We’ve talked about the environmental impact of fast fashion. Plus, how to sell your used clothes—and make money. But what will you do with that cash in hand? Please don’t turn around and drop it at the mall, where it’s difficult to find brands that don’t wreak environmental havoc. Save your closet—and the planet—and buy preloved! I’ve been buying used clothes since high school and at this point 95% of my closet is from a thrift shop, consignment store or swap party. But for a lot of people, just the idea of shopping preloved gives them the heebie jeebies. Fear not, friends! You can save yourself a ton of money and time if you learn how to thrift shop properly. Here’s how.
For a lot of people, just the idea of shopping preloved gives them the heebie jeebies. But you can save yourself a ton of money and time if you learn how to thrift shop properly.
Choose destinations wisely
If you’re looking for labels and have little patience for the hunt, you’re better off heading straight to a consignment store where the goods have been pre-curated. Typically, stores like these take only a fraction of the clothes and accessories that thrift stores might accept. They buy on a strictly seasonal basis because merchandise moves quickly, and clothes often retain their original tags or are close to new. The downside? They’re often expensive. One of my local favorites, The Closet in Santa Monica, just showed a Louis Vuitton bag for $900. Sure, it was originally $400 more, but still…
Avoid the consignment conundrum
If you’re willing to search a little, a consignment store with more inventory capacity will offer you lower prices and more to choose from. The online consignment mecca thredUP.com is a great example of this. Yes, they’ve often got labels like LV, but they also showcase barely-worn pieces from mid-range brands—at up to 85% off retail. Think $200 denim for $35.
Finally, if you’re down for the hunt, there is nothing better than a good old-fashioned thrift shop. Look for one that’s located in a fairly well-to-do area, where women with serious clothing budgets leave their cast-offs. At places like these, you can discover pristine quality vintage pieces and off-season designer duds for $5. Yes, really.
Preparation is key
Once you’ve decided where you’re going, determine in advance
1. The return policy (some don’t have one; most are store credit only).
2. Whether or not the store takes credit (some are cash only).
3. If there’s a dressing room (in the case of true thrift stores, often the answer is no).
The less surprises, the better!
Wear a uniform
If you haven’t tried it, this may sound crazy. Until you score a silk Armani skirt for $12, which originally retailed for $1,800. Yes, I did.
I’ve found the best uniform is a fitted spaghetti strap tank tucked into a full skirt, worn with flats or slide-on sandals. You can slide a shirt over your tank, and—even without a dressing room—find a corner to surreptitiously try on pants under your skirt. If you haven’t tried it, this may sound crazy. Until you score a silk Armani skirt for $12, which originally retailed for $1,800. Yes, I did.
Know your exit strategy
You’ve found an armful of preloved goodies and are approaching the desk. Stop! Take a minute to really inspect your clothes. Look under the arms and at the collars for stains; search out missing buttons or snaps. But don’t despair if you find something in disrepair. Many consignment and thrift shops will heavily discount items that are simply in need of a quick trip to the laundry or tailor.
Tailor to fit
Speaking of a tailor, you’ll need to find a good one. Even that $12 skirt had to be altered—putting its value to me at $20, and essentially saving me $1,780. Good tailoring can make the difference between something you put into your closet and something you actually wear.
Wash, don’t wear
I cannot stress this enough: Even if you’re shopping the most expensive consignment store, you still have to wash your garments before you wear them. Because of the environmental impact, try to avoid dry cleaning as much as possible by handwashing or using your machine on delicate—at the very least, look for a dry cleaner that’s using more responsible steam cleaning methods. But never, ever wear before you wash. That’s an order.
What’s your favorite preloved find? Tell me about it, in comments below.