It seems that everything in the world evolves, from the way music is sold (remember 8-tracks?) to the way we watch movies. Through the way we stay in touch with friends. It turns out this is also true of the local second-hand clothing store as well. There was a time when the thrift shop was the location you went in hopes of getting an article of clothing you knew you couldn’t afford at the department store. Who would’ve ever expected “fashion resale”—used clothing at brick-and-mortar or Internet thrift shops—would become the fastest-growing niche of the fashion and apparel market in the world?
Finding stores full of worthwhile second-hand fashion has become the go-to for obtaining all manner of merchandise at a price you can afford. There is even a new hip name for shopping at the bargain store: “thrifting.” If you go thrifting, you’re a thrifter.
Today, more and more people are looking to get more life from their garments. Not least, for every second-hand garment that we purchase, we help prevent the manufacture of a new one. And for every clothing item that we resale, we help prevent it from going to landfill and give it a new lease of life under new ownership.
Creating new clothing items is resource-intensive and often wasteful; therefore, each thrifty purchase can save you money and make a positive environmental contribution. Curious to read more about the benefits? Check out our piece here.
However, to get the most out of thrifting, there are some basic guidelines you’ll want to know about how to shop for thrift clothing finds. Here are our top tips to make the most of your thrifting endeavors.
The term “thrifting” implies a search for something special, something unique. You aren’t sure when you start exactly what it is you’re looking for, but you have a pretty good idea you’ll know it when you see it. You’ll probably see more than one article that catches your eye and appeals.
Many expert thrifters stress the fact that every other shopper is essentially in competition with you. This is an especially prevalent idea among those thrifters who look for undervalued merchandise they can purchase and resell at a profit. Of course, we have all seen skits and television bits where two customers fight over a product each wants and, in the process, destroy what they wanted to purchase. It’s more likely that, if you view other thrift customers as competitors, what you will destroy is your shopping enjoyment.
As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to speak pleasantly to other customers and store workers. Most thrifters are glad to share their insights, their thrifting secrets, and their unforgettable thrifting experiences.
When you find yourself eyeing an item that another customer is examining, be wary of letting on that you have any interest. If you do, you can promote the notion within the other shopper that the article may indeed be valuable and desirable. It’s perfectly acceptable to say to another thrifter, “I’m really interested in this. Are you?”
Many second-hand shops are run by volunteers who donate their time to help the store raise money for the charity it supports. They are likely not sales professionals and may have limited knowledge about the merchandise. Not least, it comes from such a vast array of sources. Volunteers make sacrifices from the goodness of their hearts to staff many of these charitable endeavors. It’s a good idea, no matter how serious you are about your thrift shopping, not to have unrealistic expectations for these folks.
Regardless of your intentions when you’re thrifting, the most important quality to exude is well-mannered graciousness. As a thrifter, you’re also an environmentalist who keeps merchandise in circulation and out of the landfill when you shop. If a charity runs the shop, your money will assist those in need. Remember that your fellow customers are also benevolent environmentalists too.
You’ll seldom find a local thrift shop at shopping malls—but many times, they are nearby to receive donations from mall merchandisers. We’d see the early versions and traditional thrift outlets concentrated in lower-income areas near strip shops in times past. This, too, has evolved. Today, you can now find second-hand shops in some pretty upscale places. Some thrifters shop at bargain stores in places like Manhattan!
We should mention consignments shops at this point as well. While we have been mostly describing traditional bargain stores that carry various apparel and housewares, consignment shops are also resale stores. They are outlet shops that sell used merchandise on behalf of the original owners, splitting the sale proceeds with them. Typically consignment shops will have higher prices than their thrift counterpart, but the costs are still much less than the original retail prices. Sometimes valuable antique items end up in consignment. You can also find them in just about any geographical location.
Since thrift shops can appear virtually anywhere, it’s good to have quick, accurate ways of finding them. Many of the chains have their locator apps that you can download onto your smartphone. The search engines built into Apple and Droid devices also produce immediate results when commanded, “Show me thrift shops near me.” With the thrifters’ apps and Internet searches, GPS directions accompany each store’s address information.
Speaking of physical locations, we have been focusing pretty much exclusively on brick-and-mortar stores. Some of the most important and easily accessible shops, however, are online. To a much greater extent than local stores, you can search for online thrift merchandise with real specificity. Many online shops do an excellent job of posting their inventory with clear photos and full descriptions. Unlike brick-and-mortar shops, you won’t get your purchases the same day. Still, getting the perfect item you were looking for means you don’t mind waiting an extra day or two—especially if the shipping is free.
Check out our picks here of the 23 Best Online Thrift Stores.
When asking if there are any second-hand thrifty items we should avoid, it’s worth remembering that everything in the store was used and donated by previous owners. In some cases, people donated the items to charities because they were defective but had too expensive an original price tag to be discarded simply. It might have been a failed second-hand shopping experience that caused a Roman consumer 2000 years ago to coin the phrase, cum grano solis (literally, “take it with a grain of salt”).
If defective or worthless items are for sale, chances are the store’s workers are not aware of it. Such merchandise should be pointed out and set aside. Of course, some customers who find an item with a flaw will still offer to buy it with an additional discount. It never hurts to ask.
In general, there are some categories of items that you should approach with caution.
In a word, no. Thrift retailers receive too many clothing donations to take the time or go to the expense of washing the clothes you see on the racks or in the bins. They sell clothes “as is.” That said, there is more to know about the mountains of resale fashion you’ll find stocking their shelves.
First of all, while most donors wash their clothes before they donate them, others don’t. When you pick up a piece of apparel you think you might be interested in, smell it. You’ll find a hint of detergent to be more encouraging than the scent of body odor, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy something you think suits you.
Thrift retailers acquire clothes from a variety of different sources, including you. If you’ve ever driven up to a donation bin, truck, or drive through, you know that people like you are a significant source of apparel. Indeed, the single most dependable source of clothing donations is the individual donor. Donors who have gone through the closet during the seasons’ changing and decided that some clothing items are useful but just haven’t been worn.
While we’re on the subject, being a worthy apparel donor means making sure clothing items have been cleaned and neatly folded. There should be no missing buttons, jammed or torn zippers, stained or torn clothing in your donation.
Retail outlets often donate apparel to resale shops. These stores can receive tax write-offs and avoid the cost of shipping clothes or taking them to the landfill. Many stores often leave the tags on these clothes as a way of demonstrating to shoppers that they are brand new. Even though they have theoretically not been worn, it’s still an excellent idea to wash these new items before wearing them.
Finally, specialty shops that create logo ware and athletic apparel often experience overruns. These companies will donate name brand sporting apparel to local thrift shops for tax write-offs and as a free form of advertising.