The Dark Side of Thrifting

I want you all to thrift shop. Do you hear me? I WANT THAT. Because thrift shopping teaches stylish people that value is relative, that clothing needn’t be expensive to be good, that trends can be procured for pennies, that style doesn’t have to come from a mall, that recycling doesn’t just mean putting your soda cans out for pickup every week, that the number on the size tag is totally arbitrary …

Thrifting is good. And I love it.

BUT. It will occasionally bite a gal in the ass. Especially if that gal becomes a serial thrifter. There are some dangers inherent to having access to a stream of ridiculously cheap clothing, and they include:

Amassing: I mean, hey. Thrifting is a great way to get new stuff in a relatively environmentally friendly way. So why NOT just buy gobs and gobs of new stuff every week? It’s so cheap. There’s no guilt. MORE THRIFTING PLEASE.

Unwearable “bargains”: That neon orange washed silk blouse is only $0.25? Holy samoleons, what a bargain! Obviously you should buy it, take it home, and squirrel it away. Even if you wouldn’t be caught dead in neon orange, can’t afford the associated dry cleaning bill, and have a wardrobe comprised entirely of khaki, gray, and denim.

Designer traps: OK, so that pristine Christian Dior suit is too big on you. And it’s a style from the 80s that means giant, unwieldy shoulder pads. And you have absolutely no use for a suit. But. But. Dior! $16! How could you pass that up?

Fellow thrifters, have you encountered these risks while shopping? What do you consider the other pitfalls of the thrifting life? How do you avoid them?

Image via weheartit.

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  • Velma

    A subhead to Amassing:
    Buying That Which Is Easy.

    I really NEED jeans, sweaters, and dresses. But hey-ho, skirts always fit me and I find so many cute ones, so I bring home more. I am out of skirt hangers and space, and yet I bring home more . . . πŸ™‚

    • Anat

      Oh, I so deeply identify!!!

      • And me! I basically just find skirts everywhere even when what i really want is tops. i got another one on Saturday!

        • Jen

          I’m the same way, and so I’ve started just bypassing the skirts and t-shirt racks. I need more capris and pants!

  • Everything you say here is completely true…some of my biggest mistakes have been made at Goodwill. I recently established some shopping guidelines for myself and I am now using them at the thrift shop as well. If the garment doesn’t meat those five guidelines…it doesn’t go home with me..no matter who designed it!! It helps to remind yourself of what you are trying to communicate with your clothing BEFORE entering the store.

    • Kay

      and those 5 guidelines are? share pls! πŸ™‚

  • *Wails* I think I’m the first girl! Or some rendition of her! I love thrifting. I don’t do it often, but when I do it, I go nuts! I’m gonna start hiding my funds. Sigh. How can I stop being that girl?

  • Absolutely. I’ve bought a couple of things that totally weren’t me because I thought it was a good deal or I wanted to try something even though it wasn’t my style. (That’s the upside to thrifting, btw – trying out with minimal investment).

    Also consider the Need VS Want. Do you just want something new? Can you live without it? Do you already have two beige blazers in your closet right now? Never you mind that one is more military and the other more Chanel-esque and this one is more in the shoulder-strong variety.

    I can always find something I want to buy in a thrift store. There’s always something unique or different lurking in those racks. Whether they fill an actual need or want (talking the real wants here, guys), thrifted items can be a pitfall when it comes to unnecessary purchasing that feeds the beast. Sometimes you gotta step back from it, evaluate the piece in light of the whole of your wardrobe, and put the darned thing back if you don’t need/can’t live without it.

    • Bekka

      Thrifting means I have FIVE beige blazers in my closet right now (ya know, just the summer ones). But…but…but: They’re all different colors! And some are different fabrics! And this one was mom’s in the 70’s!

      Sigh.

  • Maybe it’s where I live but I just don’t have the time, or the shape to get good thrift scores. I do visit, but it’s a whole day process of going from one shop to another and possibly ending up with one item I didn’t really need in the first place. And that is if there is anything over a size 8 that isn’t pleated, polyester, or worn to death. I am always impressed by those who have these wardrobes full of unique pieces from thrifting, and I love the idea of reusing items instead of buying new, but I just haven’t had enough success to justify an entire Saturday in the hopes of one acrylic sweater.

    • I completely agree Allie! I have such a hard time finding anything that even FITS in a thrift store, let alone something stylish that fits. Most of the time if it’s my size, it’s fuddy-duddy crap, like moo-moos. Maybe I’m not going to the right places, but the last time I stopped at a thrift store, I was there for 2 hours and left with 2 pieces. One of which I regretted the second I got it home and tried it on without clothes underneath (the store didn’t have a dressing room). As much as I want to be a good thrifter, I’m finding it’s not for me. I don’t feel very good about myself after thrifting, and feeling good means more to me than being environmentally conscious.

      • Jen

        Can I suggest somewhere? I love Goodwill, especially if you have a big one near you. They stock all sizes, including plus, it’s separated (mostly) by size, and they have dressing rooms. I’m a size 20/22, and I just walked out today with 2 full bags–7 pieces for around $30 in about an hour. Hence the problem with amassing. But it’s mostly t-shirts, shorts/capris, jeans, skirts, cardigans. I do have trouble finding nice blouses, dresses, blazers, and dress pants at any thrift store at my size.

    • Meg

      I’ve been fluctuating between a size 8-12 for most of my thrifting career, and I’ve never had trouble finding stuff. I figured since most women are around a size ten, it stands to reason that clothing in that size range would be the most common at thrift stores. In my region, at least, that is definitely the case.

      That said, I’ve also picked up clothes with tags that say “14” and “4” and find that they fit. If something looks like it might work, give it a shot. You might be surprised. πŸ™‚

  • Anna

    Sal, ya got me where I live. I am not that much of an accumulator…and yet, in my closet are four thrifted skirts that I couldn’t resist. Two I have worn occasionally and still love, although I may remodel one into a long vest. Another is a Putamayo print that I’ve had for at least ten years, to be worn “when I lose weight” (that ever-receding goal) but would be better remade as a long scarf; the lightweight cotton would be perfect for that, and I’d get to enjoy it even at my present size. Last is a Coldwater Creek sort-of-khaki riding skirt, also for “when I am slimmer.” I guess my particular pitfall is buying for the size I am not (yet…or ever, perhaps). Another variation on your point no. 1, amassing?

  • Vera

    well the orange sil blouse is easily dyed a different colour with acid dyes and I bet the suit could be transformed into something adorable if you put your mind to it. I mean men’s shirts are turned into skirts so the suit has got to have potential!

  • Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ve been thrifting for many years, but even a seasoned stumbles into the pitfalls of thrifting from time to time! I think for me it’s often about the “bargain” aspect. Although this year I’ve become much more subjective about purchases and have thrifted less, but ended up with pieces I actually will wear (with a couple hiccups along the way of course. Usually a new style I want to try but end up not loving how it looks on me!). I think for me the real keys to avoiding these little “issues” in thrifting are:

    – Setting a budget and sticking to it. This helps tremendously. Of course, if I find something that is so amazing and out of my budget, I’ll splurge. But that is quite rare.
    – Avoid thrifting when I’m feeling stressed/sad or just generally in a mopey mood. I’m one of those women who likes to shop when I’m feeling down, and those are the times I’ve come away with the most duds at thrift stores.
    – Make a wardrobe plan or wishlist and sticking to it. I keep a mental list of things I’m looking for, as well as dominant colors in my closet, so I know what to buy. Rarely do I find myself buying things that don’t fit in any longer.
    – Establish a “one item in, one item out” policy. I’ve had to do this a couple times. It really makes me stop and think before I take something to the register whether I really need it!

    Just my $0.02. πŸ˜‰

    • Kristin

      Casey’s “one-in-one-out” policy has been by motto to keep my wardrobe under control, plus it helps me avoid repeat or near-repeat purchases.

  • You hit the nail on the head here, Sal. One big pitfall is also for the crafty who view every pretty fabric as a potential project. Then not only are you amassing, but you’re also creating work to inevitably procrastinate.

    • Sal

      Ach, of course! Geez, if you can see reworking potential in EVERYTHING, thrifting must be a minefield.

      • Anna

        Darn right! For several years I made all my own clothes, including suits and coats. Now, with less free time, I usually buy (grumbling silently about the cost of buying vs. cost of making). Thrifting carries exactly the same minefield described by Kathryn: every attractive fabric is a potential project, even if the garment it is made of would never fit or be suitable. My fabric collection now includes bunches of unwearable garments—but the fabric was irresistible! The mortgage on my future sewing time is growing fast.

  • When I do thrift, I often end up with relatively unwearable silk blouses. Because they’re silk. So, yes.

  • Valerie

    I love thrifting.That’s how I’ve amassed an obscene amount of fabric and vintage patterns. Ninety percent of my wardrobe (not uns, thanks) is thrifted. If it doesn’t work out, well, I just recycle it. As for that $16 Dior suit, well, I’m sure someone on E-bay will like it.

  • Gauss

    I have run into the Dior suit. It was so beautiful – a red wool skirt suit in pristine condition and a very classic shape, too. Also, a few dress sizes too small. I am very proud of myself for putting it back on the shelf.

  • I’m trying (note – trying!) to only buy things I would want to have at ANY price… the ones where you don’t want to take them off, even to leave the shop.
    I got this idea from a friend who felt this way about sale items – her point, like yours above, that if you’re making excuses for why it *might* work, you’ll always be making an effort to try to wear it.

    When your heart sings over a piece, that’s the sign of a great wardrobe relationship! And plus, all the times you don’t purchase something (even for $.25), you’re banking up to afford those fantastic Gucci heels that make your heart SING. At full retail, even.

  • Oh I have totally done all of the above! But I caught myself after a couple of months and now I have some guidelines in place – no matter how cheap an item!

    Sarah xxx

  • Marlisa

    I tend to fall into the “how hard could it be for me to refashion this into something I’d wear?” trap. I blame Andie’s prom dress from Pretty in Pink. πŸ˜‰

    • Sal

      And for that, I adore you.

  • I’m so terrible for doing that ‘I really like this trend, I’ll try and get it thrifting’ but I don’t realise it is a style that does absolutely nothing for me. It’s so silly, but at least I’m not buying it new and then immediately throwing it to the back of my wardrobe. Luckily my best friend is the same size as me, but a completely different shape, so if something looks appalling on one of us we can usually swap quite successfully xo

  • LinB

    Ha ha hah! Gotta love a “bargain.” When I use the thrift store as an adjunct fabric store, I do a whole lot better. Hideous blouse, wrong size, dreadful fabric … GREAT buttons? Snatch it up for $3.50, scavenge the buttons (they’d be $3.50 apiece at the fabric store), turn the rest into rag yarn for rugs or potholders. Woolen suit in giant size, style-that-was-awful-even-when-it-was-still-stylish? Cut it apart and sew it up into something I need for winter. Or felt it for household goods, or to make a hat.

  • JB

    Another potential pitfall for me is that feeling that you have to walk out of the store with SOMETHING to show for your outing. With all those great bargains everywhere, it’s so hard to admit that maybe this was one of those days when there just wasn’t anything that was right for you.

    • Brenda Marks

      I think of it this way: “shopping” is as valuable as “buying”. I tell my husband that some trips are just about shopping. He doesn’t get it.

  • Katharine

    Silk is usually washable…. just don’t put it in the dryer.

    Mostly, my problem with thrifting is buying really, really cool, unique things that aren’t quite (or at all) my style. But super-funky! Sometimes this works out; more often, the item sits about in my closet until I take it back to the donation bin. (I just picked up an item like that, in fact: a layered, deconstructed irregular patchwork skirt in different grey tweeds with an underskirt of something pleated and shiny, by John and Jane, whoever they are. It’s… almost, but it might wind up being too goth/femmy for me right now. We’ll see. Once it gets cool enough for me to put it on, that is.)

    I wish I could find anything thrifted for 25Β’. The other peril of thrifting is that prices have absolutely shot up in this area. Good luck finding anything, even a stained, faded Old Navy t-shirt, for less than ten dollars.

    • Katharine

      Honestly, though, when I think “perils of thrifting” I think of the intractable four-year case of plantar warts I got from a pair of Nine West wedges. That’s a dark side. I don’t thrift shoes any more at all, no matter what they look like or whose label they’ve got.

      • Laurinda

        Ooo, I kinda wish you had not posted that, but forewarned is forearmed :-/ (or forefooted?)

      • Jane

        Oh god, that’s disgusting. I should never have Googled “plantar warts”. I thrift shoes all the time but I’d never even considered that something like this might happen. Until now, I kinda thought it wasn’t really possible to catch anything through the soles of your feet. Guess I was wrong?

      • Northmoon

        I spray all thrifted shoes with Dr. Scholes or similar disenfectant before wearing.

        My worst thirfting error (?) is buying something just a bit small hoping I will lose those four pounds to fit into it.

        But I have expanded my style by purchases outside my comfort zone easy as it is a small financial commitment. If it doesn’t work for me, no big deal to redonate the item.

        • Katharine

          I DID disinfect those culprit wedges. Just saying.

          I don’t thrift anything unless it can be either (preferably) washed, or dry-cleaned. I really hate, though, how some perfume is so terribly persistent… how some thrifted or consigned items will still reek of some woman’s alien artificial esters even _years_ after I buy it, even though it’s been washed and worn by me I don’t know how many times.

      • bohoprep

        Yep. No thrifted shoes for me. I draw the line at undies and anything that cannot be washed.

    • Bekka

      Saving money-wise, only lined items (and some wool) go to the dry cleaner. Silks and rayons get washed on delicate, hung to dry, and then thrown in to the dryer with a load of wet clothes on delicate for 10-20 minutes (to steam out wrinkles). Beautifully soft, relatively wrinkle free, still last for years.

  • M

    I also have the problem of “oh my gosh! I like this, but if I don’t get it now, it will be gone and the chance will never arise again to buy this obnoxiously patterned skirt! If I think I will ever stylistically find a place for it (even if that may require a personal style evolution), I must buy it!”

  • You said it, Sal. It is so tempting to keep amassing, as you say, for no other reason than “I can!”. So I try to stick to my one-in, one-out rule, even when thrifting.

  • ParisGrrl

    Buy the Dior. Remove the shoulder pads, and tailor the rest to fit. Then wear as separates if you wish. [Now, I’d have agreed with you if it was just some random fashion from the 80s. But Dior…please.]

    • Sal

      This is only good advice for those who can afford, have the time, and/or will actually follow through with such alterations. If you can’t sew yourself or can sew but not alter, getting an entire suit tailored to fit your body and look more contemporary may cost $100 or more. In my mind, that’s not worth it for a designer name, no matter how high quality the original garment may have been. But to each her own.

  • I constantly find myself in thrift stores saying ‘well if I just take in the side a little and shorten the hem it’s only a DOLLAR, and the color is so pretty!’.
    I’m a novice seamstress, and I do enjoy altering ‘ugly pieces’, but I’ve come up with the rule that only ONE item in my purchases is allowed to need alterations. (The only thing ‘alterations’ doesn’t include is a simple hem. Because I am short, and everything needs hemming.)
    Yes, everything I see has POTENTIAL but I still don’t need to buy it all and take it home with me.

  • Silvina

    Another danger is to buy stuff that is not your style. It happened to me, I found a bolero jacket and thought: Sal from Already Pretty will love that, maybe I have to buy it. Or some crazy printed 80’s pants, like the ones Sammy Davis love, or any other pieces that are clearly not what a love and wear, and felt tempted to buy them just because my favourite bloggers like them.

  • el Maggie

    The pitfalls of thrifting are increased when you get into clothing swaps (invite a bunch of women over, buy some wine and cheese and tell them to clean their closet and show up with what they don’t want – whatever’s left at the end of the night goes into the donation box). When it costs NOTHING it’s very easy to grab something because you might wear it sometime (or cut it up to make rugs). BUT if you have a community with a good swap culture, you can just put the item back into circulation at the next swap (again, easy, b/c you didn’t spend anything on it, so you don’t have to justify having it), so in the end it lets you “try” things, and then get them out of your closet 4 months later if you haven’t ACTUALLY tried them.

  • I adore thrifting, and come from a long line of second hand goddesses, my mom is the queen of finding $800 pieces of 40’s pottery for a nickle. I also live in a thrifting mecca. I will never stop, because it’s like a surprise every time I go.

    My problem with thrifting is that I feel like I am a museum keeper for the past. If I find something awesome and old (from housewares to books to clothes) things just speak to me and all of a sudden I’ve attached a story to that object and then I must take it home with me. Luckily I love to wear vintage and so does my teen age daughter, so clothes aren’t so much the issue. And a lot of times the cool old stuff really is cool and useful, like the 3$ Eureka tent, but sometimes they are odd and random. I just wrote a longer piece about a recent find here: http://chicagolo.blogspot.com/2011/08/rosa.html.

    One thing I have stopped doing is buying things that don’t fit me or my daughter (or mom, or girlfriend in WV) but would be awesome for someone else and feeling compelled to buy it just because it’s too cool to leave there. It will find the right person.

    I also make it a rule that I have to take a few giant bags of clothes and books to the back door before I am allowed to go in the front door every few months.

  • Cel

    I thankfully manage to avoid the designer traps thing because I tend to be pretty designer-oblivious and wouldn’t know one if I held it in my hands. I’m actually pretty good when it comes to thrifting… I take my time trying stuff on and think to myself “Do I LOVE this item, or is it just okay?” and unless I really love it to pieces, there it stays. Usually. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and do something nutty like buy a snake print shirt dress with too-long sleeves and actually convince myself I’ll alter it XD

  • Oh I really wish I was a thrifter. I love digging through piles for gold, whatever gold that might be. I just can’t help myself when I see worn clothes, I always think “Eughh, I wonder where THAT has been. Yuck.” And then I just can’t do it. Sigh.

    Relatable Style

  • Well, this is a post near and dear to my heart. As an avid thrifter and vintage lover, I can’t tell you how many purchases I’ve made simply because the price was so darn cheap ($1 for a vintage skirt? $.50 for a belt!). For those conditioned to the inflated price of retail clothing and accessories, the incredible bargains at thrift stores are seductive and nearly impossible to resist.

    My best technique for avoiding thrift overload and over-spending is to bring cash and leave my debit and credit cards at home. Relying on a $10 bill for purchases definitely sets limits on the amount I can spend while thrifting. I also try to being a list of things I’m looking for. During my last excursion, I managed to buy only what was on my list – just having it on me helped restrict my purchases. And I always try things on. In the past, I’ve scooped things up simply because they were vintage, cheap, and unique. Whether they actually fit was another matter. Now, I don’t hesitate to try on before buying.

  • Laurinda

    One positive side effect of thrifting is that it changes my perception of what I own. Jeez, people are GIVING AWAY stuff that is nicer than the carp I have! This often leads me to purge my own closet, secure in the knowledge that the Universe will provide.

    I don’t quite follow the one-in-one-out rule (ala YLF), but if I have, say, 10 blouses I will rank them from 10=FAVE to 1=MEH, and let the bottom 5 go.

  • Under the “unwearable bargains” category is the subcategory of, “I’ll get it fixed!” You swear you’ll replace that missing button, get that skirt hemmed, find a substitute for the belt that’s supposed to go in those empty belt loops, etc…even though you’ve never sewn a button in your life, you don’t have a sewing machine (or even a tailor!) and you own only two belts–and they’re both the same width and color.

    I have to face the fact that I am not crafty or skilled with the needle. Anything that requires repair or “work” will not be used, because I will never invest the time or money into the repair. I have to accept this and move on from that otherwise tempting piece of clothing.

    • Worse still is if you *do* sew! I fall into this trap all the time. Oh, I can easily fix that, & at $4, what a deal! Of course, I forget that I already have a huge “to be mended” pile at home. Just because I can sew doesn’t mean I always have time to. I generally do the mending 2-3x a year, so those thrift bargains better be things I’m not dying to wear soon…

  • I hardly ever buy clothing at thrift stores anymore. As someone who doesn’t desire a lot of variety in her wardrobe, I find that my dollars are better spent carefully choosing very specific items from stores where I’m already familiar with the fit and quality.

    With thrifting, you’re also forced to adapt yesterday’s styles (even those that are fairly new, but still yesterday’s) to the very subtle differences found in today’s retail offerings. For example, tops sold new today are about 2 inches longer than they were just a few years ago.

    I just don’t have the patience for all that.

    Instead, I use thrift shops to find accessories and sewing supplies. Or a garment made of great fabric (like cashmere) that I can cut up and use for something hand-made. And the occasional great vintage item. That’s how I enhance my wardrobe through thrifting.

  • Perhaps some kind of rule should apply to thrifting as well? If you buy a particular item, you will need to give up another item in your closet. Or you could have a special place in your closet for the really cheap clothes you bought and accept that you only will wear them once or twice. Once you have not worn them for a month, they will have to go. Another rule should be never to buy clothes that do not fit, no matter how cheap they are (unless you’re very good with the sowing machine…)

  • Ha! My solution to ALL the thrifting pitfalls used to be reselling on ebay and etsy. That way I could keep buying stuff and also bolster my income. I don’t have time for that anymore, so fortunately I have become much better about my catch-and-release program involving those amazing, unwearable designer finds.”Let someone else find this,” I tell myself, and it usually works.

  • Mia

    It was so apropos last night when the fortune in my cookie at the Chinese restaurant said, “a bargain is not a bargain unless you can use it.” I’m definitely a thrift fanatic–I love variety in my wardrobe, and if something comes in and doesn’t get worn a whole lot in a few months, out it goes on the next trip.

    But, on my last thrifting trip, I maaay have bought a short-sleeved cashmere sweater that maaaay be too short for me, because cashmere! For $1! I’m usually pretty good at leaving well enough alone unless the garment actually fits, but somehow the blouse that felt FINE at the thrift store is suddenly too tight in the shoulders when I get it home. Which creates lots of grumbling and a new give-to-Goodwill pile.

    I find when I’m feeling super garment lust for something that, in the back of my mind, I know is too different or uncomfortable for me to actually wear, I comfort myself by knowing that even if I don’t take this killer find home, some other lucky thrifter whom it suits better will. If I remind myself that someone else can and will get joy out of it, that makes it easier to let the thing go.

  • Marie

    I have a whole pile of thrifted items that need hemming or some other little fix-up. I just have to save up the cash to get to the tailor! I don’t trust myself to sew certain fabrics and often my clothing items sit around for a period of time til I get them tailored.
    Also – bedbugs. I always put my second-hand items in a plastic bag after purchasing and throw them right in the washing maching and dryer when I get home. I’ve had no bedbuggy problems yet…

    • I didn’t want to be the one to say this, but yes. Bedbugs. Be aware, thrifters!

    • Jak

      If you have a deep freeze outside you can also stick it in there for 24-48 hours and freeze them out.

  • This post definitely spoke to me! I’ve become a serial thrifter and it feels so good! Since I’m at the epic thirft store practically twice or three times a week I’m still breaking my monthly budget on clothing. I don’t want to be weaned off my addiction… but I should! I definitely should. Thank you for being honest in this post! It’s so true, thrifting does have a dangerous side!

  • Lynn

    I just wish it was possible to thrift too much in my town. i try and occasionally find something, but, with the exception of baby and toddler clothes, the clothes are mostly faded tees or polyester knits. I envy you, Sal!

  • JB

    I often fall into these traps – one important thing I have learned is to forgive myself and let items go. Sometimes it takes a while, but once I realize that a thrifted item is not going to work for me for whatever reason, I first try to think of someone else who might need or want the item and if no one comes to mind, I sell or donate. When I give away my thrifted items to friends and family, there are always no strings attached – they can keep it, give it to someone else, or donate it. I have spent way too long with duds taking up space in my closet (often making me feel guilty) when someone else could be enjoying them. I have also honed my thrifting skills so this seems to happen less and less….

  • Lisa Botts

    Shoes! My weakness is shoes. I didn’t realize how bad I had gotten about buying brand name shoes I didn’t need just because of the name until recently. I dropped something and when I got down to get it from under the bed, I found a pair of shoes with the tag still on them that I had FORGOTTEN I bought. Time to donate some back to the thrift store.

  • Oh for sure. This is also applies to Costco or Sam’s Club type deals. It might seem like a deal but IF YOU DONT NEED IT DONT GET IT. Welllll errr that is what we should do.=) Everyone likes to think they are getting more for their money.

    So unless I know I have the time to take the garment to the seamstress that week I wont buy it no matter the brand if it won’t fit me right there. Because in my weigh loss battle I bought waaaay too many things that I wanted to wear when I was *enter size that I wanted at the time*. But by the time you get there, you have changed and maybe 3/10 things were still what I liked. So I use that rule.

    Then I also had the problem of buying picture frames, tables,frabric etc that I was going to *enter fab-O-loous idea to fix,use etc*

    So short story I told long. Yes right there with you.=)

  • I can’t thrift! I am too picky about what I will and won’t wear, and I can never find that perfect little black cardigan without pills at the thrift store.

    I like the idea in theory. But I think that the higher prices of shopping retail force me to think about the purchase, and so I conserve by rarely buying anything.

    Where I lose control is fabric….I keep thinking I’ll someday be able to sew my entire wardrobe. That day is not here, and when t-shirts only cost $5 retail then sewing them is a waste of time and money. I should know this by now, really.

  • Diana

    I admit that I just can’t get into thrifting, aside from things like jewelry and bags. What gets me every time is the smell. I am extraordinarily sensitive to smells and cannot stand either that generic thrift store smell or the smell of lingering perfume, body odor, etc.

    I have even had to get rid of some new-purchased things because they have a smell (like dye, or someone’s perfume who tried it on) that won’t wash out.

  • D

    I have a lot of trouble with the amassing. I just love the act of shopping…it is relaxing to me. So I end up going thrifting quite a bit. I’ve been getting better about making sure that I actually want and will wear what I buy, but the temptation gets strong sometimes!

  • I have a question about thrifting. I have never really done it because I’ve assumed it’s hard to find these great deals and wonderful pieces in larger sizes (I am a size 16-18.) Any ideas on that?

    • Katharine

      It really depends on your region. My area, where I live, has a lot of career women on the larger side, and I very frequently see quite nice things in bigger sizes on the racks. (Along with the usual masses of polyester pants worn in the crotch and ugly elastic-waisted jeans — but hey, smaller sizes also have a lot of worn-out and junky items surrounding the good stuff. It might just be a DIFFERENT kind of junky — usually involving more glitter and cheez-tastic clubwear.)

      On the other hand, I went thrifting on the upper end of Robson Street when I was in Vancouver, and was hard-pressed to find anything in MY size (I’m round a 10-12 most days). Loads and loads of last year’s brand-name jeans for a song, but most of them in size teeny to extra-teeny. Toronto varies; I have by no means sampled all of the thrift stores (and “vintage boutiques”) that fine city has to offer, but it also depends very much on where you are. I will just say that I don’t have much luck in the hipster places on Queen West, either.

      I mean, go look. Thrifting itself varies by area and neighbourhood, particularly when you’re talking local church thrifts, or even Goodwill, which at least here, tends to use mostly local stock. Value Village, I think, distributes things more. If you go to the thrifts in one area, and don’t find anything, and have the patience, try somewhere else someday when you have a free afternoon. It’s also very much a sport of luck. Some days, I go and come back with nothing. Last time I went out thrifting, though, I don’t know what had happened; I hit two Value Villages, and returned with bagfuls of awesome stuff.

      • Thanks for the great answer! I will go check, because I’d love to get into thrifting if there’s anything there for me.

  • I feel like the anomaly here because I don’t have this problem. I don’t exactly thrift, but I do spend a lot of time at Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads (resale stores that only accept popular brands and like-new clothing). The prices are not thrift store bargains, but the fact that I can get a pair of jeans that retail for $200 for a mere $35 makes me a happy bunny. I’m crap at sewing and crafting, so if something doesn’t fit me, I pass it by, no matter how pretty the fabric may be. I try to shop mindfully and with a critical eye, more so now that I don’t have a steady income.

  • I am totally a serial thrifter. It’s justified in that I resale a lot of what I buy, but I must admit that thrifting is one of my favorite things to do and sometimes it is the thrill of the bargain that makes it so great!

  • Susan

    I just started thrifting this spring, and at first I couldn’t leave a store without five or six items β€” and that adds up quickly! Now I walk out of thrift stores empty-handed probably half the time, and I feel sort of proud of myself when I do that.

    One of the things I try to do is ask myself if I’ll regret leaving something behind. There are a lot of pieces out there that would work perfectly well in my wardrobe but that I’d never miss, and I’m getting better at recognizing those. But I still have thrifted items in my closet about which I’m sort of meh.

    Another thing that helps is the way Goodwill does sales here in Northern New England. Everything gets a tag in one of four colors when it comes in, and they rotate weeks where everything with a certain tag color is 50 percent off. If I’m waffling about whether to buy an item, I’ll look at the tag and say, ‘Maybe I’ll come back for this when it’s [x color] week.'” The key isn’t that I’d get those pants for $2.50 instead of $5, it’s that I hardly ever care enough to return. Any sort of delaying mechanism that distances you from the thrill of the bargain and makes you consider whether you really want or need an item should have the same effect, but I appreciate that Goodwill gives me an easy way to do it.

    I love thrifting, but I’m actually finding it less useful as I get a better sense of my style and what I want to do with my wardrobe β€” specifically adding more colors and patterns. But at a thrift store you’re dependent upon other people’s purchasing patterns, and the ones near me at least are filled mostly with neutrals and solids.

  • Darlene

    I enjoy thrifting/resaling but my pitfall is that I am trying to break out of my rut and try new things (i.e., do not bring home yet ANOTHER black top, skirt, or sweater!). At thrift or resale stores, everything is jumbled together, and while I enjoy the thrill of the chase, I think I have a hard time picturing how to wear an item that does not fall into my safe clothing rut, because it’s not “styled” or displayed with things it might go with. Instead it probably clashes horribly with whatever’s been jammed on the rack next to it!

    I end up either getting frustrated and leaving, or, yes, bringing home another freaking black item! (oh well, at least I know that if it is black it will get worn a lot.)

  • Someone

    But umm…Sal, you do realize that khaki, gray, and denim are some of the very BEST colors to wear with orange? Add olive to that list too. (Maybe not NEON orange, ok.)

  • Ana

    Yeah, this is me. Oh, is this ever me. My particular weaknesses are skirts and jackets. I’m very sensitive to the cold, and having a variety of little jackets to wear is actually kind of practical, but, seriously, do I NEED four denim jackets? Especially since I have a decided preference for one of them, and wear it all the time, while the others sit in my wardrobe and take up space.

  • Becky

    After picking up a really nifty suede skirt that is just a little too small (surely I’ll lose those 10 lbs over the summer, right? Right?) I set a new thrifting rule for myself – don’t buy anything thrift for $7 that I would not buy new for $30.

    It’s worked really well. If I don’t like something at least $30 worth, it doesn’t deserve space in my tiny little closet.

    I also mentally compare things I’m trying on to clothing I already have that I love. Does it fit as well as X top? Is the color as flattering as Z scarf? I find that comparison is easier than trying to decide whether something fits & flatters in a vacuum. Thus I wear particularly beloved and flattering clothing to go thrifting in. If the new thing doesn’t look as good as what I’m already wearing, it’s not as tempting.

    It helps that although I admire and learn a ton from style artists like Sal, personally I’d rather die than shop enough to wear a different outfit every day. Also, I’ve gotten cheap in my old age. Spending $5 on something I don’t love feels to me like putting $5 in the trash or lighting it on fire. It may not be much money, but it’s good for something better than that.

  • Anna D.

    I have to confess that I can’t get into thrifting, either (for a variety of neuroses not worth getting into here).

    But I am an outlet shopper, and I think the first two concerns above, especially, apply equally to outlets as well. It’s very tempting to come home with three cheap sweaters that are fine rather than one really wonderful sweater, because, look, THREE! Earlier in life, the prospect of repeating items/outfits too close together used to throw me in a panic, because PEOPLE WOULD SEE it was the same thing and…. yeah, I’m not sure what I thought they’d think? So, now I’m trying really hard to remind myself that no one else pays as much attention to what I wear as I do, and that I’d rather wear the same dress every week if it looks good on me and makes me feel good, than have a closet filled with dresses that are only so-so.

    But when I’m presented with cheap clothes, I REALLY have to work to remember that!

  • Lorena

    I am soooo guilty.
    I picked up 2 items this weekend: one Escada blouse and a Marc Jacobs button down for less that 7 dollars total….

  • Terrific new pic in your sidebar by the way. Your short hair looks great!

    Buying too much is one pitfall of thrifting as you mentioned.

    The other is not really a pitfall, but something to be aware of. You are buying something that has probably been worn, so by the time you have finished a season or two, the garment will be worn out. Since Americans rarely wear out their garments, getting full use is a good thing, but if you need a particular item to last and last, you might be better off going to a RTW retailer known for long-wearing classics.

    The other small pitfall if you want to call it that is that thrift stores are feast or famine. When you are flush and in the mood to spend, there may be nothing that piques your interest. Conversely, when it appears that someone with exactly your size and taste has unloaded a cache of designer duds, you may be unprepared and without the cash. This brings up the other small pitfall of time pressure since if you don’t move quickly on one-of-a-kind deals, someone else will snatch them up.

    All that aside I love thrifting. Things are so cheap that you can afford to make a mistake. Most stores are small and you can really get to know the staff. Browsing the smaller racks makes for better time management. You start to release yourself from the “branding” propangda you receive via most RTW and begin to appreciate quality over designer labels. Accessories are so reasonable that you will never pay full price for a scarf again. I was super-enthusiastic and over-bought at first, but over time I have developed greater discernment and find myself spending more selectively, a skill that has carried over to my RTW shopping. Finding a few great thrift stores in your area is well worth it!

  • Sadly, yes, I have fallen into these traps. More one and two than three. I have way too many clothes now that I’ve been thrifting in earnest over the past couple years. And I have a vintage Valentino that isn’t my style, but I couldn’t resist it. It’s vintage Valentino, for the love! I’m working on my issues though. I swear. πŸ˜‰

  • Mrs.M in MI

    My thrifting pitfall is that when I go to a regular retail store I quickly go into shock over the high prices and low quality! I often find myself walking around the mall thinking, “Really? THAT much for a slip of cheap polyester with bad seams and no lining? Really?”

    I have developed a little routine for making sure I don’t buy too much. When I’m trying things on, they must fit perfectly or they must go. If an item is only a tiny bit off and will look fine cinched with a belt or with control-top tights and I absolutely adore it, I’ll make an exception. No alterations allowed except for something my mother-in-law could do, which is changing hems or buttons.

    Once I’ve weeded out the don’t-fits, I go to a quiet section of the store (usually linens) and hang up all my items in order of how much I like them. Then I pick an amount, generally $10-30 depending on how good of a haul I’ve got, and start adding up my favorites until I hit it. Everything else gets left behind for another lucky thrifter!

  • Lisa

    I have a ‘little’ built in guard against 2 out of the 3 pitfalls you listed lol – I’m super petite, short, yet curvy. Really limits what I take home from the thrift store. The amassing problem I have is I buy L and XL stuff cause I like the fabric, and I own a copy of ‘Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt’; I have a drawer full of articles to transform.

  • Well round my way we don’t get mega cheap stuff or designer brands but I do buy things I would never buy on the high street. I also never try anything on, so half the time it wont fit! Then walking into a high street shop I can’t believe how much average, poor quality clothes cost.
    I have got the thrifting bug for sure.

  • Lisa

    Awesome book by the way, for those who DIY.

  • I have fallen into ALL of those traps. Yes indeed. Many a thrifted item has gone promptly back to the thrift store after one or two wears because it didn’t fit right, was uncomfortable, didn’t jive with my wardrobe, or was just not special enough for the space it was taking up. I’ve definitely worked hard at honing my selectivity skills along the way.

  • Shevawn

    I manage a thrift shop operation AND I go thrifting on my days off. My rule is to know what I am seeking before I leave home. “Today I need to find a navy blue blazer to wear with jeans this fall”. That way I don’t come home with six new pair of cute jeans that I don’t need. There is always the incidental, “I must have this”, but I attempt to remain disciplined. My rule: one thing in, one thing out (donated).

  • rb

    I’ll be in the minority and say I don’t thrift. I want neither moths nor other people’s stains.

    I don’t enjoy culling through racks and racks and racks of awful stuff to find one gem. I’m fussy so my success ratio would be lower than most people’s.

    I am glad others do it, and I donate items in really nice condition all the time, so that others can find them, but buying these items is not for me,

  • I’ve fallen into each one of those pits at one time or another, but am learning to avoid them by having a list of things I’m looking for, never buying anything that doesn’t either fit great or require very little and very easy (meaning able to be done by me) alteration, and holding everything loosely enough to purge the ol’ wardrobe at the end of each season. So far so good!

  • In a word, YES. With my Cheap Chick job, I’m constantly checking out new thrift/consignment/other-frugal-awesomeness stores and the urge to amass is great. My latest obsessions are Target dead stock and dollar stores. Everything is so affordable! I should buy it all! Right? Um…

    In another word, NO.

  • Leah

    The day I unwittingly bought a skort was the day I reined in my thrifting silliness. I am a little more discerning these days.

    That said, for every couple of skort-like thrift purchases there has been one amazingly spectacular find so I think I am doing ok.

  • Hee! Since reading so many style blogs, I’ve been feeling guilty for not thrifting more! (Yes, I know I’m neurotic, and I own it). You have perfectly outlined some of the reasons why I don’t do more thrift shopping (plus there’s the time issue, mentioned by at least one commenter). Part of me just wants to simplify and be super-practical, you know? And thrifting can make that hard, because you wind up buying things that aren’t exactly what you need or are looking for.

    But of course…. that is also the beauty of it! Personal style is full of inherent contradictions, isn’t it?

  • A big yes to all of these, though mostly the first two. Doesn’t help that I live near a used clothing store (the Garment District in Cambridge Mass, for those nearby) that has a giant pile of clothing/shoes/belts/scarves/etc. for $1.50/lb. I’ve definitely fallen victim to grabbing things that turn out not to fit me as well as I would have liked…or that just don’t work with my style, as much as I wanted to try them out (jumpsuits, anyone?). However, while I’ve been evolving my style over the last couple of years, it’s been invaluable just to grab some cheap things that caught my eye and see if I could make them work.

    As someone who does enjoy refashioning clothing, I also went through a period of buying things for their potential to be turned into other exciting things. (as others have mentioned, that makes all pretty fabric a possibility! Vintage sheets! A cashmere-sweater-with-a-hole-that-could-still-become-an-adorable-winter-hat, really!) My rule right now is that I won’t buy anything that needs alteration to work unless it’s a very simple alteration…I’ve still got a pile of more complicated stuff to play with at home!

    At least the clothing-by-the-pound helps limit my purchases at other thrift stores. It’s a lot easier to put back a mediocre dress at Goodwill when I realize how many other great pieces I could find for the $7! So I’ll only get something at thrift stores that charge by the piece if I truly want THAT particular item. If it’s “a black dress,” I’ll wait till I can come by it for cheaper.

    Also, I basically don’t dry-clean things. If the 25 cent silk blouse doesn’t hold up in my washing machine, it’s not meant to be. And it almost always is just fine.

  • I am a dedicated thrifter (and historian). Most of my wardrobe is thrifted, except for jeans, which are never long enough, and underwear/bathing suits. I love the variety that I find in shops like Value Village, and the Mennonite ‘Village Green’. Malls depress me, as the clothing all seems to be cheap, sleazy fabric in colours which don’t suit my colouring. I have thrifted some of my most favourite shoes. My rule is “would I buy this item if it was in a real shop?”. That helps weed out alot. I love vintage jewellery, and have to make an effort to wear different pieces. I also admit to an addiction for vintage housewares (and working part-time in an antique shop doesn’t help). Old dishes, cutlery, pictures, furntiture, etc. On my last trip to my favourite thrift shops I picked some silverplate tablespoons (.50 each) in a pattern that was introduced in 1896. They fit in perfectly with my kitchen flatware, which is all old, mismatched silverplate. I also scored 8 crystal red-wine glasses (since I have broken almost all of my cheap newer ones), and a great little cast-iron fry-pan, in a size I didn’t already have. I love thinking of the people who previously owned these items, and how they lived. (Where were those tablespoons, before Value Villlage?)

  • JI

    I was a serial thifter…nah, I was polygamous, hit all the stores in my town (4), because if it was fabulous, I had to have it. But, I realized that wearing all thrift items looked…shabby at worst, eccentric at best. I wanted neither.
    AND, my moment of insight…someone ELSE can find this item, this treasure, and enjoy it more than I. So, now, if it is fantastic, but I don’t crave it or it needs work…or if I already have one…I leave it for another treasure hunter, let her have the joy.

  • Emily

    Oh, wow. I buy almost all my clothes at thrift stores, but the area stores aren’t always too great and I’m really picky about clothes being too tight or too short.

    My pitfalls tend to be buying another bright pink shirt . . . I have a lot already, but I love the color, it looks good on me, and the shirt fits . . . *slaps hand*

    That, and thinking about buying something that doesn’t fit under the assumption that I can fix it.

  • Jen

    No because the thrift stores here price their clothes at retail sale prices. Most of the time I just don’t buy anything because it’s so pricey.

  • ily

    I used to volunteer at Goodwill and that particular branch was having major budget problems, layoffs, etc. All the thrift stores in my area have been steadily raising prices in the past few years. It’s hard to find hidden treasure at local Goodwills now, because most of the higher-quality goods are sold on Ebay or in their “boutiques” where items definitely seem overpriced for their used status. So, all this has diminished the number of thrifted items that I’m able to collect.

    My mother got a Chanel jacket at a consignment store, and then gave it to me because it didn’t fit her. But it doesn’t fit me either! It’s too big, the pockets lie in odd places, and the shoulder pads look overbearing on my already broad shoulders. Time to give it back! πŸ™‚

  • Tina

    My thrifting weakness is purses and belts, but mostly purses. They have soo many soo cheap (and in wonderful condition)! I found a beautiful Nine West for 3.99 (!) but now I have so many purses I don’t know what to do with them all but I cannot bear to get rid of any of them! I recently tried to get rid of a few to make room and I think I donated like 2 or 3 lol

  • You hit the nail on the head regarding the dangers of the thrifts. I say this having just dropped off several bags of clothing that somebody else might enjoy that I probably could have done without buying in the first place. I take one issue, though, and that is that thrifting isn’t “relatively environmentally friendly”, it’s the MOST environmentally friendly. The only energy it requires is what it takes for the donor to get it to the thrift and the buyer to get it home. Quite different from new clothing, even the most eco-friendly.

  • Oh, I’ve done it all, and luckily I’ve learned from my mistakes. I don’t stop by at the thrift store anymore without thinking about it in advance. I just flat out don’t go thrifting unless I have a shopping plan of some sorts!

    I noticed that someone mentioned bedbugs, and there is another lurker out there: moths. Beware!

  • I am guilty of doing this WAY too often. But at least I only have to do laundry once a month! (Or at least this is what I say to myself…)