Giving Back

Thrift Store Styling 

By Nichole A. Cavallaro 

Philanthropy is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” The desire to promote the welfare of others — in one word, “kindness.”

In college, I belonged to a large sorority that was created based on service and philanthropy. I recall fundraising many weekends in a row on campus, collecting change and putting it toward a particular charity or cause. We’d also travel out of town to volunteer at events, offering our support and time to those in need. We’d often pull all-nighters and find lodging where we could to make it there and back to campus before a chapter meeting on Sunday and the inevitability of classes Monday morning.

Fast forward to now – my philanthropic efforts aren’t as adventurous and tumultuous as they once were, but I do many things to achieve those same efforts. Clothes that either don’t fit or no longer serve their purpose for me are bagged up, ready to drop off at Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

Of course, I don’t just donate anything that isn’t up to par. I’m mindful of what I donate, as I was once in a position where going to a thrift store was something I needed. I actually liked thrifting because of my ongoing love affair with different styles. Whether it’s looking for vintage glassware or a stylish coat, I’ve developed an eye for dated pieces and updated ones, as well.

Here are some tips for putting together a look found at a thrift store:

1. Look at the tags! You can tell a vintage label from a current one. It’s usually in cursive — you know, the handwriting no one really uses anymore.

2. Look at buttons, zippers, stitching and patterns. Be mindful of loose threads and faded colors.

3. Consider going to a thrift store if you’re going on a vacation to somewhere warm. Again, a few pieces that aren’t brand new aren’t going to kill you. I recently went to the Caribbean. Although the thought of spending money on summer outfits was exciting and enticing, I chose to use that money toward the vacation. Yes, I bought a couple budget-friendly items to wear to dinners, but a few summer dresses from Goodwill weren’t only perfect, but also perfectly priced. I scoured the jewelry section and bought a Kate Spade white enamel bangle for a dollar. My logic is: I’m a mom who needs to be comfortable and functional.

4. Be mindful of work pieces. I tend to stay away from polyester blends from a thrift store. But if you find a basic blazer that fits and is the right price, go for it. That brings me to my next tip….

5. CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN. Steam clean it, take it a dry cleaner, hand wash it or machine wash it. Always clean it before wearing it.

6. Ask yourself: Is this something you could easily buy new for around the same price? For example, I see a lot of tops from Target, Express, Old Navy and other brands.

7. Shoes can be tricky. Try them on, of course, but try to find some that aren’t too worn out and damaged.

8. Another shop with discounted prices is Plato’s Closet. I’ve brought things there to sell and have seen designer pieces for work, school, college and casual settings. Although this store is geared towards a younger crowd (about ages 18 to 25), there are still some nice pieces in there as well as mint-condition shoes.

9. If you donate, consider what you give away. Would you wear it? Your intention is kind but make sure you’re not giving away garbage. Most places won’t even except shabby clothes, footwear or broken dishes.

There are consignment shops for children, too. Those are gold mines for parents because although clothes can be pricey, children grow quickly. Most of the time, you can find clothing and tons of toys that are practically new, some with the tags still on. I’ve found awesome (and new!) pajamas, toys and tops for my daughter. The price I paid for those items was amazing compared to what I’d spend elsewhere.

You don’t have to wear the best and most expensive labels to feel great. Being happy with who you are and what you wear is a mindset. Being kind is the best label.

After all, kindness never goes out of style. SWM

Nichole A. Cavallaro is a Syracuse-based lifestyle blogger. Read more of her work at

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