Smart + Thrifty Tips for Buying Second-Hand Clothing

>> Monday, August 14, 2017

So many of you have messaged me privately about my second-hand shopping escapades. It’s really one of my biggest hobbies. There’s definitely a method to my madness. One of my favorite bloggers -- Jessica over at What I Wore -- recently shared her own tips for shopping thrift, garage sales, etc. You should definitely check those out.

Here’s how I approach things, at least when it comes to clothing. I have a host of other tips for household and other items.

Make the rounds

A lot of people tell me they aren’t able to find good stuff at their local shops. And for some of you, that may be an ongoing issue, I understand. But for others -- don’t give up with just one visit! Consider that these places get new stock from time to time. How often will certainly depend on the shop, so it’s a good idea to ask the sales associates how often new stuff comes in.

I find that if I try to hit up all my local places in a rotation about every two weeks, I am able to see a wealth of goodies. Of course, I still see that crazy cat embroidered vest at Good Will even a month down the line, but many other awesome things have filtered into the aisles as well.

I also have discovered that where you go matters. We live in a large-ish area with many different pockets of age brackets, income levels, etc. While I have found good things at most stores . . . I tend to more heavily hit certain areas where I find the demographic more closely matches my own. Well, and also where middle-aged women who like FLAX clothing live.

Know your style

I know what I’m looking for. Usually natural fibers. Linen, mostly. FLAX the brand specifically (here are my 5 favorite FLAX outfits for summer). If you have a tried-and-true brand or fabric or cut or item you like, look for it specifically and try to forget the rest. In my own experience, I have picked up things that I would have never purchased simply because I thought it looked kinda sorta neat. Then? I never put it on because, well, it’s just not my style.

You may find it helpful to write down a list of things you like. Or things you need. But try to avoid getting random stuff that appeals to you based on price alone. I went through this period of time when I thought maybe I’d like to wear corduroy jumpers simply because I was finding a lot of them and they were cheap. Nope.

Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t hoard things just because they are what you’re “looking” for. Again, I LOVE FLAX . . . but I don’t need a lime green FLAX vest or something that doesn’t match my style.

Know your size

I really, really don’t recommend trying on thrift store clothing. Even while shopping at a “nice” store, I contracted scabies when I was in my early twenties. It’s helpful to know your size in different brands or simply by looking at the item. You may even want to bring a measuring tape with you to help. I tend to wear things big or in a freer size, so usually I’m pretty good if something is a tad too big on me.

Instead of trying on, I tie my bag tightly after leaving the store and immediately throw it in the wash when I get home. I dry in the dryer as well -- anything to help kill weird stuff that might be on there. I am usually just fine with sizing because I’m a ninja at this stuff. BUT I’m not immune to mistakes. So, that all said, if you do end up getting something home that just won’t work after washing, you may also try to re-sell it or donate it again if it only set you back a couple dollars.

Oh, and I would recommend checking all sizes. Some things are either in the wrong section (misplaced) or -- at least with vintage clothing -- sizes have changed over time. I wear anywhere between a 2 and 8 in different modern brands. With vintage, I can wear up to a 12!

Scan and keep moving

This goes with knowing what you want -- keep moving! If I stop too long to consider something, the chances are that I’m more convincing myself that it’s a good deal or whatever. If I see something that I immediately love, I grab it and move onto the next item. Oh, and if you’re curious . . . I seriously go item by item when I shop. Since I know that I mostly like linen, it’s pretty easy to scan for this fabric among all the other things in the store.

And any seasoned second-hand shopper will tell you to inspect your items well before purchasing. You will find stains, holes, tears, and other reasons why these things may have ended up in the shop. If it’s something you can fix, great. If not, put it back.

Or  . . .

Ask for deals

If I find anything wrong that I think I can fix, I ask for a discount. Some stores offer while others aren’t as willing. Don’t go overboard. But, for example, I found a linen dress once that looked like it had simply fallen on the ground and got some dirt/dust on it that would clearly come out in the wash. Still, I said “gee, I love this . . . but I sure hope this stain comes out . . . would you take off anything?” And they took off 20 percent with no issues.

If something has an issue I’m not as confident about resolving and they won’t take anything off, I walk away. Sometimes after saying never mind, they’ll take off more and other times, not. It’s all part of the game.

Remember -- you can (often) return

At the same time, check out your store’s return policies. If you do bring something home and don’t like it or find it has issues, you’ll want to return if you can. Some shops only offer in-store credit while others will give you your cash back. Some store do not offer any type of return policy. This is, again, where checking items carefully comes in to play. I’ve been burned a few times. I have mended a few things . . . but others were beyond help or my abilities.

Consider modification

There have been times I’ve found dresses or pants and I love the cut + fabric, etc. But not the color. You can actually change that, you know. RIT dye is extremely useful in these cases + easy to use. Jessica recently darkened the color of a cool pair of leather boots she found. And there’s a blogger called ReFashionista who buys second-hand clothing that some find hideous and transforms it into hip, ultra-wearable pieces through her sewing skills.

Look beyond what’s in front of you to see what it could be. But don’t go too crazy or elaborate. I find that quick fixes or changes work best for my skill set.

Don’t forget shoes

I shunned the shoe section at thrift shops for years because the idea of wearing other people’s shoes creeped me out. Here’s the thing . . . some of the shoes you will find are either like-new or entirely new. It always astounds me. For example, I found a like-new pair of FRYE boots (similar to these that go for HUNDREDS!) this weekend. I also found a brand new pair of Eileen Fisher espadrilles (just like these that are currently in stores for $135+).

Don’t forget to check the shoes. Period.

Mind the calendar

Most thrift shops in my area have sales throughout the year. This weekend the thrifty shopper up the road had 50 percent off everything for just one day. I think they do it twice a year. Ask your associates if there are any planned sales. Many stores also have tag sales where, say, purple tags are 30 percent off or blue are 50 percent off. This usually means that whatever the item is has been sitting on the shelves longer than other items.

Again: Inspect your loot carefully for damage . . . but otherwise celebrate finding a super deal!

Go alone, if you can

I try to shop thrift on my own. I find when I bring the kids that they get terribly bored. I am also much (MUCH!) faster without them. So, I try to join my thrifting trips with my grocery shopping, which I also try to do alone as much as possible. If I’m scanning and moving on, I find I can go through a whole store in like 15-20 minutes. That means I could hit up three in the span of an hour.

For me, this is great entertainment and exhilarating deal-finding, but I totally understand if this isn’t your idea of fun that you might want to spend your solo time doing other things . . . NOT. :)




What are some of your tips for thrift shopping? I’d love to hear them!

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