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5 Tips to Unique Gifts: A Thrifter’s Guide to Holiday Shopping

5 Holiday Shopping Tips1 5 Tips to Unique Gifts: A Thrifter’s Guide to Holiday Shopping

By: Emma Grady

The most meaningful gifts have sentimental value. When you shop at thrift shops you can count on a one-of-a-kind pieces rather than cookie-cutter items found in stores everywhere. You never know what you are going to find, which is part of the fun. Fortunately, I’ve curated a Holiday Gift Guide packed with unique ideas for everyone on your list this season. You might need to visit more than one brick-and-mortar shop like Goodwill or The Salvation Army or an online retailer such as eBay or Etsy but patience and persistence pays off. Happy Thrifting!


 1. Jewelry, Watches, and Small Accessories

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From bold costume jewelry to funky vintage clip ons and classic watches and tie clips, these oft-overlooked accessories are fun to look through. You could find anything from a gold charm to complete your mother’s charm bracelet to a pair of stellar cufflinks that suit your brother-in-law’s taste. Perform a thorough search of the options and don’t hesitate to ask to see pieces closely.

Tip: Most jewelry–likes watches and pendants–can be engraved with a family crest, monogram, or a sentimental message.

Care: Earrings should be sanitized before use while glass and plastic necklaces can be wiped clean and shined. Gold and silver jewelry can be polished with polishing wipes or even toothpaste, which is a cheap silver jewelry polish.

Gift Packaging: Invest in a fabric jewelry gift bag or a jewelry box to complete the present.


2. Books

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In the decade of digital reading tablets, there’s nothing like the age-old gift of the real deal: books. From old classics by Jane Austen and Earnest Hemingway to New York Times’ best sellers, thrift shops stock a slew of notable titles and may even receive donations directly from the publisher, like Housing Works’ Bookstore Cafe in New York City.

Search for a series of books (Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew) and gift the entire set or look for a trio of titles that follow a favorite theme like fashion or mystery. Select books in new to slightly-used condition, and unless they are signed or rare copy, books should not be ratty (or cause the recipient to sneeze).

Tip: Write a sentimental message in the first page and sign your name and the date.

Care: Inspect for missing pages and dare-I-say-it bugs prior to purchasing. Give the book cover a nice clean wipe with a paper towel.

Gift Packaging: Wrap books in old newspaper or the colorful glossy editorial pages from a magazine like W Magazine


3. Chotchkies and Knick Knacks

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Glass jewelry boxes, colorful vintage coffee mugs, ornate dessert plates, silver trays, hand-painted glass dishes, and aperitif glasses are just a few of the many knick knacks that can be found in secondhand shops. Inspect each piece for cracks or imperfections and if it’s chipped, leave it on the shelf.

Tip: Compliment the gift with its natural pairing like vintage perfume bottles and a bottle of Chanel perfume or bronze bookends with number 2, a book.

Care: Varies depending on item. Generally, glass pieces can be hand washed, wiped clean or washed in a dishwasher while bronze and silver items can be polished.

Gift Packaging: Handle items with care and opt for a durable gift box and tissue paper.


4. Wallets, Handbags & Purses

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A quality handbag and wallet is an everyday essential. Vintage handbags are made well. Look for quality materials like silk, cotton, and leather (alligator, snakeskin, and crocodile are on the high end of the spectrum) or designer brands like Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, and MCM.

Tip: Give a faded handbag new life by dyeing it a brand new color or replacing a worn strap with a gold chain at a local cobbler shop.

Care: Inspect the interior and exterior as well as all seams for imperfections. If the bag is damaged, consider the cost of repairs at a luggage repair shop or cobbler. As a general rule: vintage Louis Vuitton luggage is worth investing in.

Gift Packaging: Store in a fabric bag and wrap in in a gift box with tissue paper.


5. Wall Decor

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From picture frames and gold mirrors to original paintings and colorful prints, wall decor adds character to any home. Mix and match: if you find a fab frame with drab art, replace it with a print of a personal photograph or a favorite art piece by artists like Andy Warhol or Jackson Pollock.

Tip: Apply spray paint to a faded frame to make it look brand new.

Care: Use glass cleaner to remove smudges and bring pieces to a frame shop for a professional touch.

Gift Packaging: Wrap in large paper and tie with colorful ribbon or string.


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2 Responses to 5 Tips to Unique Gifts: A Thrifter’s Guide to Holiday Shopping

  1. Allegra December 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    In a ever virtual world – gifting a series of old books is such a unique idea and would be such a treasure to receive! I also love the idea of using high gloss magazines and newspapers as wrapping paper. Great gifting suggestions!

  2. Teri Cloth December 31, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    I shop for my sister’s gifts at thrifts stores, but I don’t wait for Christmas. I browse al year and quite often give them a gift box of small items. Over the years the favorite gifts have been duplicates of things we grew up with; the big yellow Pyrex mixing bowl, a chrome ice bowl with penguins on it, a kitchen Madonna, etc. Other good gifts are handmade items like quilts or lace doilys. It also helps to know if your giftee collects anything special.
    Great article!

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