Now that you’ve decided you’d like to host afternoon tea on a regular basis, you’ll need a supply of luncheon plates, cups and saucers and of course a teapot or two. If you already have these things, you’re all set, but if you don’t and you’re not ready to invest big bucks, let me introduce you to thrifting.

When most people think of thrifting—buying things at thrift shops—they think of buying clothes. And while I’ve been known to browse through the clothing racks on occasion, I usually head straight for the housewares section to search for items I can use for tea parties. I don’t always find anything useful—who really needs a teapot without a lid? —but I have come home with some treasures over the years. If you aren’t a shopper, thrifting isn’t for you. But if you’re up for a good hunting expedition, it can be very rewarding.

Tea accessories you may find at a thrift shop include teapots, cups and saucers, serving items, cake stands, cream and sugar sets, linens and silverware. If you’re looking for something very specific—like a silver-plated tea set or a set of Royal Albert dishes—the internet is probably a better bet since you can hone in on exactly what you want. This especially good if you need something right away.

But if you don’t have a timetable and enjoy the thrill of the hunt, here are a few tips to get you started with your thrift shop adventures:

  • Don’t go with any expectations; the right frame of mind is to approach this like a scavenger hunt. That said, decide on what you need/want before you go. Do you need cups? Plates? Serve ware? How many do you need? I usually have 5 friends over for tea, so I look for cups and plates in groups of 6.
  • Indulge your Shabby Chic style by mixing and matching those cups and saucers.
  • Make sure that what you’ve found has all its pieces and isn’t chipped or cracked. Look inside teapots, creamers and sugar bowls to make sure they’re clean and usable. Make sure tops fit and that those cups actually fit in those saucers.
  • You may not find anything today, so ask the clerk when they usually put out new items and make another trip. I check my favorite shops once a month or so.

Many cities have thrift shops run by the Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul Society or Goodwill; many churches operate thrift shops and even more of them have rummage sales. These are all good places to look for tea items. Don’t forget lawn/garage/yard/tag sales—summer is the season for them and some places have town-wide sales. Check your local newspaper for them as the weekend draws near. Auctions and estate sales can also yield treasures. Don’t know of any thrift shops? Check out the National Thrift Store Directory here. Happy hunting!


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