5 Secrets for Success When Shopping for Used Clothing at Thrift Stores

Thrift store clothes | Buy used clothing | Used clothing for saleA 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

It’s green

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.

You Might Enjoy These Other Green Living Posts

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like some of my other green living posts, like how to reheat food without a microwave, how to recycle CDs, and how to switch to glass food storage containers.

Do you buy used clothing? Why or why not? What tips can you share? 


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30 Responses to 5 Secrets for Success When Shopping for Used Clothing at Thrift Stores

  1. I work at a thrift store and love shopping each day I work. I've always shopped for the kids' clothes, too, which works up to a point. You'd think it's because the kids don't want to wear the clothes, but that's not the case with mine. It's more that they are in that 'bigger than 16/18 kid sizes and I have no idea what adult size works other than in T shirts' size stage. So most of the stuff I buy doesn't fit them. Luckily, it's all from the clearance rack, so I just pay it forward and donate to another organization. Thanks, Meghan!
  2. Janis says:
    You're so right about quality! I look for labels like Lands End, Nordstrom and Pendelton (fill in your own favorites!), and find nice, professional work clothes for a bargain.
  3. Terr says:
    Hi Meghan, I've learned how to shop thrift in my teens. My grandmother used to take me to high-end thrift shops. She used to say, "Those rich ladies wear something once, maybe twice and give them away!". She was the type of lady who looked like a million bucks, yet only spent maybe $20! When I went shopping at high-end shops, the clothes were pristine and sometimes, I'd score something with the tags still on it that someone simply didn't want. She taught me how to select a good thrift shop and how to stay away from the ratty looking stores. I don't shop high end thrift stores where I live now, as they are too expensive. But I will go to Goodwill and a couple of others. I live in the Deep South so to me, thrift clothes makes sense in the summer. I wash clothes constantly, since the brutal weather will make you SWEAT. So, why spend extra money on summer clothes when I'm basically in tee shirts, jeans and khakis, right? I will add this tip as well: ALWAYS wash your thrift clothes before wearing them, even if they've seemed to be washed. Personally, I'd add something like Oxy-powder or a liquid peroxide bleach to the wash. You can use it on all colored fabrics, and it kills odors and germs. Then, you're good to go!
    • Wow, that is so awesome that your grandmother taught you how to shop at thrift stores! I think it's a lost skill that's coming back, but it must've been great to learn from someone who was already a master. :) And that is a great tip about always washing the clothes before wearing them. I do that, too, although mostly because the clothes smell SO strongly of commercial laundry detergent and ever since I switched to natural, unscented detergent I find that those strong chemical smells really bother me. And adding some extra cleaning power sounds like a great idea, too. Thanks for sharing.
  4. If you find a piece of clothing that you really want but it has a hole or a stain ask for a discount. The worse thing that can happen is for you to hear a "no."
  5. Take Time Thursday #2 - Scratch Mommy says:
    [...] store kind of gal or guy? Meghan at Whole Natural Life writes a very informative post about why you should be a second-hand clothes wearer. Love [...]
  6. jamie says:
    Another way to get used clothes for cheap is to go to garage sales!!! I prefer garage sales over thrift stores because they usually are cheaper! They are a little more work since you have to drive all over town to go to them, but if you can hit a neighborhood sale it is not as bad and the savings in money also helps! I usually get nice blue jeans for $1 and shirts for 50 cents! I have also gotten like new shoes for $1! It is also easier to ask for a lower price since it is not an actual store if you feel something is priced higher than you want to spend! The one down side is that garage sales are seasonal unless you live in an area that has warm weather year round.
  7. [...] you buy second hand? I haven’t done a lot of that, but I’m hoping to in the [...]
    • TinaC says:
      When you are buying things for a dollar or less you can afford to make a mistake with a few items. Measure your favorite clothes and bring a tape measure when you shop and that will help a lot. You can always resell your mistakes also...
  8. Jen B says:
    I find that the size on used clothing can also varry wildly due to shrinkage. Many an item ends up at the Goodwill because it was washed incorrectly. I have taken to going to the store with a cloth tape measure.
  9. Real Food Weekly Link Love- May 24th | RealFoodGirl:Unmodified says:
    [...] containers is enough for now, don’t you?  Anyway,  Megan over at Whole Natural Life has Five Tips for Buying Used Clothing at Thrift Stores, and I think you’ll like what you [...]
  10. Sandi says:
    I'm 63 and have thrifted since I was a teenager. I love it and cringe when I have to buy at a 'regular' store... it seems like such a waste of money! I thrifted for my husband and 3 kids and still do so - and now I've added grandkids too. People who don't know us have the mistaken impression that we're 'well-off' because of the way we dress, but my friends and I have contests to see who spent the least on their entire outfit!
  11. P & J says:
    We used to shop at thrift stores once in a while, before we had our daughter & learned about 3rd hand smoke...now we won't take any chances!
  12. Colleen G says:
    I have been thrift store shopping since meeting an artist who was always beautifully dressed when she came to the place I worked. A co-worker told me that the client shopped at thrift stores. I have shopped at second-hand stores ever since. I find great name brands that fit my budget and friends frequently complement my wardrobe.
  13. TinaC says:
    We shop thrift stores and garage sales both for ourselves and for resale. I find what helps me best is to shop consistently, you won't find what you need on one trip, but taking 20 minutes once a week while you are out and about to hit your local store and peruse the racks will enable you to pick up things here and there and will save you LOTS of money all year round. Garage sales are much cheaper, but also much more hit or miss so I look in the paper for neighborhood garage sales and hit those to maximize my time. And don't forget clearance racks in retail stores, often the same price as thrift stores and it's new. Once again, hitting them consistently is the key. I pick stores by the grocery store or library I like and hit them whenever I go there, if you do it frequently you "know" the racks and can see what is new or old on the rack right away so it really is just a few minutes of your time, and great exercise if you run the perimeter of the store at a brisk pace. Also getting someone to teach you basic sewing or alteration skills, or perhaps making them a loaf of bread or something to do it for you, helps A LOT. If you find something you love in a bigger size and it has classic seams it is fairly easy and quick to make it fit you perfectly.
  14. TinaC says:
    Oh, I forgot my favorite tip! If you find a garage sale that has clothing in your kid's size that you love for a good price, exchange phone numbers (I even print out business cards on my computer with my info) and tell them to call you when their kids outgrow more of their clothes if they would like to sell them. Where I used to live I bought/sold A LOT of clothing this way, it was great!
  15. Tips for Buying Used Clothes | CANAM says:
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  16. elisabeth in CT says:
    Once upon a time, as a very poor single mom with three little girls to dress - I learned the secret to looking nice was consignment shops and thrifts...Never buying new (except undies etc) became such a habit that even now, when I could afford to go to the mall - I can't bear it! A raincoat for $300? - You've got to be kidding me! I love the secret thrill of wearing Prada for $25 and Coach for $15 (watch out for fakes, though!) When a grandchild accidentally hit my Ann Taylor blouse with an indelible marker - I could smile serenely, while a friend looked on in horror! And my daughters have learned from me...They save their money for important things. Thrifting is green and great! And as for the euww factor - that's what soap and water is for!
  17. elisabeth in CT says:
    Oh, I forgot my Thrift shopping tip. I like to 'make an outfit' when I go. While I have favorite colors, it's sometimes a hit or miss to 'match' something at home. So I usually will find a 'key' piece and then scour the store to find the other garments that will make a 'whole look'. I usually shop for clothes only a couple of times a year - but I'll build a wardrobe when I do. When the season changes, I empty out the closet and simply recycle those items that 'no longer work'.
  18. […] http://wholenaturallife.com/2013/03/29/five-tips-for-buying-used-clothing-at-thrift-stores/ […]
  19. jasmin says:
    I wish to include one more terrific reason to purchase garments from thrift stores. Not all, but a lot of the apparel there has currently been washed. So when you attempt something on, the method it fits in the thrift store is the way it will match after you obtain it home and also clean it yourself. Say goodbye to hunch work!
  20. Laura Weil says:
    I love second hand store I got a brand new pair of clark shoes For 3$
  21. Laura Weil says:
    The best find for me was a pair of clark shoes for 3$
  22. Laura Weil says:
    I found a nice pair of clark shoes for only three dollrs. And a new coat for 8$ score
  23. […] Haven’t tried this before? You’re in for a treat. Here’s what you need to know before going on your first ‘used clothing’ shopping spree, with insights from Whole Natural Life: […]
  24. Debby Hipps, Asheville NC says:
    well I tell you I wouldn't be able to dress the way I do for work, I have to dress nice and I work a major department store. I had a doctors appt. so I was a little early so I went to the local salvation army thrift store and I found some great clothes from chico's and some from Talbot's, and a dress that happened to have a blue tag which was half off today. also got a great pair of boots for 9.00. it was great day. I also got this great red dress for the holidays. ladies my advice to you to not give up if it doesn't work for you the first time. I love thrift stores.

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