Posts Categorized: thrifting

Lessons From the Dressing Room: Try On EVERYTHING

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I’ve been thrifting since I was 13. Back then, I didn’t have a defined style and didn’t know much about my body so if I saw something that looked cool, I’d try it on. And I learned over time that clothing sizes are totally arbitrary, and sometimes a piece that says it’s three sizes too small or big will fit perfectly.

I’ve been shopping mall stores since high school. Early on I just went for the styles I saw my friends and peers wearing, but eventually I branched out. I played it safe for a while, but eventually started hauling unusual styles and cuts into the fitting room with me. Which yielded lots of duds and the occasional gem. I learned that some things look funky on the rack, and others may be designed far outside my comfort zone, but I’ll never really know how they look until I get them onto my actual body.

I’ve been shopping online since about six seconds after Zappos launched. The arbitrary sizing issue actually worked against me in this realm, especially initially when online clothing vendors were working out the kinks and didn’t always list garment measurements. But through gobs of trial and error, I learned how certain brands cut and fit, which materials felt best, which shapes and style suited me.

And now? Now I can look at a dress online and tell if the Designated Boob Room is too big, if the collar is gonna bug me, if the waistline is too low. (Usually.) Now I can grab a blouse from a thrift store rack and gauge whether or not it will fit, even if I can’t be 100% certain it will look good. Now I know which styles work for my figure, so when I’m out shopping I reach for styles that I’m not sure will work for my figure. And I learn.

The surface lesson here is simple: Try it on. Whatever it is, if you like it try it on. Trying on is free and you will occasionally find a brand or style that is unexpectedly amazing. When it comes to online shopping, stick to vendors that offer free shipping and returns at first so you can play around with sizing and cuts at low risk and with relatively little hassle. Be bold, make educated guesses, try on EVERYTHING. Because when you stick to what you know forever, you run the risk of stagnation. And because an understanding of your figure and its specific shape will help you make more informed shopping choices. And because every so often, you’ll unearth a style that you thought would look horrendous on you, but ends up making you feel like a goddess.

The deeper lesson here is this: You can learn some things about your body by looking at it in the mirror, using it for exercise or sex, listening to its needs and wants. But you can learn other things about your body by seeing how it interacts with clothes. You can learn about how your specific curves work and relate to each other, and which garments show them off or tone them down. You can learn where your waist is, whether you want to highlight it, and how to create illusions that move it up or down on your torso. You can learn what feels comfortable to you in fibers, structures, and designs and please your body by wearing comfortable clothes as often as you can. You can learn about your unique proportions, your distinct scale, you can learn about your body as it relates to itself instead of as it relates to the bodies of others. You can move away from generalities like big, petite, and curvy to hone in on a set of highly specific facts that apply to your body only.

Try on everything. See what you learn.

Image courtesy Orin Zebest

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Secondhand Shopping in a Nutshell

Now with comments! (Looking into what’s causing this.)

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The secondhand shopping world is growing, and that is a MARVELOUS good thing. Old fashioned thrift stores are still a staple, but they can be frustrating or overwhelming for some people. So I wanted to talk about various other outlets for buying (and sometimes selling) used clothing, shoes, and accessories. And I’m sure you’ll have more to add!

Thrift/charity stores

We’ll start with the big guns. Most thrift stores are associated with a charity, and sales proceeds from the donated goods benefit that charity. Many will also provide job training for those in need. Since goods are donated, you can get everything from designer castoffs to past season fast fashion. These stores run the gamut from well-lit, well-organized emporia to daunting, dark, disorganized morasses. Just because you’ve had a bad experience at one doesn’t mean you should write off the entire category! Poke around The Thrift Shopper website to find out about stores in your area, and try to sample a few.

Consignment

Consignment stores tend to have better quality, newer goods only. The items sold there have been brought in by sellers who receive a portion of the sale price, so store buyers tend to be picky. Some specialize in designer goods only, but national chains like Buffalo Exchange and Clothes Mentor are less choosy. If you can’t afford new but don’t want to deal with the luck-of-the-draw aspect of outright thrifting, consignment is a great bet. Also helpful to young women looking to build career wardrobes on a budget.

Antique malls

I LOVE antique malls for style items, and seldom see them discussed as secondhand shopping options. You’ll need patience since most are huge and cluttered and selling gobs of stuff that isn’t wearable. But if you’re willing to roam around and enjoy the browsing experience, you’re likely to find bargain-priced vintage clothes, furs of all kinds (faux and real), handbags, scarves, and truckloads of jewelry. Those last two are my favorites, but I’ve picked up a few clothing items, too. If you’re game for an adventure and in the market for some quirky costume jewelry, hit up an antique mall.

Online consignment outlets

These are the newest members of the family. I’m loyal to Twice myself, but have heard good things about thredUP and Kidizen (kids clothes). There are also designer-only online consignment options like The RealReal and Tradesy. (More of those here.) These are great options for folks who want to buy used, but are looking for specific items. Since you can search for “black dress pants” or “brown leather satchel,” from your own computer, you save time driving from shop to shop and cruising the racks.

Etsy

When Etsy launched, I’m pretty sure they sold handmade stuff only. Now there are thousands of vendors specializing in used and vintage clothing, and unlike the online consignment outlets you can generally ask the seller specific questions about a garment or accessory. Most vendors list as vintage, but the term is used loosely and may include items that are only a couple of years old. Probably not a good bet for workwear staples, but a great place to look for perfectly beat-up leather jackets, funky vintage jewelry, and retro dresses.

Garage and estate sales

From one extreme of convenience to another. This option is for the most adventurous and leisurely of secondhand shoppers, since there’s almost no predicting when or where shopping opportunities will arise. Garage sale locations and times are often posted neighborhood-wide a few days ahead of time, but estate sales seldom are. If you’ve got a weekend morning to kill, drive around an old-growth suburb and look for signs. Garage sales are often outdoors, whereas estate sales are nearly always inside. The latter can feel a little odd since you are in the home of and looking at the belongings of a recently deceased person, but these sales often help the family left behind deal with a lifetime of belongings. I bought a gorgeous pair of cowboy boots at a garage sale for $5, and have picked up some of my favorite vintage tees at our neighborhood-wide one in June. You’ll likely see clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories at garage sales, mostly jewelry and accessories at estate sales.

eBay

Although eBay is definitely a great place to look for specific items or styles that sold out a year or so ago, it’s also a wonderful place to look for good quality used wearables. Like Etsy, eBay allows you to have direct contact with the seller so you can ask sizing and condition questions and even request more photos before bidding. Oh, and if the auction thing makes you anxious you can search for “Buy It Now” only options. eBay is a great place to buy used handbags, but I’ve scored coats, skirts, and shoes, too.

Vintage stores

They’re specific, but still great resources. Vintage purist stores will usually focus on specific decades – many aim for the 1970s or earlier – but many vintage stores will sell items made as recently as 10 years ago. A little risky if you’re seeking something specific or focused on a conservative work wardrobe, but great for anyone who loves retro aesthetics and creative dressing.

Anything missing from this list? Where do YOU shop for used wearables?

Image courtesy Steve Snodgrass

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