When starting this series on a secondhand wardrobe, I put out a casting call, of sorts. I wanted to know what’s been the most challenging part of your wardrobe to tackle finding secondhand. Many readers wrote to me to say that finding nicer pieces to wear to work has been an issue; cotton t-shirts abound in the secondhand world, but what about finding silk blouses that don’t have someone else’s tiny grease spot on them? Seems like every silk button-down I pull off the rack at my favorite thrift store is in perfect shape except for that tell-tale blot on the front. No thanks.
When choosing items of clothing that are a bit more polished, I apply the same criteria that I use for choosing everyday items, too. I prefer natural materials like cotton, linen, wool, and silk, which I think feel nicer on my skin and additionally aren’t made of plastic, like synthetic materials are. I like pieces that aren’t incredibly form-fitting or structured, which has the added benefit of making them more comfortable on a long day.
No matter what I like, though: you probably already know what you like to wear to work, and are just looking for ways to buy your normal garb secondhand. Here are some places to start, plus a look into some of my favorite secondhand office-ready items, and where I found them (some of the links below are affiliate links):
-For workwear, many folks do choose to go with polyester because it’s a washable silk look-a-like (ish). If this describes you, then buying those pieces secondhand is important because it makes use of existing synthetic materials rather than using virgin plastics to weave new fabrics. And consider investing in a Guppyfriend, which enables you to wash your synthetic fabrics without allowing the microfibers that inevitably peel off them in the washing process to hit the water stream.
-Check items out carefully before you purchase them. Because office items tend to be a bit more precious than the everyday, they’re often donated because a small stain that could easily be removed from, say, a cotton t-shirt, just wasn’t possible (or worth the effort) to remove from silk, or the wool sweater became peppered with just a few tiny holes. It’s worth a careful once-over to make sure that what you’re getting meets your standards before you shell out. Pictured above, a stain-free silk shirt, bought secondhand from ThredUp.
-Arguably the biggest trope when talking about building a polished wardrobe for the office is getting things tailored. “Just tailor it!,” style blogs and books alike cry. I admit I am rarely on top of my tailoring game, but getting familiar with what can be tailored can help make your thrift searches more productive. Easy wins: replacing hideous buttons, hiking up hems, tapering in skirts. Harder: altering items to fit in the shoulder area, letting items out to make them larger. If you find something that would be perfect if if if an alteration is possible, check the store’s (or site’s) return policy: perhaps you can buy it, take it to your tailor for a second opinion, and simply return it if the alteration is a no-go.
-The things that we wear to work are often less fun to think about than the things we wear for, well, fun. There are surely folks who get excited about a heel and a structured wool dress and a blazer – maybe that’s you – but it’s not really me. In that spirit, I’d suggest taking a targeted approach to searching for secondhand pieces. Instead of taking the time to scan the whole breadth and gamut of what’s out there secondhand, stick to searching for the brands you already know work well for you. It’s a time-saving strategy, sure, but one that also seems likely to turn up better results, too.
Where to search:
-ThredUp: If I’m a broken record, so be it; this is one of my favorite spots to find secondhand clothing online. If you have a beloved mass-market brand you rely on to stock your working wardrobe, you can likely find clothing from it here: Ann Taylor LOFT, J. Crew staples (pencil skirts, sweaters, and blazers), Banana Republic, Zara, and more. For brands that don’t have ethical or sustainable credentials but that have been good staples for you, find them secondhand here as a better alternative to buying them new.
I like that you can search items on ThredUp by brand, color, and size, and that each item comes with a detailed description of its condition (so you’ll know if there’s a concerning stain) and fabric composition, so you can eliminate synthetic pieces if you so desire. Above, a favorite dark-gray dress found on ThredUp. (And here’s a code you can use for $10 off your first purchase, if you’re interested).
-Poshmark: Excellent for finding secondhand versions of pieces you’ve had your eye on at their original stores. Search here for pieces from Everlane, leather satchels from Madewell and Baggu, shoes from Nisolo, and lots more.
-Consignment stores: When searching for secondhand office-wear in person, not online, look for spots in your city that are labeled “consignment” rather than “thrift.” These tend to stock nicer pieces in better condition than typical thrift stores. They’re a little more expensive – and certainly there are workwear gems to be had at traditional thrift stores – but the higher likelihood of finding something that will work makes the search less frustrating, I think. Pictured on top of the stack above, a silk Equipment sleeveless shirt found on a random consignment-store wander on my walk home from work last year.
-The Real Real: Same principle as the physical consignment stores, above, these guys accept better-quality clothing than other online resale shops. Search here for silk shirts (like this creamy beauty from Everlane), suede boots like these, and lots more.
-Etc.: It’s easy to get tired of clothes you wear often, and in the case of clothing you wear to work, it's easy to get tired of clothing that you may have never really adored in the first place. In that case, swapping clothing with friends – or simply making a mutual pact to share donation piles with each other prior to selling or donating – can be a source of gems. The cozy gray sweater above was snagged from my mom before she gave it away; it's become a simple, versatile favorite for traveling and winter evenings at home.
Ethical workwear brands to keep in mind:
Whether purchasing them new or searching for them secondhand, a few folks doing good work in the ethical office-wear arena:
-Amour Vert: Clothing made in the U.S. from sustainable fabrics, where possible. I'd recommend avoiding their cotton t-shirts, which are super-soft but pill quickly. Instead, search for basics like silk shirts and dresses, or shoes that are just the right amount of demure-meets-interesting.
-Everlane: Responsibly made basics for both weekend and workday. Since it can be hard to find secondhand sweaters that aren't already pilly, I often turn to these guys when I need a new sweater or other wool items. (This hat has been a recent, cozy addition to my winter gear, and I also love this sweater). But they also offer wool work pants like this slim variety, cotton and silk shirts, and crisp work dresses.
-All offices have different vibes. A few other places to browse for something that suits your style: Eileen Fisher, Ali Golden (made-in-the-U.S. basics that are versatile enough to dress up or down), and It Is Well LA.
-Shoes: Good-condition secondhand shoes can be one of the hardest things to find. Everlane has beautiful leather loafers, mules, and heels at the moment, as does the Tennessee-based Nisolo (these perfect slip-ons have been on my wishlist for ages). I also like Fortress of Inca's leather booties and deconstructed oxfords. Anyways. Perhaps some work shoes to stalk on Poshmark, or to bite the bullet and just buy new.
Have any working wardrobe tips for folks seeking to build a secondhand closet? Other topics you’d like to see tackled in this series?