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Op-Shopping Tips for Rookies

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by Madeline Link (subscribe)
I'm just a happy realist. Visit my blog at
Published November 15th 2012
A word for the not-so wise

As Newcastle is a Pandora's box for opportunity shops, I felt that as a self-proclaimed thrift-store junkie I couldn't keep these golden tips to myself! If you want to know how to shop for real vintage for an unbelievably low price, you've come to the right place, shuffle closer and open your ears to wisdom, grasshopper.

Now there's a couple of points I need to cover before we jump right into it and I start filling your minds with genius. Op-shopping is a fine art, it takes time to get good at it and the more you practice the less you find yourself packing that sweater you bought last week that was just 'the greatest thing ever!' back into the Vinnies collection bin.

There's a couple of things you're going to need, and they're detrimental to your scrounging success:

A friendly pioneer - When selecting your op-shopping pal there are a couple of traits you should be looking for. Firstly you need to find someone who is willing to spend up to half an hour searching through racks of potentially great finds, someone who enjoys the thrill of the chase, so to speak. They also need to have the ability to tell a deal-breaker from a good thing, these people are very rare, so if you find one keep it in your cupboard and treat it well. I'm talking about when you pick up that hideous 80's dress thinking it's the 'best thing ever' and 'I have to have it!'

A good friend will tell you to put that awful thing right back on the rack and save your 50 cents for later. And lastly you need someone who is helpful in finding good things but hopefully has tastes that slightly differ from yours so there won't be any serious games of tug-a-war going down in the change-rooms!

Comfortable shoes Can't stress this enough, if you're going for a while you will need them. Alexander the Great didn't conquer Persia without his best roaming sandals.

Clothing which isn't going to be impossible to take off and put on again when trying on potential finds You don't want to spend too much time in the change rooms when there's a whole world of vintage clothing awaiting you.

Dettol hand-sanitiser Not a necessity but things can get pretty gross in there so safety first kids.
Okay, so now you've got your necessities and you're ready to go.

1. When you're op-shopping it's important that you don't just waste money for the hell of it, yes that skirt might only be $1 but if you're honestly not going to wear it, leave it behind for someone else.

2. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER, ever (x100) buy something that you have to alter, shorten or change. I know you're probably a visionary who knows exactly how great this item would look if it were just that little bit smaller or shorter, but unless you're a sewing whiz you're never going to get around to it and it'll end up in a sad looking pile on the bottom of your wardrobe and you'll end up passing it pity glances for the next 3 months until you send it right back to the thrift store.

3. Look out for sales! Sounds kinda' weird because everything is already so cheap but often they'll have fill a bag for $5, all of one clothing half price or a $1 item rack so go bananas.

4. Check out the accessories section, there's usually about 700 worthwhile belts and sometimes real leather bags that are really nice and expensive to buy new.

5. Peep into that glass cabinet at the register, also if they have jewellery and you're interested in buying some, always ask them to take it out so you can rummage through it properly, often you'll find the little old oblivious volunteers/grandmothers (god bless their souls), can't recognise what's real silver and what isn't so you'll end up being one of those lucky buggers who pays 50cents for something valuable.

6. Don't take someone who is nonchalant about it, people who say 'that's nice,' to everything you pick up aren't really going to be helpful when it comes to deciphering the great from the not-so-great.

7. The dirtier the better, and I have to suggest never going to a Salvo's because everything is so generic and picked-through before it gets into the shop so you're never going to find an original Liz Jordan top in there, or a fantastic 80's Chanel castway. In other words, salvo's sucks for unexpected finds.

8. Plan your attack, no use wasting time and petrol driving around everywhere, know the places you want to go to (often you'll find strips where there will be 3 or 4 op-shops, lucky you) and spend about 20-30 minutes in each one depending on how big they are.

9. Have a look at furniture/knick knack stores because often they have a lot of great things to decorate homes with or wrap up as birthday/Christmas/Bar mitzvah presents. Shoe sections in my experience aren't super successful (mostly because I'm not into the idea of other people's feet and I wear a gigantic size 9) but always worth a look in.

10. Stop for lunch, while you're there it's always helpful to tally up how much you've spent and just re-cap on what you've bought so far (I always forget!) to avoid buying similar items or 34837 belts in the one day. Also lunch is delicious and as a warrior of poverty you need your strength.

Now get on out there and scrounge away!
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Why? Don't question absolute truth, grasshopper.
When: whenever you like!
Where: Nearly every suburb in Newcastle!
Your Comment
Hmmm. Not to sure about your Salvos comments. I have found many hidden treasures.
by sadie9 (score: 1|14) 2220 days ago
Don't know about Newcastle, but there is a
Fantastic thrift shop called Yesterdays in Nash St
near Rosalie Village. And yes you will find
Liz Jordan clothing there amongst other designer
labels. Also they have "Fill a Bag for $5 on the
last Sunday of each month. So go wild cats and
explore - it's worth the trip.
by carme (score: 0|4) 2220 days ago
Great tips, I always find good deals on jeans that I can cut-off into shorts.
by Where I Holiday (score: 2|338) 2219 days ago
Great aricle and terrific tips mostly but bit sad that you advocate with such glee not telling the folks that run these bargain treasure troves that the jewelry might be real silver/gems/gold and tell your readers to just snatch a mega-bargain. I may sound like a preacher here even tho I am not religious but the op shops are there to help raise money for the poor of our society and as things are usually cheap anyway couldn't you suggest being honest about any real jewelry instead. That part aside thanks for the great article.
by KAM57 (score: 1|68) 2218 days ago
Thanks for the tips! I'll be sure to use them in my next scavenger hunt in Adelaide.
by misslulu (score: 1|88) 2211 days ago
I organize a day, pick up my mum and some friends, and visit a large number of op-shops for a set amount of time each unless we agree to leave early. It's a great outing and much conversation between stores about finds or disappointments. I do agree with the salvo comment though. Too many are going "boutique" even trying to charge higher than retail prices for some stuff. People working there do need to have a basic understanding of an items value though this is what makes those bargains possible. Places often complain about the rising cost of rent and staff needing to be covered to excuse high prices although many are volunteers. The places that thrive are those that keep their places chock full and repeatedly sell cheap to maintain a high turnover, therefore more money. As opposed to those running places which discard a lot (someones idea of "we can't sell that") and having an assortment of sameness on a rack.
by NutItOut (score: 0|8) 2211 days ago
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