Want to know a next-to-secret source for the latest trends? Thrift stores.

It seems backward that shops peddling secondhand goods could be gold mines for of-the-moment pieces. Unless you consider that nothing is truly new.

Each season, designers present fresh color pairings or innovative textural mash-ups, but most of the so-called hot new looks are trendy, in part, because someone of import says they are. In all likelihood, someone of import said the same thing 15 years ago.

If you're willing to invest some time and energy in scouring the racks of your local thrift stores, you're almost certain to come away with armloads of stylish pieces for pennies. Of course, it might be quicker and easier to hit Target or Wal-Mart to get the latest looks for a bargain, but by thrifting you're helping to recycle, getting one-of-a-kind clothing and giving your dollars to a good cause.

So, before you hit the mall, consider poking around one of the Twin Cities' abundant thrift, charity and consignment stores. This fall's styles are accessible, wearable -- and available used.


Polka dots, which have been around nearly as long as printed fabrics, are virtually never out of style. Dots of all sizes adorned designer clothes and streetwear during the late 1980s and early '90s, which was the last time this classic print was a bona fide fad. For this fall, designers as diverse as Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg have put the playful pattern on the runway, so it's officially hot.

Thrift stores are most likely to stock polka-dotted blouses, skirts and dresses, since these garments traditionally have been done in dots. Depending on store inventory, you may find pieces from the full-skirted '50s and the mod '60s as well as the occasional pair of polka-dotted palazzo pants from the late '80s. Pin-dotted blazers and slacks may turn up, too, but to capture the trend this time around, hold out for penny-sized dots or larger.


Colorful pants have been a staple of the preppy set for decades, especially during the summer. Designers including Jil Sander, Prabal Gurung and 3.1 Phillip Lim have reinvented the trend, showing pants in bold, saturated hues and a wide variety of cuts and styles.

If you thrift for bright pants, you may come across plenty of preppy castoffs, most often crisply tailored pastels. Pink capris may not be what you're craving for fall, but remember that cropped pants tuck beautifully into tall boots and light-colored garments can always be dyed.

For more ready-to-wear options, hunt for chinos and slacks by Old Navy and Land's End. Both stores offered batches of brights in recent seasons.


Suede and leather skirts first went mainstream in the '60s and gained popularity during the '70s. By the '80s, longer flared silhouettes had morphed into fitted pencil-style leather skirts, which became surprisingly ubiquitous. This year, Rachel Comey, Tommy Hilfiger, Vena Cava and many other designers are showing leather skirts in a wide variety of colors and styles.

Your local thrift shop is likely to have black leather skirts aplenty. For a flattering fit, keep your eyes peeled for flat-front skirts with pencil or A-line silhouettes, and don't shy away from chocolate brown and red, which may turn up occasionally in the sea of black.


Plaid, which has its roots in the Scottish clan system, boasts an even longer and more venerable history than polka dots. It's been tweaked and transformed over hundreds of years of wear. Lumberjacks, punks and almost everyone in between adores this structured, multicolored print, including designers Tori Burch, Thakoon and DKNY, who trotted out tartans for fall.

During the heyday of grunge in the early '90s, plaid became the uniform of Gen Xers everywhere and it's lingered ever since. That's why you're likely to find tartans in women's skirts and pants. Plaid blazers and coats may turn up, too. Snap up pastel plaids on Bermuda shorts, but save them for next summer. For fall wear, scout out reds, greens, neutrals and dark shades.


From the mid-'90s through the first decade of the new millennium, most fashion-forward hemlines were knee-length or above. Even floor-dusting maxiskirts made it into the fashion spotlight before middle-ground midis hit the scene several years ago. For this season, BCBG Maxazria, Proenza Schouler and Narciso Rodriguez were among designers who made midis look marvelous.

Many of the calf-length skirts that turn up at thrift stores will be elastic-backed, button-fronted and made of stiff denim, which is workable but not ideal. Contemporary midis will have a bit more flow and typically are in a material other than chambray or twill. Remember that floor-length skirts can be hemmed, so if you find a marvelous maxi you can always alter it.

Sally McGraw is the Minneapolis-based author of Already Pretty (www.alreadypretty.com), a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.



Sun Ray Shopping Center, 2197 Hudson Rd., St. Paul

Overwhelming as it is, Valu Thrift is an absolute gold mine for trend hounds. Sheer volume wins out here, as you're likely to find at least 75 pairs of pants in your size range alone. Plus-sizes are also represented, though petites are hit or miss. You're guaranteed to unearth polka dots and tartan, and have better than average chances of picking up leather skirts, bright pants and midis, too.


2829 NE. Johnson St., Minneapolis

The original Rewind outpost in northeast Minneapolis is a bright, welcoming shop packed to the gills with sweaters, dresses and outrageous accessories. Because the store doesn't bother with the commonplace, you may have to look elsewhere for a midiskirt, but you're bound to find bright pants, leather skirts and polka dots aplenty.


2395 N. Fairview Av., Roseville

All of the Turn Style stores stock top-notch used garments, but the Roseville store is among the most organized and easy to navigate. This shop focuses more on contemporary than vintage goods, so your polka dots and tartans will be fairly recent. Leather skirts may be rare, but you should find plenty of midis.


If the mere thought of rifling through racks of used clothing makes you hyperventilate, consider eBay instead. The site's powerful search tools will help you hunt down the tartan skirt of your dreams -- in your size, price range and geographic area. Many thrift stores have eBay storefronts, too, so you can essentially thrift from the comfort of your home.


This clearinghouse for all things handmade also hosts a huge number of vintage vendors who've hand-picked used goods to resell online. Etsy vendors are frequently clued in to the trends, so you're almost certain to find the latest seasonal items. The downside? Fashion-savvy sellers know they can charge more for of-the-moment items. So while Etsy will offer a wider range of trendy duds, eBay will probably be a bit cheaper.