Posts Categorized: thrifting

Secondhand Shopping in a Nutshell

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


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 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.


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.


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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Thrifting Wisely for Designer Items


I thrifted that neon yellow cardigan in 2008. It was Theory brand, in great condition, and only $9.99. And I hung onto it and wore it for years – through 2012 if memory serves – even though it was always a bit too snug and washed out my complexion. Such is the perilous allure of thrifting designer items. I’ve definitely succumbed to it myself quite a few times, but I’m trying to be more mindful now.

Most of what you’ll find at your local secondhand stores will be clothing and accessories from bargain and mall brands, since those are the most commonly worn and purchased families of brands. But occasionally you’ll turn up a pair of Joe’s Jeans or a vintage Armani blazer, and they’ll generally be incredibly affordable. Well within your budget. And you’ll be tempted to snap them up just because of that fancy label, which is only natural. But here are some questions you should ask yourself first:

Does this fit me well?

Not just does this fit me, but does this fit me WELL. Buying clothes that almost fit is unwise under any circumstances, and you may be tempted to fudge a bit due to that recognizable brand name. But don’t. Everything you purchase should fit you well, and that includes designer items, thrifted or otherwise.

Where will I wear this?

I once found three pristine Donna Karan suits at a Chicago thrift store. I don’t wear suits. Ever. So even though they were going for $26 apiece, I passed. A designer piece that never gets worn is a waste of closet space, so be certain you’re purchasing something that will work for your life and lifestyle.

Is this a current cut? Or striking enough to be recognizably vintage?

I’ve seen several Dior items turn up here in the Twin Cities – mostly suits and blazers, but a few dresses, too – and they’re extremely 80s. Those big shoulder pads and long torso lines aren’t aligned with current cuts and fits, and although 80s-influenced styles are trending now many actual 80s garments will look dated instead of retro. Older designer items can be fabulous finds, but be certain they’ll either look very vintage or pass for current.

After running through these questions, remind yourself that a bargain isn’t really a bargain if the item in question never gets used. That Michael Kors sweater may be $9.99, but if it’s three sizes too big for you then that is $9.99 that you’ve wasted. Save your money for something that will be truly useful to you, and leave that sweater for someone else.

I don’t mean to be all gloom and doom. In fact, here’s a designer thrifting story that ends well. See this red polka-dotted blouse?


That’s a $100+ silk blouse from Equipment that I thrifted for a whopping $0.99. It’s current, in great shape, it fits me, and it works with my life and lifestyle. If you dig big names, definitely keep your eyes peeled for them as you cruise the thrift racks; They’ll turn up more often than you might expect! Just make sure you’re using your money wisely and choosing garments that look fabulous on you instead of succumbing to the siren song of designer labels.

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