Wardrobe stylist Lauren Paterni knows how to shop the flagship store of Goodwill Los Angeles to score her own creative clothing looks for less and to plan photo shoots for clients.
“I reconstruct and remake some pieces for them,” said Paterni, who has been in the business for 10 years. “I saw firsthand how the fashion world has an ugly side that is not sustainable.”
Some customers like Paterni are turning to thrift stores to cut costs and also reuse clothes to benefit the environment. People who know how to shop for clothes at Goodwill like its social mission, huge national footprint and prices so cheap, you can buy by the pound.
The store at 3150 N. San Fernando Road in Los Angeles is a favorite for many like Paterni. It’s huge, and so is the selection.
The Best Goodwill Hauls
Every thrifter who shops at the flagship Goodwill Los Angeles near Atwater Village, or others in the area, have a story of their best Goodwill haul.
Paterni has found vintage Prada, Dior and “tons” of really cool suede and leather pieces and paid from $25 to $75, higher than most Goodwill items, but a lot less than new items on Prada’s website, for example, where new blouses can go for more than $1,000.
On the other end of the price range at this Goodwill, a leather jacket can be had for $6, and other items are as low as $1 or even less.
“It’s all in how you look and, of course, some luck!” Paterni says. “They always have unique pieces that I know I’ll find.”
For her, it’s a hunting game.
“Goodwill allows me to keep the mystery with fashion and, in a sense, I get to ‘pay it forward’ at the same time,” she says. “Goodwill provides jobs, promotes sustainability and it’s an overall, all-around good company.”
A Goodwill regular has, by definition, a wardrobe ebb and flow. It’s part of what makes you feel good about shopping here. You buy the new-to-you and donate the old. Paterni, for example, last shared a ton of books, jeans and a few shoes.
Writer and editor Kibby Araya frequented Sacramento stores with her sister when she was growing up. Goodwill made it possible for them to afford the same popular teen brands as their classmates in high school. Today the expert shopper says Goodwill SoCal, and its flagship in particular, are her favorites—for the designer and name-brand clothing, and also for clothes sold by the pound.
“It’s harder to get these deals consistently in other regions,” she said, adding that area stores also have a fantastic selection of discounted books.
The Best Day to Shop Goodwill Los Angeles
If you need to buy a lot of clothes and don’t mind crowds, some say Thursdays are the best days to shop at Goodwill SoCal for their color-tag sale. Every Thursday, all items tagged with the color of the week are just $1.
“It gives people who can’t afford to pay in full a chance to get a whole wardrobe,” said Eric Hart, area manager for the flagship location.
The $1 Thursdays are also a big opportunity for resellers who come to Goodwill early and stay long to find low-cost vintage items to resell online or in their own shops. Hart says it sells approximately $1,600 in textiles and $6,500 in home goods daily. Goodwill is also a great place to furnish a home.
The flagship store has a career outreach center on site, and the $1 Thursdays help a lot of different people at once, Hart says. Ex-offenders, homeless and at-risk youth shop alongside budget-conscious fashionistas every day, especially on the $1 Thursdays.
“Where else would you go to for all this at $1?” he asks. “It’s a big day for us.”
Goodwill Bins for Clothes by the Pound
In a separate “outlet” area at this Goodwill, also called the Fletcher Square Goodwill, is a shopping option you either love or hate: the oversized bins of clothes sold by the pound. Items sell for $1.99 per pound of textiles and $1.19 per pound of hard goods. Most Goodwill regions have at least one outlet store like this, known informally by many hardcore shoppers as “the bins.”
This clothing comes out to customers in large bins with wheels, and this is truly the cheapest, and most labor-intensive, way to score new clothes, even a new wardrobe. The outlet is popular among vintage resellers, who can spend an entire day trolling through unwashed masses of fabric.
When an employee announces a new bin will be released, it is like a Black Friday feeding frenzy, with bargain hunters, short of breath, fighting to spot a crazy-good find before the next guy. It’s a smelly chaos with items going for practically free.
How to Shop at Goodwill for Clothes
Inspect each Goodwill item before buying, advises Paterni.
“Scan each rack for favorite prints, patterns or materials,” she said. “Make a list of the items you need or are looking for.”
And when you’re looking at the tags, keep in mind that vintage items can run a little small, because sizes were smaller a few decades ago. So do not be afraid to go up a size, or two.
“Ask yourself if you can remake or resell an item,” she said. “Remember, you can always belt something, or if it’s too big, get it tailored.”
Paterni says you should ask staff about what she calls the “rare hidden gems.” These pieces may not be out on the floor, but in a drawer, behind the register, set aside or in a glass case. The approach is similar to knowing the “secret menu” at In-N-Out Burger, and she’s a veteran of this thrifting practice.
It also pays to visit more than one store, even though they will be smaller than the flagship. Those based in or near affluent neighborhoods or cities, like Beverly Hills, often offer higher-end designer items donated by locals from that area.
She recommends taking vintage clothes to the cleaner so the delicate items can get the care they need.
Araya says it’s easier for a vintage or secondhand shopper to find what they’re looking for at a Goodwill compared to smaller thrift stores. She tends to gravitate to the chains because they receive more and better donations, which offers more ways to reduce her carbon footprint by reusing, she said.
“Some shoppers might not like one store but there’s so many others to check out,” she said.
Araya, who visits Goodwill a few times a month, says she has an eye for the designer deal.
“I shop at a store late in the day and still find must-have items,” she said. “I personally look for color tags on the day they change so I can get the good stuff with that tag for 50% off. I rarely pay full price at Goodwill.”
Color tags change every Saturday. Items that are the color of the week are 50% off for that week, except for Thursdays, when they are $1.
Araya says has a mental list of what she’s looking for when she shops, such as a sequin dress for an event. She might find it at the first store or the next one.
A lot of other loyal shoppers, on the other hand, don’t have a strategy but figure it out as they go.
“It’s an experience, the hunt,” Hart said.
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