Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?
As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.
From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!
Featured find: vintage Pendleton items
Dating back to 1863 and founded by weaver Thomas Kay, Pendleton Woolen Mills is based in Portland, Oregon. Throughout its long history, the company has produced practical woolen goods that set the standard for craftsmanship and authentic American style. Generations later, Pendleton is still going strong — and still managed by descendants of Kay.
Made to last, vintage Pendleton items can be found in thrift shops across the country. The company produces a wide range of products, but the most common secondhand items I find include:
- Men’s shirts
- Coats and jackets
- Cardigan sweaters
- Skirts and pantsuits
And here’s the best part: Almost all vintage Pendleton is worth money.
Lucky bargain hunters can still find shirts for $5.99, coats for $10 and, once in a great while, heavy wool blankets for $10 to $15.
Why buy it?
If you’ve ever owned a Pendleton blanket or piece of clothing, you can attest to its durability. Items that are well cared for can become heirlooms for generations.
And to its credit, Pendleton has avoided fashion fads. Shirts, coats and skirts are classically styled and look as good today as when they were first manufactured.
From an environmental perspective, buying vintage Pendleton (or any wool garment) is a smart move. According to Treehugger.com, wool is one of the most sustainable sources of clothing. It’s natural, renewable, durable, compostable and doesn’t release plastic microfibers when cleaned.
If you’re thrift shopping for items to resell for profit, keep an eye out for all things Pendleton.
On eBay, this vintage Mackinaw-style jacket sold for $200, and this early Native American-inspired blanket sold for $600. Prices are just as strong on Etsy, where this midcentury plaid, fully lined pantsuit is listed for a warm-and-fuzzy $788.
What to look for
As with all textiles, condition is everything. Since wool is vulnerable to moth damage, check each Pendleton piece carefully before you buy. Hold the fabric up to a window or bright light; tiny moth holes are much more visible when backlit.
Thankfully for secondhand shoppers, Pendleton items are exceptionally well-marked.
Though the label has changed slightly over the years, most pieces feature a bright blue label with gold stitching or a white label with gold or brown stitching. The all-caps PENDLETON word mark is followed by “PENDLETON WOOLEN MILLS.”
Early labels also included the manufacturing location of Portland, but some newer pieces are marked “Made in China.”
A few other details to keep an eye out for:
- Pearl snaps: Some Pendleton Western-style shirts feature faux pearl snaps instead of buttons. Shirts with snaps command slightly higher resale prices.
- Loop collar: Instead of the standard buttonhole and button, loop-collar shirts feature a button and small fabric loop at the neck. Shirts with loop collars were fashionable in the 1940s and ’50s, and collectors prefer them today.
- Size: Always double-check the sizes of wool clothing. Many people don’t follow the care instructions and inadvertently shrink wool garments. These damaged items usually end up in thrift stores. If a garment is marked as a size large but looks more like an extra-small, it’s probably been washed and dried in a machine.
- Color: Though I can’t support this claim scientifically, I’ve noticed that certain plaid color combinations are more popular than others. If you’re buying Pendleton items to resell for profit, focus on greens, blues, browns and blacks. Plaids that are predominantly red don’t sell as well.
Pro tip: Condition matters, but don’t worry too much if you find a moth-munched blanket. If there’s enough intact fabric to work with, it can be sold as upholstery material to furniture restorers.
For more tips like these, check out my article “11 Secrets to Finding Quality Clothing at Thrift Shops.”