How to Score the Best Finds in Thrift Stores in the Philippines

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Thrifting is an activity with its fair share of naysayers and believers. For those cynical about secondhand shopping, it's like buying the old and musty clothes of a stranger. Who wants to wear those? It also requires braving crowded hubs in unfavorable environmental conditions, which not everyone may have the patience for.  

For long-time vintage hunters, however, thrift store shopping presents possibilities. First, you always get items cheap (how cheap that is will be up to your haggling skills). And even though, there is the real possibility of a hunt ending in frustration, the thrill of scoring rare or signature finds that they just don’t make anymore is unbeatable. 

Finally, the value of thrifting boils down to history and heritage. Secondhand clothes are time capsules of the past, a testament to a generation's culture and tastes. If you're lucky, you might find that the previous wearer is more interesting than the garment itself. 

To help you emerge triumphant in your thrift store shopping, we've put together a comprehensive guide on how to conquer the hunt. 

1| Know what you’re looking for.

True, half the fun of secondhand shopping is allowing yourself to be surprised by the most unexpected finds in an unlikely location. But whether you’re combing through four floors of motley aisles in Anonas or hopping from stall to stall in the thrift mazes of Baguio, it helps to set your mind on what you’re hunting for that day. The abundance of vintage finds may lead to hoarding, and in this time of Marie Kondo, turning into a pack rat just doesn’t spark joy anymore. Have a plan. If you just need one amazing jacket, stick to jackets. 


2| Practice your haggling skills in the mirror.

It’s no secret that most items are a steal in thrift stores in the Philippines, but haggling is the name of the game, especially now that shopkeepers are more confident in jacking prices up of coveted brands and items. Bargaining is more art than science, however; you’re not going to win over vendors with a forceful argument. Successful haggling takes charm and wit. Be kind to the sellers—sometimes, it literally pays to be nice.  

3| Bring a thrift store buddy (or two).

This one is more of a suggestion than a rule, as there is a certain pleasure in the act of thrifting solo. But when there are racks upon racks ahead of you, extra hands will be able to conquer the task more easily. Also, crowded areas tend to invite thieves, so it’s best to look out for one another, especially when you are in the middle of scoring a good find. Plus, big discounts await if you and your pals buy your items together. 

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4| Prepare to invest time and effort.

Any experienced thrift store shopper in the Philippines knows that the secret to a successful hunt is patience. Unlike a fast retail store where you can dart in and out in minutes, secondhand shopping is unpredictable, and it can take several aisles or stalls before you can chance upon a good find. To save yourself from the unnecessary stress of feeling rushed, clear your schedule (dedicate an entire afternoon or evening) for raking through piles of garments.  

5| Be wary of counterfeits.

Sometimes, the best vintage scores are interesting garments with obscure or hard-to-read labels, so it helps to know how to identify counterfeit pieces, especially when you think you’ve come across rare or signature items. There are countless ways to spot fakes (every designer label has its own identifiers) but ultimately, keep an eye on quality. Flimsy fabric, askew tags, and overall poor structure are just some of the most common red flags. 

6| Inspect all details.

Because these items are previously owned, it’s natural to see wear and tear—to expect the items to be in pristine condition is unrealistic. That said, some garments are in better shape than others, and it helps to know which flaws you can work with, like missing buttons or split seams. If there are any holes in or stains on the garment, discern whether they could be fixed with repairs. Some stains, like common dirt or dust from in-store handling can come out in the wash, but think twice about dye or bleach stains. Ditto with dried blood. A minuscule hole can be fixed, but if it is larger than an inch and a half in diameter, it’s not worth mending. 


7| Try the thing on.

Ultimately, a successful hunt boils down to whether you can wear the pieces you found. Best if you can find a size closest to your frame as this means the garment can be easily altered by your tailor. Pant length is almost always fixable. If all a shirt needs is darting in order to take make it slimmer, that’s workable, as well. It’s far easier to size down than to size up. No matter how good an item is, if the armholes are too tight, it’s too small for you. 

8| Don’t forget to toss them in the laundry.

Once you get home with loot in tow, please remember to throw your vintage finds in the wash. It’s the sensible thing to do. After long periods of unreliable storage conditions, these clothes can be hosts to pathogens. First, know which garments should be washed together or separately. Most items like shirts or pants can be dealt with in the machine with hot water and half a cup of distilled white vinegar to get rid of strong odors. Send more complicated items like a winter coat or a silk garment to the dry cleaners. 

Where to Go for Thrift Store Shopping in the Philippines

There are a number of thrift stores in the Philippines that are worth visiting. In Metro Manila alone, there’s Makati Cinema Square, the stories of secondhand finds in Anonas and Aurora Boulevard in Cubao, and the wagwagan in Libertad. Weekenders swear by Olivares Plaza in Tagaytay as the ultimate ukay hub. Travel up north and you have Baguio City, a thrift store capital with its night market on Harrison Road and other ukay arcades along Session Road and Legarda.

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Sam Beltran
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