The CF Guide to Thrift Shopping in a Small College Town

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Thrift store shopping

I attend Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Many people say that Corvallis is the quintessential college town: a little bit of urban, plenty of rural, and many local businesses that have been around for decades. Corvallis isn’t even 1% the size the New York City. We don’t have a Target, a Walmart, or a mall. This, as my fellow small-town girls know, makes shopping a challenge.

In Corvallis, if you’re a fashionista craving a shopping trip, you hit the the racks at consignment shops, discount stores, and the Goodwill. Many people think, “Goodwill? Ew, gross!” But with the right skills and some good hand sanitizer, thrifting is the most budget friendly way to shop.

Below, I’ll share my tips for thrift shopping in a small college town. Whether you go to school in a tiny town, too, or just want to be more frugal, these tips will help you save money and look fabulous.

{RELATED POST: The Best Online Thrift Stores to Shop from Home}

Thrifty Tips

1. Patience. This is the number one virtue for thrifters! You have to be in the mood. Going through rack after rack takes time and energy, so grab a coffee before you go and be ready to scavenge for the best finds.

2. Know what you’re looking for. Be aware of what you’re looking to add to your wardrobe. Don’t buy 5 tees if your shirt drawer is already full. Make a mental (or physical) list of items you’d like to add to your wardrobe and keep your eyes peeled. Doing this will help you keep your focus and avoid blowing money on the nonessentials.

3. Know your brands. There’s only one Goodwill in Corvallis, but when I’m home in Portland, my friend and I head to the Goodwill in the more affluent part of town. There, we’ve found items from brands like Kate Spade, Coach, and Lucky Brand Jeans. If you’re not thrifting in an affluent area, brands to look for that are often cheap at thrift stores include J. Crew, Nordstrom, Lucky Brand, American Eagle, Pendleton, higher-end Target clothes, and more.

4. Know your trends. Thrift stores are great for trendy pieces because people usually discard trendy items once they feel the trend has passed. And as we all know, things from the past often come back into style, like penny loafers. So if you want to try a trend, try to find it at a thrift store first.

5. Assess the value. The best way to assess value is to first ask: Do I love this piece? Can I live without it? Next, ask: Is it well made? Are there any stains or holes? Finally, ask: Is the price worth it? If you really want the piece, but you feel the price is too high, you could try and haggle.

6. Try it on. You have to try it on. Hear me? Someone gave it away for a reason, right? Many garments could be defective, stretched out, or weirdly shaped. Also, sizes vary from brand to brand (my best friend is anywhere from a size 6 to a 10 when trying on jeans at Goodwill). Suck it up and try it on. Since waiting for a dressing room is a pain, and you often have to get a sales associate to unlock one for you, I like to wear something easy to try things on with, like leggings, a tank top, and shoes that easily slip on and off.

7. DIY potential? Do you have any skills like sewing or embroidery, or are you a master with the glue gun? Be inspired to change things you buy and make them your own!

Stores to Look For in Your College Town:

While not every college town will have the same variety of stores, if yours doesn’t have a mall, it may have one of these fabulously thrifty stores:

  • Discount Stores: TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Ross
  • Thrift Stores: The Goodwill, Value Village, The Salvation Army
  • Consignment Shops: Search “consignment” or “vintage” on Yelp

Example Thrifted Finds from My Closet

To show you the kinds of items you can find at thrift stores, below, I’ll show you two of my own favorite thrifted finds from a few of my most recent shopping trips, as well as a couple sample outfits.

1. Camel-Colored Wool Blazer

Thrifted brown wool blazer

Camel Colored Pendleton Wool Blazer

Thrift Store Price – $9.99 at the Goodwill in Corvallis, OR
Original Retail Price – approx. $180-$250

Outfit Inspiration

How to wear a thrifted brown wool blazer

(Shirt, Jeans, Scarf, Oxfords, Charm Bracelet, Ring)

A camel-colored blazer like this one is a fabulous find because it can be worn so many different ways. Here, I paired it with a basic striped shirt, some simple cuffed jeans, and trendy oxfords in a matching shade. Finish the look off with some choice accessories like a colorful scarf and unique ring.

2. Faux Frye Boots

Thrift Store Finds- Boots

Mossimo (Target) Faux Frye Boots

Thrift Store Price – $29 at the Goodwill in Beaverton, OR
Original Retail Price – $49.99

Outfit Inspiration

How to wear a thrifted pair of boots with a yellow dress

(Dress, Belt, Bracelet, Hat)

These faux Frye boots were already a great deal, offered for just $49 at Target (compare that to $200+ for the Frye version). However, that deal got even sweeter when I found the same boots marked down to just $29 at Goodwill! It’s not uncommon to find gently-used Target or other chain store items like these for a fraction of the original price.

Here, I paired the boots with an adorable summery yellow dress and added fun accessories like a flower hair pin and sun hat for a perfectly warm-weather-appropriate look. You could also wear these boots into fall with your favorite pair of skinnies.


Does the size of your college town require you to thrift? How do you get by, fashion-wise, living in a small town? Care to share any thrilling finds? Leave a comment!

14 thoughts on “The CF Guide to Thrift Shopping in a Small College Town”

  1. Thanks for this! I’ve been wanting to go thrifting, but I didn’t really know how to really do it effectively… i would always walk in and be overwhelmed

  2. Better than Goodwill are the non-corp charity shops. Corvallis has many of these. The prices are better and I find the goods to be a bit more unique. Also, all of your dollars go to a local non-profit. My favorite Corvallis shop is the Heartland Humane Society Thrift Shop (formerly called the Cat’s Meow) – it benefits the local humane society and gets a lot of stuff from the local theater = crazy cool stuff!

  3. So I soon as I started reading this post, I knew I was going to post a comment because I am from central Oregon and I just need to give a little shout out for Oregon.

    I love thrifting. I haven’t done it in awhile but its the best place to piece together fun costumes.

    My best find was dolce and gabbana white trousers. $30.

  4. Like Annie said, I also love seeing what people find @ thrift stores. Maybe you guys could do a little column or something? (Showing your finds?) Like Fabulous Thrift Find of the Week! lol That would be So cool. 🙂

  5. I LOVE this post! I hope you guys do more like these in the future. Great job Lakin! I especially like that you posted a pic of one of your finds. 🙂 I love going to thrift stores. The one I go to out here in Los Angeles is Goodwill. There’s 2 GW stores that I really like because they have the best quality items. When I’m in Washington D.C. I go to Value Village & Salvation Army. I always end up buying a TON of things from VV because they just have so many great deals & high quality items! I once saw a Dior overcoat for $40. 😉 & Salvation Army’s clothes are always so inexpensive! Not to mention their half off days. Love those haha 🙂 xo

  6. I just recently got into thrifting, and now i’m absolutely obsessed! I recently bought two blazers, one that’s bright yellow and one in blush pink, for $6 each at a local thrift store. I also love Goodwill. I’ve bought a couple really great belts there, and I’ve bought a pair of high-waisted jeans that I cut into shorts for under 5 bucks. You just can’t beat thrift store prices.

  7. I got a Burberry Jacket at a Value Village for $15 a couple of years ago. Still my best find ever, but I tend to always leave with good stuff when I go in knowing what to look for. That’s the best advice, but I also recommend checking out ALL sections of the stores, including men’s and children’s sections, you sometimes find great stuff there that might have been mis-sorted, or will fit regardless of the fact that it’s not meant for your gender.

  8. Are things added to Good Will as they come in, or is there a day where they add things to the racks? I went in recently and found a great pair of dark turquoise suede cone heels, a purple belt for my waist and high waisted light wash jean shorts. I left without spending $11! I don’t want to go back and look through all the same stuff. That would be disappointing.

  9. I adore thrift stores. But, another problem of small town thrift stores is that there’s not much stuff that you can find. I’ve been to my local thrift plenty of times but i’ve hardly ever found any good clothes. However, I often visit Chicago and I always go thrift shopping when i’m there..big cities have SOO much more hidden treasures in their thrift stores! Compared to that my local thrift seems like nothing haha..I really like your post though & you should show us more of your thrifting finds! I love seeing what other people find at thrift stores 🙂

  10. I’ve worked at a consignment store for the past few years and it is wonderful because I get to see pieces as they come in and get first dibs! Savers is another great place to shop that I find is usually better organized and easier to navigate than the average Goodwill.

  11. Funny. I lived in Corvallis 2 years ago for 2 years, and am returning in August. Am going to miss a mall, and Target. Oh Corvallis…

  12. Another good place to try is You can shop all the Goodwill Stores in the US. Shipping is a little pricey but the items are great and a real bargain. I got a real pair of Frye boots for less than $50.

  13. I get nearly all of my clothes at Goodwill. I have never considered it to be “gross” to wear second hand things. I think it’s great to have unique things from bizarre brands you’ve never heard of. I think that people shouldn’t be too quick to judge thrift stores. There is no reason to buy full price items, in my book. For my incredibly limited college budget, Goodwill is a godsend.


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