Shopping for Secondhand Clothing

Secondhand clothing

I probably don't need to tell you that secondhand clothing is typically kinder to the environment and to garment workers than clothing bought new (though if you want to know a little more of the story behind why, you can start here or with the documentary True Cost). I probably don't need to tell you either that thrift shops can lend themselves well to certain style sensibilities and not others. They've got all the plaid button-downs and oversized mens' sweater a girl could want, but what if a girl no longer wants plaid button-downs and oversized mens' sweaters?

Years ago, I fell out of the habit of buying used clothing, because the pieces I was finding at stores didn't quite match what I wanted to be wearing. Over the past two years or so, though, I've found my way back to secondhand shopping, because I've figured out a few ways to make it work with my style, rather than trying to make my style work with it. Consider this a primer on secondhand shopping for those who dislike (or are stymied or overwhelmed or less than thrilled by or could use a leg up with) it.

One thing to keep in mind here: Though the methods below are cheaper than straight up retail shopping, they're not always cheap. There are bargains to be found anywhere, of course, but the land of $2.99 secondhand buys wasn't cutting it for me anymore, and I would get discouraged by flicking through racks and racks of clothing without spotting anything I loved. With an easier time finding things your style comes a little bit of a higher price. I've found it to be doable and well worth the cost, but if not - keep doing your thing, and know I'm a little in awe of you, you amazing thrift queen / king.

Shopping in person.

-Find your favorite thrift stores. If a particular store hasn't been a jackpot for you in the past, you're not obligated to keep going back. (This sounds obvious, but took me ages to start to practice). There's always the fear that you'll miss finding the perfect thing, but if the clothes just tend not to be your style, you probably won't. My thrift shopping has gotten happier since I severed ties with the Goodwill clothing aisle. (Goodwill kitchenware, however, is another matter).

-Look for curated secondhand stores. Stores that buy or consign clothing in lieu of taking donations are typically pickier about what they accept. Search around for "consignment," "secondhand," or "recycled fashion" spots in your neighborhood, and when you find one that seems to fit your style, stick with it. They're typically more expensive than charity and donation shops, but that makes sense, because they've done some of the hard work for you. A few chains I like near me: Crossroads & Buffalo Exchange. If you have other regional faves, pop them in the comments below!

-Swap with friends. I always though this sounded a little bit like a magazine ideas that you'd bookmark but never do. Well, proving my own self wrong, friends and I met for a little swap in February, and now I love seeing my friend Alaina rocking the red plaid Madewell shirt I never got around to wearing.

Shopping online.

-Browse secondhand-only sites. I've found good things on ThredUp (here's a $10 off code if you'd like to sign up!), which lets me save my sizes and preferred brands so that I can just drop by the website once a week or so for a quick glance through pieces that might interest me. A Madewell chambray shirt, J. Crew silk dress, and a few cute t-shirts have come my way via ThredUp. Other online stores to try: Poshmark, Slowre (all secondhand & ethically made! hat tip to Fairdare for that one), and TheRealReal.

-Search Instagram. You can buy directly from individuals via accounts that accept and post submissions. The accounts I keep an eye on are @noihsaf.bazaar, @thegeneraleconomy, and @aceandjiglove. The clothing listed on these three accounts isn't always inexpensive, but they're things I might have bought anyway (or lusted after to no avail), and I'm happy to have the chance to buy them secondhand. Both of the pieces pictured above - an Everlane silk dress and Elizabeth Suzann silk tee - were special pieces purchased secondhand on Instagram. Weirdly, it might be where I buy most of my clothing these days (including the Madewell satchel featured in this post). These accounts make it easy to stay zero waste, too, because you're buying directly from someone - I always ask sellers to use whatever old, used packaging or boxes they have lying around. A few other accounts to search for are Noihsaf VintageNa Nin Vintage, and Persephone, and you can always just browse the hashtag #closetsale, too.

-Use eBay. I don't find eBay incredibly easy to use (anyone else?). But, there are so many things on there, and using really specific searches can turn up items you've wanted, maybe even that are still in stores. If you're truly looking for secondhand only, avoid "NWT" or "NIB" (new with tags and new in box), although sometimes I still technically consider those offerings "seconds," too. Favorite eBay find of mine: a navy blue silk Steven Alan dress for $26. Thank you, eBay.

-Etc. Just like Goodwill isn't my jam but works so well for other thrift mavens, you can find your own little corner of the internet that is your thrift shopping paradise, too. Maybe it's browsing vintage goods on Etsy, or an email thread with your friends where you post pictures of clothing you don't want anymore, or the online secondhand section of Eileen Fisher, REI, Patagonia, or Over the Ocean (for kiddos). Or, maybe it's off the internet, at garage sales, a favorite neighborhood store, wherever. Once you've figured out your niche, haunt that thing like none other.

So, good things are out there, go find them! And I'd LOVE to hear how you find secondhand clothes these days, and what have been your favorite places to check out, too.