It doesn’t happen every day, but when I get a compliment on what I wear, I’m never more excited than when I’m donning a thrifted outfit. Among those compliments are the occasional surprised response when I explain the origin of my purchase. It’s like bagged milk in Canada - the concept makes total sense to those who grew up with it, but the idea is foreign to those who didn’t.
There’s a stigma that thrifted = dirty or otherwise unappealing; but the thrifting community knows otherwise. Secondhand clothing is more environmentally sound, affordable, and unique; so the rewards for shopping secondhand definitely outweigh the preconceived notions that used clothing is “gross.”
On top of that, the trip to the thrift store can be daunting. The rows upon rows of clothing and accessories, seemingly hung without rhyme or reason. The unflattering fluorescent lighting. And yes, I know, there’s a smell. However, once I realized that the fashion industry is one of the most wasteful and polluting industries in the world, I was a bit more encouraged to shuffle through the racks at Goodwill and get closer to my goal of a 90% thrifted wardrobe (underwear excluded).
It’s not an easy goal, but thrifting feels less like a challenge and more like a hobby with a few simple guidelines:
To get to my goal, I follow a few basic rules when shopping at my favorite thrift stores:
Shop for materials
Even if you’re not shopping secondhand, I cannot overstate the importance of materials when shopping for clothing. Cotton, silk, and genuine leather will continue to look better over time, while some synthetic materials like polyester will always look cheap and feel rough against the skin. Seek high-quality materials that will not only feel better on your body, but are likely to keep their quality after each wash.
Personally, I’m a sucker for linen pants and cotton tops, especially since they are pre-washed and therefore will not shrink further when I send them into the washing machine. The same goes for denim; when I find a well-fitting brand at the thrift store, I feel like I have a wide-hipped sister out there somewhere looking out for me.
While you’re checking the material and care tags, be sure to look for any holes or signs of serious wear. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, most tears can be repaired at home; and you’ll get a kick out of breathing new life into your clothes.
Eye those sale racks
Most thrift stores like Goodwill have discount days for certain color tags, plus dollar racks for clothing that has been in the rotation for a long time. Discounts are key when you want to stretch your money further, and you’ll come home with some seriously brag-worthy bargain stories.
Some stores may even offer a loyalty program. I once filled a punch card for 10x $10 purchases that granted me 50% off my next purchase, so when I needed business casual clothing for a new job, I got a literal garbage bag of blazers and pencil skirts for a mere $40. I subsequently donated all of that clothing back two years later when I got a new job. It was cathartic.
Map out locations
I’m not going to give away the spot where I get my healthiest hauls of thrifted clothing, but I will say that location makes a difference in what’s available. Although metropolitan areas may offer higher-quality and designer goods, the competition for those pieces is much more intense. I’m often surprised at the clothing I can score from small-town thrift stores, but with less competition, it makes sense that I can come home with a duffel bag full of unique finds.
Keep a list of stores in your area and make a day out of shopping. It’s easy to feel discouraged if you don’t find anything on your first go, but it’s nearly impossible to go home empty-handed after a full day of back-to-back secondhand shopping. After a few visits, you’ll not only know which stores are your favorite, but also when those stores restock.
One draw to shopping secondhand, for me, is my ability to try new styles at a low cost. You may have an already-established look, but I encourage you to experiment with different silhouettes, styles, and colors. I have a full Pinterest board of outfits the imaginary me would love to wear, but my style will always be “thrifted;” even if that means one day I’m wearing an all-black ensemble with a statement necklace, and the next day I’m in a torn t-shirt and leggings.
“The only accessories you’ll ever need to pull off a thrifted look are a smile and a lot of confidence” - my mom, probably.
Once you get the hang of navigating your local thrift store, your cart can fill up pretty quick - and so your new hobby begins. Just make sure you thoroughly wash those garments according to their care instructions and you’re on your way to a greener, more affordable wardrobe.