll also get $10.
  • Facebook Marketplace – I’ve decorated most of my home using Facebook Marketplace. But if your hometown is anything like mine, it’s competitive. Great pieces sell quickly. If you’re looking for something specific it’s worth checking five or six times a day.
  • Ebay – If you’re looking for true vintage, Ebay is a great place to search. I myself haven’t bought much on Ebay, but my fiance has great luck with bobbleheads, records, and baseball memorabilia.

There are other places to thrift online, but these are the ones I’m most familiar with and can vouch for. 

For the remainder of this article I’ll be speaking more towards in-person thrifting in a hypothetical optimistic Covid-free world, but most of the tips can also apply to thrifting online!

How to thrift for gifts

Paper wrapped gifts with palm leaves.

Like any time you’re giving a gift, it’s important to have an understanding of your recipient’s interests. Your little brother might not get hyped over what he would consider to be a musty, 80 year-old-vase whereas your best girlfriend would die over the one-of-a-kind vintage find. Just because something is “cool” or “rare” doesn’t mean it’ll universally be a good gift. I like to follow these general rules:

  • Non-thrifters might feel weird about receiving a once-worn thrifted piece of clothing as a gift. For those people I only look for New With Tags pieces. 
  • Cool vintage picture frames with an etsy shop print or a photo of you and the recipient can be customized to be a great gift for almost everyone
  • The book section often has good-as-new hardcovers (and super cool books from 50+ years ago) for a couple of dollars. Check for books that fit your recipients interests.

Related post: How to find hidden gems at the thrift shop

How to find thrifted clothes to give as a gift

Clothing on hangers in a thrift store

Clothes are the trickiest pieces to thrift for gifts. Personally, I have trouble giving clothes as a gift for just about anyone besides my mom or fiance in general. Sizing can be weird and it’s hard to nail somebody’s personal style, but thrifted gifted clothes can definitely be done!

Look for tags 

Whenever I’m thrifting for myself, I’m constantly scanning for clothes that still have their original tags. These are great for gifting. (I may have found a brand new Henley for Garrett a few weeks back to stash away for the holidays.) and I know they are unlikely to have any weird smells or stains to combat. I won’t give thrifted clothes as gifts to anyone who isn’t a thrifting enthusiast themselves, so tagged items always get me excited. 

Cleaning thrifted items without damaging the tags

If I thrift an item to gift and want to keep the original tag intact, I’ll protect the tag with an old grocery bag and a bit of tape and gently hand wash the item in the sink. My local thrift stores do a great job about the cleanliness and smells of their items, but I’ve definitely been to shops before where the clothes smell like they’ve been in a wet basement for decades. 

If the odor is too bad, you can soak the item in a water and vinegar mixture (with the tag still protected) before handwashing, and that should kill all of the foul smell. 

Hang to dry, and you’re ready to roll!

Keep an eye out for vintage pieces

Thrift for gifts this holiday season following these tips.

If you’re shopping for a fashion lover, a beautiful vintage piece could send them over the moon. I’m always surprised by just how many beautiful vintage sweaters, blazers, and purses I find at my local goodwills. Personally, I’m not super focused on adding to my wardrobe (I’ve been trying to adopt a minimalist mindset – it’s been tricky!) but I have made a few exceptions for great vintage finds. My current prized possession is a vintage Ralph Lauren sweater I found at the bins.

Being able to identify vintage is a good skill for any thrifting enthusiast (even if, like me, you’re not planning on buying it. I always love to share a good vintage find on my Instagram stories!)

How to tell if a piece of clothing is vintage

This is a skill that gets stronger with practice and experience, I’ve shopped with friends who seem like they can sniff it out from across the store. My skills are less finely tuned. I always look for these features:

  • Logos and tags I don’t recognize. Generally, I see mostly the same brands at the thrift shop and the tags are predictable. If I see a brand or logo I don’t recognize I’ll either Google the name or look for the other elements on this list.
  • The country of origin. If the sweater was made in the USA, that’s typically a good indication that it might be vintage. Most fast fashion companies use factories overseas, and it’s been that way for the past few decades. 
  • If there is no garment care tag it was either made before the early 1970’s or someone just removed it – if you can’t tell, look for other clues.
  • If there is a union tag on the garment it is likely vintage.

General tips for buying thrifted clothes

Whether you’re shopping for yourself or out to thrift for gifts, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Check the garment top, bottom, inside, and out for stains and tears. A lot of people donate clothes that they “deem” unwearable due to damage. I’m the queen of getting excited to thrift a pair of nice jeans only to discover the fabric in the inner thighs have been chafed away.
  • Check the neckline for stretching. Another common flaw I find on thrifted clothes is stretched out necklines and shoulders. If you’re a talented seamstress, you can fix this. If like me your skills start and end at hemming and sewing buttons, I recommend leaving the stretched out pieces on the racks.
  • Check the intimate section for pretty overwear. I find the prettiest jackets and kimonos mixed in with the bras and robes at my goodwill. 

Finding thrifted homeware to give as a gift

Thrift for gifts this holiday season like pretty baskets to hang on the wall.

The home section is my bread and butter for finding gorgeous gifts to give. It’s easy to soak and scrub a serving tray and have it look and feel as good as new.

Here are a few of my recommendations for great homeware gift ideas.

Classic homeware gifts you can thrift:

  • A set  or pair of vintage wine, martini, or cocktail glasses that you can gift with a bottle of your recipient’s favorite booze. My Goodwill always has a ton of beautiful glassware that I have to stop myself from buying because my kitchen storage is sparse. I’ve already picked up a few gold rimmed wine glasses and tucked them away to give a girlfriend for Christmas. 
  • I always find really pretty serving trays when thrifting. Last year I found a terracotta chip and dip platter and it’s one of my most prized kitchen possessions. You can pair a serving tray with a premade dip mix or thrift (or buy!) an appetizer recipe book.
  • Pretty planters alway make a great gift. If you’re a plant enthusiast and have an Aloe with pups or a Pothos ready for cuttings homegrown houseplants in a unique planter is a perfect gift. 
  • Picture frames with a photo of you and the recipient or a print from etsy can be so personal and customizable. When you’re thrifting frames, look for a heavier frame (better made and was originally more costly!), real metal, real wood, or intricate details. I find a lot of cheap frames at Goodwill, but I’ve also found some really beautiful and high quality frames, too. It just takes some digging!
  • A ready-to-hang basket wall can be the perfect gift for a boho lover in your life. I thrifted a dozen baskets for my basket wall, and got all of them for less than $15 total! The key to a good basket wall is varying size, color, and weave.

Related post: How to thrift for home decor

Finding interest-specific items to give as a gift

A stack of vinyl records including the Beatles Greatest Hits and Eterna.

If you’re shopping with somebody who is super into something be that sports, music, crafts, and so on the thrift shop is always full of gems.

  • If you have a music lover in your life, vinyls are a great gift you can find at the thrift store. My fiance always spends a good deal of time sorting through the vinyls when we visit Goodwill and he has found some great vintage albums that still play great.
  • We’ve found cool wooden vintage baseball bats that always tempt Garrett. We have bought three or four, but leave the rest to other baseball enthusiasts.
  • If you know somebody who collects mugs the thrift store is amazing. I’ve found handmade mugs, mugs from the 50’s, and Starbucks collectible mugs all for 88 cents, all thrifted. You can pair a gifted mug with a bag of coffee or a handmade mug cozy. 
  • Books are a great item to find at the thrift shop. I hardly buy books any other way now. I find good-as-new hardcovers for a couple of dollars, and soft backs for 88 cents. When you get home you can sanitize it by wiping it down with a microfiber cloth that you’ve spritzed alcohol or cleaner on.

Cleaning your thrifted gifts

Before you give any gift from the thrift store, I recommend disinfecting it. Like I said, most stores do a great job with cleanliness, but you never know what environment the thrifted item came from.

There are guides for disinfecting just about anything you buy at the thrift store – when in doubt, google “how to clean a thrifted _______” or “how to sanitize _________.” This is important now more than ever considering Covid.

Do you usually thrift for gifts during the holidays? I’d love to hear your tips!