Welcome to college: the socially preapproved time to define yourself! Lucky for you, you've landed in Seattle where you can execute your identity construction in one of the city's many thrift emporiums and well-stocked vintage shops.

University District

Here's how to blow an afternoon trawling the Ave (what locals call University Way), the city's best stretch of affordable secondhand clothes:

Start at Valley of Roses (4748 University Way NE), a calm hippie oasis with racks of silk pajama tops, military jackets, and gorgeous hand-tooled leather bags. Grab a pot of locally made lip balm for $4. A few doors down, Lucky Vintage (4742 University Way NE, luckyvintageseattle.com) has a happy Americana vibe, with cowboy boots and racks of big skirts, plaid button-ups, and ugly-cool sweaters.

The enormous Red Light (4560 University Way NE, redlightvintage.com) is a vintage institution in Seattle and has abundant and adventurous clothes, as well as Halloween essentials—wigs, decorative eyelashes, and fishnet stockings. Sale merch is in the back.

Do I need to explain Goodwill to you? This compact branch (4552 University Way NE, seattlegoodwill.org) has vintage, plus-size, and costume stuff upstairs.

Beside the University Book Store, Buffalo Exchange (4530 University Way NE, buffaloexchange.com) has both vintage and contemporary clothing in its massive fluorescent-lit space, which includes an entire wall of shoes and boots. Crossroads Trading Co. (4300 University Way NE, crossroadstrading.com) is the place to find last year's Anthropologie or J.Crew. Pricier designer finds are up high on the wall.

Capitol Hill

I have better-than-average luck at the neighborhood Goodwill (115 Belmont Ave E). There is a large "Fashion Focus" section at the front with well-known labels, while the vintage racks in the back corner offer cooler finds. Downstairs you'll find a packed housewares section for furnishing your place.

The huge Lifelong Thrift (312 Broadway E, lifelongaidsalliance.org) presides over Broadway with two floors of finds. Upstairs are the clothes, including a good selection of coats. Downstairs are dishes, books, and weird shit, like creepy dolls. Check the colorful tags for daily deals. There's a Crossroads (325 Broadway E) across the street.

For a little more ramen money, visit the gallery-esque Revival (233 Broadway E, revivalshopseattle.com), which sells new and vintage clothes with an eye to current fashion. Down at the tiny, excellent Indian Summer (534 Summit Ave E), owner Adria Garcia has an artist's eye for the unusual and stocks reasonably priced gems in a wide range of sizes. (Check the $10 rack out front.) If you're unsure how to style that silk jacket with the embroidered shoulders, the friendly staff has lots of ideas.

Fremont and Ballard

A stroll through the Fremont Sunday Market (fremontmarket.com) lets you examine the offerings of a range of vintage vendors. On a recent visit, I found '90s floral dresses and oversize denim jackets with faux-sheepskin lining. Five dollar racks and bins abound. The garage area is a trove of vintage tees, $20 Levi's and $5 bags of cheapie baubles.

Budgeteers should make the trek to the Ballard Goodwill (6400 Eighth Ave NW) where the acres of clothing, shoes, and housewares means an excellent chance of thrift success. (And there always seems to be bags of brand-new socks. Score!). From there, make your way to the gigantic Value Village in Crown Hill (8532 15th Ave NW, valuevillage.com) for another big dig.

Lorded over by Frank the bulldog, Lucky Dog Clothing (8201 Greenwood Ave N, luckydog.clothing) in Greenwood traffics almost exclusively in men's hiphop-meets-prep style. This is the place to find old Sonics jerseys, crisp Ralph Lauren button-downs, or a North Face warm-up jacket.

Beyond

These are just warm-ups, though, for the thrifting mothership: the main Seattle Goodwill (1400 S Lane St) near the International District. Set aside at least two hours to sift through this endless sea of clothing, housewares, furniture, books, and old guitars. Hardcore diggers can venture into Sodo to sort through the by-the-pound bins at the Goodwill Outlet (1765 Sixth Ave S). Wear gloves.

Field trip idea: Befriend a car-having person and head south to Burien, where you can spend the day picking through a Goodwill (1031 SW 128th St), a Value Village (131 SW 157th St), and the independently-owned Frenzi (218 SW 153rd St), which packs a surprisingly large amount of merch into a small footprint. Or go north and hit the Value Village in Lake City (131 SW 157th St) before moving on to the vast jumble of Deseret Industries (17935 Aurora Ave N, deseretindustries.org), a Mormon thrift store in Shoreline, where the goods are less likely to be picked over and you can have the satisfaction of knowing you worked just a little harder than everyone else to forge your look. recommended