A few years ago I found myself in a new predicament: thanks, I think, to some diet changes I was making, my normal clothes suddenly no longer fit. As I was unsure about where my weight would eventually end up, I found myself reluctant to purchase new clothes that might only work for a few months. So, in desperate need of things to wear, I decided to try shopping for used clothing for the first time in my life. I figured I’d get a few things to bridge the gap between now and my future permanent size, when I’d go back to buying everything new again.
Once I made it to my local thrift stores, however, I had an epiphany: buying used clothing is awesome! I loved the experience so much that I never went back to habitually shopping at “normal” stores—and aside from the rare hard-to-find item that I purchase new, the vast majority of the clothes I buy today are used.
(2016 UPDATE: I have a daughter now, and I buy all of her clothes used, too! If you want some tips on shopping for kids, check out my post on how to buy used kids clothes.)
Why You Should Consider Buying Secondhand Clothing
Buying used is, of course, nearly always going to be more sustainable because it saves the resources needed to produce an entirely new item. Purchasing used clothing can be an excellent and easy way to reduce your impact on the environment.
You don’t have to sacrifice quality
Before I started thrift store shopping I mistakenly assumed that used clothing automatically meant cheap, low-quality clothing. Not so! I’m sure that one’s opinion of what constitutes quality clothing varies widely depending on your own shopping habits, but in my case I found that thrift stores offered me the same types of brands that I would’ve bought new, like GAP, Old Navy, Target, Levi’s, and Lands’ End. In most cases these clothes were still in excellent shape—and if they seemed like they were already worn-out, I simply didn’t buy them.
You can save a ton of money
The savings on buying used versus new clothing can be really staggering. I can usually find used jeans for somewhere around $6—less if they are on sale. Depending on the brand, buying that same pair of jeans new would probably cost me five to ten (or more) times as much. Regularly saving that much money on clothing means that I have more money to put towards other priorities, like high-quality food and decent housing.
Five Tips for Buying Used Clothing at Thrift Stores
Getting started with buying your clothes at thrift stores can be somewhat intimidating. Here are my best tips for success:
Visit all nearby thrift stores to check out their offerings and setup
If you’re new to thrift store shopping, I suggest first looking up a list of all nearby local thrift stores and checking each one out in person to see what you like. Thrift store clothing offerings and organization vary widely, so it’s worth taking a visit or two to each local store to find out which ones are likely to work for you and which ones aren’t worth your time. For instance, I mostly avoid one local thrift store that organizes their clothing by color rather than size. Instead, I routinely frequent my local Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Savers, as I am consistently impressed with the organization and selection I find whenever I visit.
Don’t be too picky
Most thrift stores offer a wide variety of clothes, but you’ll have the most success if you can widen your idea of what you’re looking for. For instance, last summer I had to shop for some funeral-appropriate clothes. I had no trouble finding a few well-fitting skirts and tops in black and brown. If I’d been specifically looking for a black short-sleeved dress, however, I’m not sure I would’ve found anything that worked for me. Keeping an open mind is sure to boost your likelihood of coming home successful rather than disappointed.
Consider trying on a variety of sizes
If you’re used to doing most of your shopping at a few select retail stores, you probably have a good sense of what your clothing size is. Shopping at thrift stores, however, is entirely different because one store contains a multitude of different brands—and unfortunately, each of these brands can have different ideas about what constitutes each clothing size. If you’re not having success with clothes in your “normal” size, I highly recommend trying on clothes that are both a size bigger and a size smaller. You may be surprised at what ends up fitting best.
Always check for holes, stains or other defects
I find that most clothing at thrift stores is in good shape, but sometimes you will find a hole, stain, or other problem. Always check clothing before you buy it. If you do find a problem but still really want the item, consider whether it’s something you might be able to fix. If it’s a fantastic price, it may be worth bringing it home anyway on the chance that you could repair it yourself.
Research local sale days
Find out whether your local stores have any regular sale days. My local Goodwill offers 50% off days roughly every other Saturday. Other stores often discount particular tags on certain days of the week.
Before hitting up a big sale day, however, take a minute to consider whether shopping during a sale will adversely affect your ability to find what you’re looking for. In my experience, big sale days are usually much more crowded than regular days. In particular, this translates into long lines for dressing rooms. If you think you’ll have to head to the dressing room several times to find what you’re looking for, you may be better off skipping a sale day and just paying a bit more on a regular day.
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Do you buy used clothing? Why or why not? What tips can you share?
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