Talk about being a label whore!

It's the first thing you should do when shopping at a thrift store: Check the label. When I see a fabric or a pattern I like in a pile of clothes at the thrift store, the very first order of business is to check the label. This is your first test to see if it's worth buying. Is it Gap? Old Navy? Cherokee? Chances are, unless it's an unusual item or the very piece you're hunting for, this garment will go right back on the rack. I can get Cherokee new at Target. Gap and Old Navy clothes are cheap already, and cheaply made in general. Not likely to hold up to anymore use after it's already been used and packed off to a thrift store.

But there are brands out there that are worth picking up. Hanna Andersson, for example, is a fairly expensive Swedish brand that makes brightly-colored clothes for kids with a reputation of hardiness. These pieces last for years, on multiple kids. If you find them at a thrift, snap them up -- they'll serve your kids well, and their younger siblings, too. Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, or a host of other lesser-known quality brands will get a place in my cart as well. L.L. Bean sweaters that I know retail for $50 and up are always good buys, when in good condition without tears or obvious stains.

You can find designer labels, too. I'm always delighted to find pieces by Max studio and BCBG at a thrift store because I know what they sell for at the mall. I recently found a black Trina Turk top in my size at my local thrift that would have sold for several hundred at the upscale shops around Los Angeles. I bought it for $4.50

Got a mall brand you trust? Look for it at the thrift store, instead. You'll still love that argyle sweater in 18 months, long after the original owner got sick of it.

This post was written as part of a series on how to thrift shop smarter. Read more on what to buy, and not to buy, at thrift stores.

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