I often hear: "I love vintage, but won't go thrifting because I don't have the patience to search for the good pieces."
Alas, your time spent in a thrift shop can spent much more productively by following a few guidelines. Actually, just one guideline. And it's simple. Shop for quality. When assessing the quality of any garment make sure to let both your eyes and fingers do the deciding. Look at the clothing, but also feel it for thickness, softness, how it moves around in your fingers.
What makes a quality piece of clothing? I'm not an expert, but in my years of picking vintage and trying to figure out what quality looks like, here are a few guidelines I use to spot a quality garment:
Thick fabric. Fabric that has been tightly woven or knit won't develop holes as quickly or stretch out as fast.
Woven fabric. It hangs nicely on the body, better than knit fabrics generally.
Is it lined? Linings help clothing sit closely to your body without clinging to it.
Is contouring built-in? For example, darting around the bust in a top, or pleating in a pair of pants.
Finally, what is the fabric? This one is kind of a toughie to capture. I bet this is where you get hungup in a thrift shop. Fabric is not the most important, perhaps shockingly. If a garment meets most or all of what's listed above you'll usually find that the garment is quality, whatever the fabric. I find that I personally gravitate to natural fabrics like all varieties of wool, linen, cotton, silk, etc..
So instead of asking how to thrift shop, let's ask ourselves why do we thrift shop?
Everyone who thrifts has a different reason. More unique look, better fitting clothing for cheaper, high quality fabrics, brand names for dollars, and of course, the thrill of a good find. Don't forget the environment: none of the earth's resources are used to turn first-hand clothing into second-hand clothing, aside from some gas and perhaps a turn in the washing machine. Vintage is just awesome. So says everyone.
So then, why don't people thrift shop?