Reader Request: Finding Quality Accessories

Natalie put this request into the suggestion box:

I have seen you cover this a little but, but I would love to see some more ideas on where to get QUALITY accessories. I love the leather belts and scarves you feature, but I never find them at thrift stores, and they cost a fortune at department stores. I would love to see some of your strategies on when and where to shop for them.

Weeellll, there’s no easy answer to this one, I’m afraid. I’ve been thrifting, Etsying, DIYing, antiquing, art fair-ing, and otherwise collecting my accessories for many, many years, culling and evaluating as I go. I have some marvelous stuff now, but I’ve had some utter crap over the years, too. And it’s taken me a while to train my eye. I’m happy to share a few tips for sourcing and spotting quality accessories, but definitely hope you’ll share more suggestions in the comments, too!

If thrift fails you, try consignment

The Twin Cities thrift environment is really, truly fabulous. I’m a lucky gal in that respect. But I understand that many towns, cities, and areas either lack thrift entirely or offer meagre pickings. If thrift has failed you AND you’re in a locale where consignment shops are available, try them out. You won’t find $0.25 silk scarves or $1 belts – prices will be slightly higher – but you may still encounter quality, used goods at affordable prices. Why buy used accessories at prices that rival Target’s when you could buy new FROM Target? Because a quality used item will endure better than an affordable but cheaply made one. And how an item has aged and worn after a previous owners’ use may give you a preview of how it’ll hold up as you begin to use it.

Support artisans

If you’re on a truly tight budget, this option may not pan out for certain accessories. Handmade, unique, artisan-crafted accessories are almost guaranteed to be better quality than mass-manufactured, so shopping local art fairs, boutiques, and open studios in addition to trolling sites like Etsy and Big Cartel will give you access to a better class of goods than you’ll find at mall stores. Additionally, buying from the person who made an accessory means you can contact that person if you have questions or concerns. I’ve never met a craftsperson who was unwilling to talk with a customer post-purchase about anything related to the product. Again, buying handmade goods can be pricey … but you’re getting superior quality and craftsmanship.

Consider antique fairs, malls, and stores

OK, buying decades-old, cracked leather belts from antique stores might be a bad plan. But many antiques vendors and dealers stock items that are relatively new, including scarves, hats, jewelry, handbags, watches, belt buckles, and loads more. Again, this is a case of observing how a used item has fared against previous wear and tear to predict how it’ll do in the future. While it’s not universally true that older, vintage items are better made, many of them were crafted from better quality materials in a time before “fast fashion” even existed.

In terms of spotting quality pieces in person? I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but much of the time I go with the “heavier is better” philosophy. I KNOW. But I’m just being honest. I know from experience that heavy leather belts, thick silk scarves, and other accessories with some heft to them last longer and take abuse better. Both in person and online I check material content and am more apt to purchase real leather and pure wool than synthetics. And, finally, unless I can handle an accessory myself I make sure to purchase from vendors who accept returns.

Related post:

I’d love to hear some other suggestions for resources and tactics for tracking down quality accessories! How do you spot quality? What are your favorite resources for good accessories, both new and used? Do you have luck at thrift, consignment, or antique stores? Online? Share links, if you’ve got ‘em!

  • http://versatilestylebytracey.com Tracey Jennings

    Great ideas, just wanted to add that I recently purchased vintage bracelets from ebay to help my collection. I am also lucky enough to live close to a Burlington Coat Factory, which sells belts, scarfs and jewelry at great prices. One more place that is more but still reasonable is QVC clearance. I get Liz Claiborne and other designers belts at decent prices.

  • Katharine

    I’ve never found a good quality accessory at a thrift store ever, aside from a few hats. Belts are cracked, scarves are cheesy, flimsy and cheap (or they’re very nice heavy silk granny scarves, which might be fine for somebody, but are in no way my style).

    Consignment stores are hit or miss for me. I get most of my accessories either at end-of-season sale time (they tend to get marked down a LOT) or at my dear old friend Winners (the TJ Maxx of Canada) where very nice name-brand things show up for not very much money — plus, accessories (and bags) seem to have a heavier discount at Winners than many clothing items.

    For belts, I like men’s belts. They’re usually cheaper than women’s belts to start with, and they’re better leather and less afflicted with bling. (Although I do hate the “reversible” man’s belt thing, which has spoiled a few otherwise good possibilities — like, dudes, you need a black belt and a brown belt, BUY one of each, it’s not gonna kill you.)

    • Dee

      Thanks for the chuckle…you are so right about guys – just BUY 2 belts! Ha!

  • http://www.jenontheedge.com Jen on the Edge

    If you know what you’re looking for, eBay can be great.

    • http://www.meganmaedaily.com/ Megan Mae

      This. It doesn’t matter where you live (most of the time), you can find hoards of cheap deals at your fingertips.

  • http://www.stylinstacy.com Stacy

    I definitely do the end of season clearance stuff, too. If all else fails, I can cobble together jewelry if I can’t find what I want in the store. It isn’t that hard, and once you’ve got the basic supplies it is easy to whip up a necklace and earrings.

  • Dee

    I agree with all the suggestions listed so far and I think finding qualifty accessories at good or cheap (sale) prices is really similar to buying any clothing – its hit or miss, and I think you have to “hit” often to find the gems and or the really good sales. Since most of us don’t have the time to be constantly checking all our favorite retail outlets there will be many times you miss sales and the “gems” are gone. But thats the way it goes. Question for you Sally, why are you ashamed to say you beleive heavier is better? I get that is probably a good philosophy to have, and I don’t understand what would be the least shameful about it — am I missing something?

  • Amy

    Check out church (or other charity) rummage sales on the nice part of town where you live. Often there are hidden gems at these sales, but there is also an investment of time and effort involved to dig through all of the stuff.

    Also, consider making some of your own accessories! Stringing beads is really easy to do, and a person can buy some nice silver chain and a handful of statement beads or semi-precious stones pretty reasonably. Joann’s offers classes on basic jewelry making technique and often will discount the classes to half price if you watch their class scheduels/sales.

  • http://smiletexysmile.blogspot.com D

    I also live by the “heavier is better” philosophy when buying accessories, no shame in that! I have pretty good luck in thrift stores near my house, but like other posters have mentioned, clearance sales are the greatest.

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com Allie

    Nordstrom Half-Yearly Sale. It’s where I get a lot of my accessories for less. I know many people consider Nordstrom to be an expensive store, but their sales are insane and you can get quality costume jewelry and lower-priced nicer pieces for the prices of crap sold by chain retailers and even if on clearance if the piece breaks you can get it replaced, repaired, or a refund. And the Nordstrom Half-Yearly Sale started today! I just bought some new bangle bracelets and a leather belt!

  • Lynn

    It can also be useful to raid an older relative’s closet. I found a number of lovely belts and accessories in my aunt’s closet. She had kept them because they were good quality, but they no longer fit, so she was happy to let me have them.

  • Natalie

    For budget-friendly artisans, try your local farmer’s market! Many larger farmer’s markets these days also feature local artisans. I’ve seen gorgeous woodwork, leather products of all kinds, hand-knitted goods, and all kinds of jewelry for sale at farmer’s markets. It’s often the artist him/her-self who’s selling the products, so you can talk to him/her about how they’re made, what materials are in them, etc. Most local artisans I’ve talked to are also happy to do custom work. Not all farmer’s markets have artisans as well as farmers, but see if your town’s markets do. You can develop a relationship with your favorite earring maker, so if/when things break, you know who to go to for repairs. Prices will vary depending on how well established the artist is, how expensive your city/town is to live in, and how high quality the materials are. But I’ve found great deals at farmer’s markets on beautiful earrings, necklaces, and leather belts.

  • Claire

    I just want to warn those shopping on Etsy that there are tons of people on there who resell items from Chinese wholesale companies and mark them up a ridiculous amount. I’ve had several friends buy “unique” $30 octopus or owl necklaces only to find the exact same product on eBay or in a craft supply store for $2. Search around first to make sure you’re not getting ripped off!

    • Jeanne

      This is such a good point, and one of the real downsides to Etsy. You have to spend a couple of hours educating yourself about what the reseller stuff looks like, and then avoid it like the plague.

  • Jeanne

    TJ Maxx / Marshall’s for scarves. I have to hold myself back from the Scottish wool they get – beautiful, and ridiculously cheap. eBay for jewelry, but you have to know what you’re doing; I’m only talking about old/used/vintage pieces.

    • Jeanne

      Also just to add that I like Etsy, but it is really pricey for the nicer, sterling pieces. Not that it’s not worth it to buy handmade, because I definitely think it is.

      I wish I could offer a class on buying fabulous jewelry from eBay, because it’s an art; there are some amazing bargains to be found.

  • http://MoonshineLeather.com Kathleen Winfrey

    Accessories can be made of any material and it doesn’t need to be all expensive. Here in our place I can get nice and cheaper accessories and materials. Sometimes I make my own accessory atleast it is customize all you need to have is a creative mind.

  • Nomi

    Coming a little late to the discussion, but …. I recommend estate sales & street fairs (as in artisan fairs or town fairs that include crafts booths). If you live in a big city, where sophisticated, cultured, well-traveled, etc. etc. people are likely to live in numbers, go to their estate sales! They can’t take it with them, but they’ll leave behind some lovely, unique things and you can honor them by remembering that you got this from their estate. I get compliments almost daily for the lovely jewelry, scarves & bags I pick up at estate sales & from street vendor booths. Sign up at estatesales.net, put in your zip code, and get weekly emails highlighting the best of the best.