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September 26, 2012

The fun of thrift shopping

Once upon a time, picking up pre-loved clothes was reserved for bargain hunters. Now, thrifting, swapping and consigning are widespread money-saving tactics and lucrative hobbies for those who choose to buy low and sell high.

At the height of the recession in 2008, thrift stores started booming. Many Goodwill and Salvation Army stores reported double-digit sales increases at locations across the country in 2010 and 2011. While the economic slump helped the resale industry grow, so did fashion magazines and bloggers, which have prominently featured vintage pieces season after season.

But how do you know if you're buying trash or treasure? And should you swap or sell when you're finished wearing?

We talked to expert shoppers and swappers to learn how they work thrift stores and swapping events. And once you've mastered the buy-trade-sell cycle, you may find retail shopping isn't nearly as much fun.

Buy: Thift Stores

At thrift stores, designer pieces can be less than $5. But you have to dig for quality purchases amid the mass of low-quality products."The first thing I look for is quality, and that means making sure there are no rings around collar or weird alterations," said Lauren A. Rothman, owner of Styleauteur, a style consulting firm. "Salvation Army and Goodwill have different standards than a high-end consignment store, so it's always good to look for brands [in thrift stores]. If you're in a place where you can find a collector's brand for $3, look for them." And while brands don't always signify quality, they will tell you a lot about where an item is manufactured and how much it is worth.

• Go Often

When shopping retail, there tends to be more than one of what you're looking for. That's not the case with consignment or thrift stores. "I recommend to go shopping when others are not shopping," Rothman said. "Going during the week is always a great recommendation because there's a lot more turnover than in a regular store." Also, many thrift stores will call you if you're a regular and always buy a particular brand. It pays to become a familiar face.

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