Top 10 Things to Know About Buying Secondhand Clothes

Amy Foster has more than 10 years experience shopping second hand. A local to Phoenix, Arizona she takes us through insider tips that she uses to find the best buys while thrifting. Follow her thrifting journey on Instagram @desertblooms.reseller.

1. Save Money

While some people may be apprehensive about shopping secondhand the benefits are too great to be put aside.

The first benefit is cost. The cost of buying secondhand goods is significantly lower than purchasing new goods. Now the question is how you get the best price at the thrift store.

All these stores need to move inventory. My suggestion is to ask if you can be added to an email or text list for each store you shop at. The sales offered will differ with every store, in every state. I can tell you that my Goodwill offers a bi-weekly fifty percent off sale and a specific color tag for sale every week. My Savers offers fifty percent off a certain price tag color every week. The local consignment shop has an end of season seventy percent off sale. A local buy and sell shop sends me texts when they are overstocked and offering a sale on certain items. However, don’t be afraid to ask an employee if there are any sales or markdowns.

Look around for signs that may advertise what the store is looking to move. Smart shopping will increase your likelihood of continuing to shop secondhand. If you can add a great piece of wardrobe to your closet for a truly amazing price, it will become second nature to look too used goods first.

2. Reduce Waste

A second benefit is saving a new garment from production and reducing waste. It takes two thousand gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. That is just one very small aspect of producing the jeans, then they need to be packaged and shipped to the store. This all goes into the footprint that a single pair of jeans leaves behind. Americans send over 10 million tons of clothing to landfills every year. Synthetic fabrics can take hundreds of years to decompose. Many of today’s cotton fabrics are blended with these synthetic fabrics meaning that they may never fully decompose. 

3. Rare Finds

Another benefit of secondhand shopping and one that is not as well-known is rarity. An item may no longer be available for sale, but it can still be found secondhand. A great example of this is Lululemon. They have many prints, styles, and special editions that are no longer available for sale in stores. I found this rare Lululemon camo print sports bra for only $5.49 at Goodwill. You can find vintage clothes that are great to style with today’s fashion trends in mind. You can find dresses that were produced in a limited number, such as For Love and Lemons or Love Shack Fancy.

4. Add Higher-End Brands to Your Closet

Barefoot Dreams Retails from 100 USD – 150 USD

Some people might think that secondhand shopping limits their options, but I have found the reverse to be true. I can not afford to shop at stores like Coach, Tory Burch, or Nordstrom. When I shop second hand, I can add some higher-end items into my wardrobe that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford. I used to shop at Target a lot, because that was easy and what I could afford. I would see women wearing the same thing as me all the time. Fast fashion produces so many items at such a low cost that the market becomes saturated. Secondhand shopping allows you to put together an outfit using a mix of styles and options.

5. Know Where to Shop

A Local Consignment Shop

Another important aspect of secondhand shopping is knowing where to shop. There are different types of stores that specialize in secondhand goods.

Large Corporate Shops

Goodwill, Savers or Value Village and Salvation Army are all large stores that receive and sell donations (and a smaller selection of new goods). They receive their donations mostly from the public, but they price and profit from the items. Since they are larger stores they have a large marketing budget. They have a board of directors and executives that they pay competitively. They have large operating budgets and their prices can reflect that. However, it is great for shopping for an entire house. They have home goods, electronics, children’s clothing, men’s clothing, women’s clothing, and shoes all at the same location. The fact that they are multi-billion-dollar operations means that you will have plenty of options to look through as they can afford large buildings and staff to accommodate the larger size.

Small Charity Based Thrift Stores

Then there are smaller charity-based thrift stores. These stores often have better prices than the larger chain thrift stores. They do not have the budget to market themselves and therefore rely on great prices, word of mouth, and the support of the public for sales. Their selection will be smaller though, so more time may be required to find great deals.

Resale Stores

Then you have re-sale stores. The first kind is a consignment shop. This shop takes clothes from the public, determines the price, then sells the item. After the sale is completed the owner of the clothes gets a percentage of the sale. These shops tend to have higher quality items, and price their clothes accordingly. However, if you are looking for a certain brand, item or style this is a great option.

Buy and Sell Shops

The next kind is a buy and sell clothing store. These shops buy clothing for cash from the public, then they resell the clothing at a higher price. These stores often are looking for the quick sale. They already have money invested in the item. The longer it sits, the greater the chance that it will become damaged or even ruined. The prices at these stores reflect their desire for a quick sale. Their prices may be slightly higher than Goodwill but will be far less than retail with a higher quality assortment.

Time is money and needs to be considered when shopping for goods or services. If you must run to the smaller thrift shop several times to find a dress for the wedding, is it worth it? Think about what you need and your best chance of finding the item the first time out.

6. Consider Seasons

The next factor to consider is the seasons. The best time to shop secondhand for sweaters is the spring and summer. The best time to shop for shorts and tank tops is in winter. If you have kids and know that they will need new winter clothes, think about shopping ahead a season. It can be hard with kids because you don’t know for sure what size they will be. I suggest buying clothes one size up from what they currently wear. Look for clothes that have a little stretch or a slightly oversized fit.

If you think ahead to what you need and like best, you will not only be prepared but will save a good deal of money.

When women are shopping, think about what is important to you during that season. I live in Phoenix, Arizona where the winters are very mild. A heavy jacket is not needed and I may only be able to wear a thick sweater a few times. I look for items that can be layered or worn in different ways. I like long sleeves that have a button-up option or can be worn slouched at the elbows. If you are in a colder location, you might want to look for thin sweaters that can still be worn under a jacket. The summers in Phoenix are brutal and I look for tank tops or short sleeve shirts that are made from cotton and will have some airflow. If you think ahead to what you need and like best, you will not only be prepared but will save a good deal of money.

7. Have Patience

Most stores put out fresh inventory weekly, if not daily.

Another key factor to successful secondhand shopping is patience. All secondhand stores have new items that need to be put out. If you are looking for a pair of jeans, and your local consignment shop does not have any in your size, do not give up. Most stores put out fresh inventory weekly, if not daily. Goodwill processes millions of pounds of used goods every single day. Just be patient and you will find what you are looking for. The buy and sell stores always have excess inventory. They buy high-quality items all year long. You can find the item you are looking for secondhand, you just must be willing to wait.

8. Check All Sections Of The Store

Do not be afraid to check different areas of the store. I once found a beautiful women’s dress in the children’s section. Jackets and robes have been mixed in with the bedding. I have found women’s shoes mixed in with the men’s shoes. If you have the time to look, use it. The workers processing the inventory, process 100’s of goods. They do not always notice that an item is an adult size or tag the item correctly. If you are a size small, I suggest looking in the children’s section. If you are a size extra-large, then you can check the men’s section.

9. Shop With Your Eyes First

Shopping is like eating, you shop with your eyes first. If something catches your eye, do not be afraid to go and look even if it isn’t in the right size or place. Don’t have time to look through the whole store? Look for sections that seem well-stocked. If your store uses a color system, and many secondhand stores do, ask what the new color of the week is. That allows you to look for the newest stocked items. This will allow you to find the newest items quickly. However, use your time wisely. It is easy to spend hours looking through an entire store, but it is not necessary. Look for items that speak to you, that are the style you are looking for, or that would work great in your closet.

10. Take Your Time

This is probably the most important aspect of shopping secondhand. Take your time. Before you buy any item look it over well. If the light is not good in the dressing room, take the item over to a window or a well-lit area. Turn the item inside out and look at the seams and overall condition. Even if a store allows returns, and not every store does, taking home a flawed item is upsetting. It is also a reason people give when avoiding secondhand shops. Do not let a bad buy effect your view on secondhand shops.

If you need to purchase clothing or household items, I suggest trying buying used first. I have been shopping second hand for over 10 years. I would say about ninety percent of my wardrobe is thrifted or bought second hand.

It can be overwhelming to deal with the number of items in a large thrift shop. It can also be discouraging to deal with finding flawed, worn, or poor-quality items on a regular basis. These are aspects of thrifting; however, they are not as common as one might believe. In general, I just think about all the items in my closet I can own because I bought them used. I also to do not have a strong emotional connection to the clothing because I spent a lot of money on it. It is easy for me to re-donate my items after I have worn them a few times. This allows me to refresh my wardrobe without drastically adding to my carbon footprint or emptying my wallet.

I am happy to answer any questions you might have. If you are interested in following along in my thrifting journey you can follow me on Instagram @desertblooms.reseller

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