Meet Sammy Davis, Who Leads Popular Thrift Store Tours in New York City

She helps visitors find vintage treasures—and hone their own shopping skills.

Sammy Davis, thrifting expert in NYC

Sammy Davis

We are big fans of secondhand fashion, here at Treehugger. If you've spent any time reading our archive of stories, you'll know that we think it's the perfect way to purchase clothes that are both practical and attractive, without contributing to the ecological damage caused by the global fashion industry. Not only that, but buying secondhand saves money and helps you find unique looks that no one else is wearing.

Thrifting is daunting to many, however. It can be hard to know which stores are worth visiting, and once you're there, how to tackle the vast racks of clothing. A good thrifter needs an eye for style and a great deal of patience. It's an acquired skill that takes years of practice—or, better yet, a guided tour led by Sammy Davis, Treehugger's new favorite queen of thrift.

Davis, who lives in New York City, has been working in the secondhand clothing industry since 2009. She told Treehugger that she was toying with the idea of leading thrifting tours as early as 2012, but there wasn't a good platform to promote it. Finally, when Airbnb Experiences launched, she knew it could take off—and it has.

Thrifting Tours

Her three-hour "Shop Bargain Manhattan Thrift and Secondhand Stores" tour takes visitors to up to five stores for a "fun, fast, and successful secondhand shopping spree." When asked why people are so captivated by this idea of a guided shopping tour (and clearly love it, with nearly 500 five-star reviews), Davis explains:

"New York City is the fashion capital of the world, but the secondhand shops are buried in between the avenues and not as readily available to tourists. Having a guide and personal shopper helps alleviate the stress of finding the shops and knowing which shops are even worth visiting. 

"My tour is curated to a shopper's needs so that their time is well-spent. Having an efficient thrift crawl is important in a city that moves so quickly and has so many things to do! More importantly, the finds of New York City are unlike anywhere else (in my not-so-humble opinion)."

Davis playfully describes herself as a "thrift fairy, just sprinkling fairy dust along the way as my guests comb the racks." She says the tour helps to "alleviate secondhand shopping anxiety by opening the guest to the possibility and the potential of finding treasures suited to their styles and tastes." She offers her own styling tips, encouragement, and direction along the way, which people appreciate.

No doubt her enthusiasm—which is contagious enough just over email—helps quite a bit, too. Davis is a huge proponent of thrifting, saying it helps a person to access "who you truly are" and acts as a social equalizer.

"In the thrift store, everyone (and everything) is equal. You find yourself rubbing elbows in the racks with people who become your friends, both of you exclaiming things like, 'Oh, that's really great!' or 'Wow, I love how that looks on you!'" 

But she thinks the benefits go even deeper than that:

"Without pressure from mainstream society, you are free to choose who you will become in the thrift store. The more you exercise your thrift muscle, the higher the chance you can be an independent thinker, self-starter, and self-reliant person in your life. I believe that thrifting is ... a spiritual activity of self-discovery that can continue way past your 'fashionable youth.'"

Thrift Versus Vintage

Treehugger asks Davis if there is a difference between the terms "thrift" and "vintage." She says that "thrift" generally refers to anything secondhand, but that "vintage" to her typically means a garment older than 20 years.  

"This means that clothing, shoes, accessories, etc. from roughly 2002 or older is vintage. You can find vintage clothing in a technical 'thrift' store, but that doesn't make it worthy of 'thrift prices' if sold in the right outlet. That's why it's important to respect the prices of vintage sellers, as they do the work to research the value of pieces on the overall market."

She then makes a delightful reference to the historical meaning of "thrift," which in the 1300s, actually meant "to thrive": 

"So, thrifting, overall, is a term that applies to thriving via economic and spending decisions in your life. That could mean finding a $5 find at the local thrift store or securing a $500 designer piece at a consignment or vintage shop in a more upscale city like New York. How you want to 'thrive' in the thrift world is up to you!" 

Most likely, Treehugger readers will jump at a chance to "thrive" in the thrift world—and Davis has offered some professional tips for us to do so, even if we're not lucky enough to be on one of her tours. Hopefully these takeaways can boost your thrifting tactics in the new year.

Sammy's Thrifting Tips

Ask yourself, "Is this item at least an 8 out of 10 for you?"

"Oftentimes we just get excited by finding a label or a material, but we don't stop to think, 'Do I really, really like this?' This is what we need to ask ourselves, to know if we are buying something that we will actually wear. Another rule of thumb is, 'Can I wear this garment this week?' If the answer is no, then rethink the purchase—unless you're buying for a special occasion that is potentially far in the future."

Give the item a 360-degree look. 

"Basically, look at every square centimeter of that garment. Are there holes? Stains? Tears? Loose or missing buttons? These are just some of the things you have to look out for, as unfortunately most garments are not filtered out for having these issues. I've forgotten to give a garment a full 360, only to come home and find something wrong with it."

What is the material and quality of the garment? 

"Even high-end labels will even be made from (dare I say it?) crap. It's up to you to determine if you're willing to pay $10 for a polyester top that's see-through and might not last past a few washes. Maybe forking over $15 for the cashmere sweater is a better idea. Some people prefer buying cheap fast fashion pieces in the thrift store. Power to you! Whatever is best for you, just make sure you've made that decision for yourself, versus an impulse buy that you might regret later on."