I seriously love thrift shopping. My parents used to take me as a kid because we didn’t have a lot of money but I had no idea that was the reason – I thought they were taking me on a fun adventure. I always had the weirdest clothes at school – but I also got the most compliments on how I dressed. I still buy 80% of my clothes second-hand. Partly because I work part-time and am trying to start my own business (read: I’m broke), but mostly because it still feels like an adventure.
Having done this for a couple decades now, I’ve learned a thing or to about how to do it well. By which I mean, how to choose the right things and not end up with a pile of crap that I’ll never wear. I save money and dress just as well as people who buy all their clothes new. One of my greatest fashion achievements was when I was working in an office where everyone tried to look their best. Part of my job description involved being “put together from head to toe.” One of the youngest, hippest staff members told me one day that I always dress really well. I told him that I buy most of my clothes secondhand and his draw dropped. That’s right, just because you wear used clothing doesn’t mean you have to look secondhand.
In fact, I’ve found that secondhand clothes often hold up better than new clothes. I bought a blouse at Anthropologie (a rare occurrence for me, and yes it was from the clearance rack) and after one wash it didn’t sit right. Usually the clothes I bring home from Goodwill will last for years because they’ve already proven the the test of time – they held together long enough to be worn and given away.
If you want to give thrift shopping a try and aren’t sure where to start, here are some of my fool-proof tips for getting the most out of a secondhand shopping spree:
1. Sneak up on the store. I find that the more I plan a trip in advance, the less likely I am to find something. It’s like they see me coming. Those days when I quickly drop in between errands are when I find some of my best pieces. Try not to get too attached to the outcome. Sometimes you find amazing things, sometimes you don’t – that’s what makes it an adventure.
2. Choose the right store. Some secondhand stores are getting more and more expensive. If the quality of the clothes was improving that wouldn’t be a big deal. But I often find a better selection at some of the cheaper stores and I would rather spend $6 than $15 on a secondhand skirt. It might take some exploring to figure out which stores consistently have a good selection. Here in Edmonton I’ve found the south side Goodwill rarely lets me down.
3. Don’t get discouraged. Creativity thrives with constraints (don’t believe me? check out this Ted Talk) and when shopping through other people’s rejects, you’re nothing if not constrained. I can’t go into a Goodwill and come out with the latest trend by the latest designer. Instead, I might go with a colour palette in mind (jewel tones, or earthy colours, or vibrant spring colours), or a feeling (sentimental, edgy, delicate) and grab anything that catches my eye. Sometimes I look through fashion magazines or blogs to get ideas before I go, and sometimes I just think about what my closet is missing. Then I put myself at the mercy of the fashion gods and hope for the best.
4. Go with a purpose. Giant stores can be overwhelming, so if I don’t have a lot of time I will limit myself to certain sections. If I need a blouse for work, or a cardigan, I will stick to those sections and leave the rest. It helps me focus when flipping through racks and racks of random items. I also try to set a budget to make sure I only buy what I really love.
5. Don’t buy something unless it’s in perfect condition. Watch for armpit or food stains, rips and tears (these can be sneaky and hard to spot), missing buttons, pilling, etc. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it should be poor quality.
6. Don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit. Perfectly. Always try everything on and put back anything that doesn’t look amazing. If you’re like me, you won’t alter it, it will just sit crumpled in a heap until you throw it out. Something that costs $6 is often not worth the effort of fixing.
7. Play the ‘will I wear this?’ game and be real with yourself. That’s not to say you have to put back every amazing find that you have no immediate use for. I recently bought a purple corset-style top that I know I’ll wear someday. Past finds include a 50’s style dress that was my go-to costume for years, and a tweed cloak that turned into a fantastic Sherlock Holmes costume. But let these be the exceptions rather than the rule. Even $5 indulgences start to add up so be a little ruthless with yourself. On my last trip I let go of a beautiful skirt that fit me perfectly because I knew I would have a hard time figuring out what to pair it with and it would hang in my closet making sad eyes at me for years.
8. Wash everything before you wear it. This probably goes without saying, but you don’t know where the clothes have been before you bought them and they usually have that musty thrift store smell that really won’t add anything to your outfit.
Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy the thrill of the hunt – and the savings! Do you have any tried-and-true thrift shopping secrets? Leave a comment below!