THRIFTIN’ AIN’T EASY
My Firsthand Guide to All Things Secondhand
As someone who grew up poor, I spent a lot of time in thrift stores with my mom and grandma.
At first, it was embarrassing, as my mom had quite the knack for finding the absolute worst matching sets (like a hot pink fuzzy one with the illest-fitting pants you ever did see) and forcing me to wear them to school. However, over time, as I was given more freedom and honed my own ever-changing personal style (and as thrifting absolutely exploded in popularity around my freshman year in high school), thrifting and hunting down things to wear to stand out amongst my peers became my favorite pasttime. While, as an adult who has finally started making *okay* money (enough to treat myself once in a while), I did have a bit of an aversion to secondhand as I reconciled no longer needing to thrift with poverty-associated traumas, I got over it, and now, especially as new clothes grow increasingly—I mean, let’s just say it—poorly made, almost 3/4 of my closet is secondhand or vintage.
In a perfect world, thrift stores would be a place where great quality clothes can find a second life with those who cannot afford them new. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect. So, while there are plenty of options in the secondhand market now for high quality clothing, there is a lower tier, so to speak, that is being both driven and crippled by overconsumption, specifically of fast fashion. And that lower tier is what’s most accessible.
Other fashion educators who talk about sustainability tend to present thrifting and secondhand as a cure-all for our problems. And, to an extent, it can be. But it’s mostly on a personal level, and only if one first addresses and unlearns the shopping habits that lead to the problems in the first place. Simply put: we buy a lot of stuff. And unless all that stuff is constantly being shared or sold directly to other people and can hold up to changing hands for the entire duration of its lifetime (to be repurposed or recycled at the end), it’s still wasteful, whether you bought it new or thrifted it. While, yes, buying a lot of stuff means we’re donating a lot of stuff, it also means we’re throwing a lot away. And, as I’ve mentioned before on the True Style Podcast, thrift stores are also throwing a lot away, because not only is it simply too much to fit in stores, but also, the stuff the average person as access to is of increasingly poor quality and not even fit to be repaired let alone sold again.
Of course, secondhand will never die. But it, like the rest of the fashion industry, needs some major fixes, and those fixes start with firsthand fashion. We need to build a culture that values things for longer, and demand that brands stop selling us things that are put together so cheaply and quickly that we couldn’t even value them properly if we wanted to. We need to completely shake the habit of overconsumption, and make it so that it is not beneficial for companies to overproduce, from both a legislative and profitability angle (brands are encouraged in many countries to destroy excess product in exchange for a tax write-off).
And then, when we are ready to get rid of that coat from two years ago that’s just not our style anymore, we need to not just toss it in a donation bin and wash our hands of it, but get invested in really giving it a new home: whether that be by gifting or swapping it, reselling it directly, or by knowing that our local thrift stores aren’t so overwhelmed by Shein tank tops that the actual good stuff never makes it to the sales floor, going, instead, to landfills (or shipped off to other countries to pollute their beaches and economies).
In the meantime, it is worthwhile to consider replacing at least a small part of our brand new purchases with stuff that already exists. Whether that’s buying a resold designer bag, buying a one of a kind vintage piece at a boutique, or just combing the racks of your local charity-based thrift store: your wardrobe will thank you for it. And if all of us do it, maybe our planet will, too.
Do you ever watch those girls on TikTok who always seem to have the most amazing, complex looks that look straight out of an editorial and you just can’t believe that they thrifted everything? Do you ever wonder how exactly people are finding cool secondhand stuff when you seem to only ever find crap? It’s not some huge conspiracy: some people just have the vision.
Being able to look at, say, a frumpy cardigan top and come up with the idea to wear it backwards, or knowing exactly how to tie or belt a dress to take it from flat to flattering: that’s the vision. For the most part, thrifting—even on resale sites like the Real Real where everything is put on the most misleading mannequins known to man(nequins)—is about visualization. It’s clothing in its purest form: it’s not placed and pinned on the “perfect” model body, it’s not styled or even hung on the hanger correctly. Beyond what I’m going to tell you in this article, the most valuable tool you can have when it comes to conquering the secondhand market is Vision. Work on that, and the world if your oyster.
Vintage vs. Secondhand vs. Thrifted
“Thrifted” serves as a great umbrella term for, essentially, anything you bought that wasn’t new, but, when you’re starting your journey, it pays to be a little more specific.
Secondhand stores naturally predate the thrift store, but they both exploded in popularity during the Industrial Revolution, when new methods of mass production lead to more people viewing and treating their clothing as disposable. Secondhand simply means someone owned it before you. It’s the actual umbrella term for not-new items.
These are typically charity-run and most often donation-based non-profits. Thrift stores were originally established by religious charities to offload massive amounts of donated goods in order to acquire funds to be distributed to the poor and homeless. Today, a lot of secondhand stores exist for profit, but in many places, they cannot technically, legally call themselves thrift stores.
Vintage is one of the most misunderstood designations with many people assuming anything from a thrift or secondhand store can be considered such, or using it as a catchall term for anything older than 2 or 3 years. The unsettling number of “curated vintage” boutiques that stock things like Zara and Uniqlo certainly don’t help, nor does the fact that “Vintage” can be considered an aesthetic in and of itself.
Warning: Please do not make a drinking game out of how many times I say the word “vintage” in this article.
To clarify, vintage is anything that’s more than 20-25 years old. Meaning the stuff we were wearing in the early 00s is a lot closer to being considered “old” now than just retro. Speaking of retro, that’s anything that looks like something from a previous era, but can also refer to things that just went out of style.
Vintage stores, however, are a little more complicated. Some specialize in specific eras, while others just collect pretty old things, while others are focused on higher end pieces that are technically just second- (or even third- or fourth-) hand. There’s a few ways these stores source items:
Thrifting. If you remember Sophia Amuruso aka The Original Girlboss, you might be aware that her business, Nasty Gal, started out as a vintage store. Sophia—and many other vintage store owners around the same time—would comb regular thrift and secondhand retail stores for vintage-looking (or, occasionally, actually vintage) merchandise, and resell it for a much higher price that can either be justified or not depending on how much you personally value the art of curation and the labor involved in photographing, listing, storing and occasionally repairing clothing. This business model lives on today through Depop and various little Etsy stores. But it’s not very efficient, nor does it guarantee a quality selection. When you’re ready to upgrade, you go for—
Raghouses are where thrift stores dump all their excess merchandise that either didn’t sell or didn’t even make it to the floor. You need a reseller’s license to access these but, once you’re in, prepare to see—and pick through—piles and piles of literal tons of used clothing (people have actually died when these piles collapsed and suffocated them, hence why they’re not open to the general public). Some raghouses alter and repair clothing items: from fixing holes to “upcycling” (that is, taking a piece of clothing and making it into another piece of clothing) them. Many also bundle like items into bales made up of pounds and pounds of flannel shirts, jeans, T-shirts or whatever else that are then priced by weight. It can take hours of very physically taxing labor to find gems in these massive warehouses of mostly donated clothing, but, somebody has to do it, otherwise, the raghouse is the final step in the life cycle of used clothing, and anything that doesn’t get picked will either be recycled into things like rags (duh) and building insulation or shipped overseas for them to deal with it.
Estate sales can be a fascinating but depressing source for good and true vintage. For those who don’t know, estate sales are like garage sales but the person whose stuff it is has usually recently passed away. Sometimes it’s to settle debts, sometimes the family simply doesn’t have any use for it, sometimes there is no family to speak of. There are exceptions, of course: I’ve been to estate sales held in the former home of people who are now in nursing homes or hospice care, but, it’s still pretty sad to know you’re combing through the stuff of someone who simply cannot use it anymore, even if they are still alive. There are sites to find estate sales local to you, including www.estatesales.net, but I would search your nearest major city + estate sale on Google to find more useful results.
Other vintage sellers/collectors. A lot of designer vintage sellers spend a great deal of time searching for hard-to-find couture and luxury items. I recently went to a boutique here in LA where the owner specialized in Vivienne Westwood’s Portrait Collection corsets, sourced from all over the internet from small Etsy sellers to eBay. This is a very pricy way to build a vintage inventory, not to mention time-consuming; but, it’s the way to go if your goal is to establish a very high end presence in the world of vintage.
Consignment and resale are similar in that people take their items to consignment/resale stores in order to let them sell it for them, with the establishment taking a portion of the final sale price. The most mainstream examples are Buffalo Exchange and Plato’s Closet, but, for the most part, these are gonna be high end boutiques where you take last season’s Chanel to make the purchase price back minus a fee.
Where they differ is you typically don’t get any money until your piece sells at consignment stores, whereas resale stores purchase items up front and offer either store credit or (much less) cash.
The Dark Side of Secondhand
I could not, in good conscience, push you toward the world of secondhand without pointing out some of the negatives. Never forget: every single part of the garment industry has problematic aspects.
In 2022, I think we’re well past the idea that all charities/non-profits are inherently good. In fact, I think it’s time we address the fact that many charities and non-profits are actually objectively terrible.
The Salvation Army is one of the largest providers of drug and alcohol rehab in the U.S. Participants do not have to pay for a spot in the program, but, they are given a job (or “work therapy”) in one of the company’s thrift stores as a part of treatment. In May 2021, five of these former participants filed a class action lawsuit against The Salvation Army alleging that they would typically work over 40 hours a week doing incredibly grueling and occasionally dangerous physical labor for which they were compensated with what essentially amounted to gift cards and hardly paid minimum wage or overtime, if anything.
This wasn’t the first time The Salvation Army came under fire for not paying minimum wage and for mistreating employees. Workers in Ottawa went on strike for 76 days in 2012 to protest the fact that a nearby shelter—which received the same funding as the Salvation Army—was paying workers as much as $3 more per hour for the same work, while Salvation Army claimed they “couldn’t afford” to pay their workers decent wages.
This article breaks down several times The Salvation Army has been accused of less-than-charitable labor practices, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, if you think “I’ll just go to Goodwill instead,” well…
As of 2018, over 7,000 Goodwill employees were paid as little as 22 cents an hour. How was that legal? Well, under a law that, to be fair, seems to be under revision, disabled workers are not entitled to minimum wage. Guess who happens to pride themselves on being one of the largest employers of disabled workers in the U.S. and Canada?
If it’s a possibility for you, I would avoid Goodwill and Salvation Army at all costs. Check The National Thrift Store Directory for other options in your zip code and/or nearby cities. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you patronize Big Thrift, especially if it’s your only option, but there’s lots of other, more reputable charity run stores, small vintage shops and other cool stuff out there if you just look.
In episode 4 of the True Style podcast, From Wardrobe to Wasteland, I talked about just how little of our donated clothing actually gets sold and worn again. Spoiler alert: it’s not a lot. A whopping 84 percent of our clothing donations end up in landfills. I know we’d all love to think that someone is just dying for that cutout corset top we wore once on a mediocre first date then buried in a drawer for six months until our annual closet cleanout, but, that’s just not the case. Two million tons of clothing are donated to charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army every year and, especially with new clothing getting cheaper and cheaper, there’s just not enough demand for all of it.
What’s even worse is that our textile waste doesn’t just end up in our landfills. The U.S. exports over a million tons of clothing annually to developing nations where, in many cases, entire livelihoods have been built on reselling our rejects. But as our consumption has grown, it’s become too much for those vendors as well, leading to more and more of our donations littering beaches and polluting oceans overseas. In parts of East Africa, they have taken to simply burning the excess. Items made from natural fibers like wool—which is growing increasingly rare thanks to the ubiquitousness of synthetic materials and blends—can be recycled, but, that’s a costly process that yields very little profit when new products can be made even cheaper.
I’m not telling you to stop donating clothing, but I am telling you to think twice (and maybe thrice) before you buy a single-use dress for your next party. Corporations absolutely overproduce, and their unsold merchandise often ends up in the same place as our bought-and-discarded garments, but just because they treat clothing as disposable doesn’t mean you should. And it doesn’t mean you should treat donation bins like trash cans, either.
Cleanliness and Sanitation
The first time I watched a TikTok video of a teenager buying a “haul” from the Goodwill Outlet (aka “the bins”), taking it home, and putting the brand “new” old clothes directly on her body without so much as a once-over with Febreze or Lysol, I had to close the app and reflect.
Y’all know the vast majority of thrift stores aren’t washing donations, right? Right!?
And not just thrift stores: consignment shops, vintage boutiques and resale stores typically aren’t, either. Some small stores might, but, don’t count on it!
Places like Goodwill and Salvation Army will spray garments with a deodorizer spray so they don’t smell but take a second to think about what they might smell of: body odor, mold and mildew, even waste from rats that may have made a home in your new jacket while it sat in a roadside donation bin waiting to be picked up.
Simply put, people are gross. Literally disgusting! Please wash your thrift store finds before they touch your body. If you, like me (until recently), don’t have easy access to a washer in your home, consider combining your thrifting days with laundromat or handwashing days to knock it all out at once.
The Problem With Poshmark/Depop And Platforms Like It
Don’t get me wrong, I love that there are so many avenues online for me to acquire other people’s stuff at a lower price than new, especially when said stuff is barely worn and in near-new condition. But, therein lies a tough question: why is there so much brand new stuff—often with tags still on—on these resale sites?
It’s one thing to buy something and simply realize it isn’t really your style, or doesn’t fit, or to not want to deal with the hassle of a return, but, it’s quite another to buy things in excess because you know that, if they don’t work out, you can just sell them and recoup most of your money back, and a lot of people on these apps do just that.
Everyday there seems to be another brand establishing buy-back and resale platforms for their own items, and as I’ve tweeted before, this is only meant to encourage you to buy more, but feel good about it because, hey, at least it’s not ending up in a landfill, right? And, yeah, at least you’re not just throwing it away to decompose over the next hundred years, but, you’re still treating clothes as disposable. Environmental implications aside, buying things you intend to get rid of is just not really conducive to building a solid personal style nor does it contribute to a wardrobe of things you truly love.
Ugh. There’s nothing worse (to me) than searching far and wide for the perfect piece secondhand, seeing it on Poshmark or Depop, getting all excited to buy it only to realize: it’s not even secondhand. In fact, the seller doesn’t even have it in their hands.
Dropshipping, for those who have successfully avoid LLC Twitter and Hustle Culture online (tell me your secrets!), is where you build a business selling products you likely never touch. You list them, people buy them, and a third party ships them, typically directly from the manufacturer or wholesaler located in another country. On Depop, Poshmark, and occasionally Etsy, the way this works is hardly sophisticated: the seller will usually just place an order on a marketplace like AliExpress and have it shipped to the customer.
It is the bane of my existence.
Never mind the fact that if I’m seeking secondhand, I’m obviously not looking to buy something new: these sellers often use fake photos, have never seen the actual item in real life so they have no idea of the quality or even sizing, and mark things up astronomically in order to profit. Yes, nearly every business in the world is based on selling things procured elsewhere, but, there’s something particularly insidious about misleading customers about where their purchases are coming from, not to mention doing it on a platform designed for regular people to sell their own secondhand items.
You can avoid dropshippers by reverse image searching photos and seeing if they come up on sites like Shein or AliExpress, not buying from sellers that offer multiple sizes of items, and in more extreme cases, asking for measurements or details about a sellers’ listings: if they can’t or won’t answer questions, they probably don’t actually have the stuff on hand.
How To Thrift Well
I would never want to scare you off from thrifting, it’s just kinda my thing to be thoughtful about how and what we consume, especially when we’re trying to do better. Buying secondhand is still far more ethical than purchasing new fast fashion and even more sustainable than buying new garments from sustainable brands. Still, no consumption will ever be perfect, so, my goal is always to give you the knowledge to make informed decisions about what’s best for you, your personal morals, and your personal style.
So, you’ve read this far, and you still want to start or improve your thrifting game. Whether online or in real life, I’m here to help. But first, here’s two tips that apply no matter where you’re shopping (yes, even new).
Have a Plan
Aimlessly shopping is an easy way to either not find anything you need or to find a lot of stuff you don’t. Figuring out what you actually need and want to fill the gaps in your wardrobe is an important step for anyone, even those with unlimited funds and closet space. After all, what good is a bargain or super great find if you literally have nothing to wear it with?
Know Your Measurements
Knowing your precise measurements is useful for any sort of shopping, especially online. Being able to compare your numbers against size charts instead of just guessing at or assuming your size is a big step toward being happier with your online purchases, and, in the case of inconsistent sizing, it can really help to be assured that it’s not you that “doesn’t fit”, it’s the clothes. When shopping in physical stores, take your measuring tape with you and actually measure clothes you’re unsure about. I am anti-trying on thrift store clothes (for the sanitation reasons I listed in a previous section) so, knowing the numbers is the way to go if you’re like me (and if not, just please try things on over your clothes). A general rule of thumb for measuring the bust of a garment laying (or hanging) flat is to go from armpit to armpit; hips are gonna be about 6-7 inches under the waist line and the waist tends to be the narrowest part of the garment or about 6 inches under the armpit.
Of course, knowing your measurements and/or measuring clothing in person is only useful if there are clothes that you think might fit you to begin with. I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t mention the absolute dearth of (cute, trendy, wearable) plus size secondhand that’s available and easily accessible to those who need it and so, some notes on sizing.
If you typically wear anything larger than, like, a modern size 8, I don’t have to tell you how difficult it is to find secondhand or vintage in our size—and it only gets harder as your measurements (and taste level) increase.
Many are quick to blame those YouTube/TikTok “DIYers” who purchase clothes in larger sizes with the express purpose of using the garments as fabric for their trendy two-piece twinsets and minidresses. Personally, as someone who is well aware of just how much clothing is donated to thrift stores and never sold—including plus sizes—I don’t think that—as annoying as it is—is the main reason for such a widespread struggle to find quality secondhand in larger sizes.
To be frank: it starts at the top. A lack of new options for plus size women means fewer plus size women even have enough clothing to donate. Not to mention, people with a hard time shopping for things (regardless of reason), tend to hold on to those things for much longer than those who are able to accumulate excess more easily.
When shopping in physical stores, I cannot stress enough how important it is to check everything, especially in stores divided by size. You may find some “oversized” pieces or garments in the “men’s” (clothing is unisex anyway) section fit you perfectly, or see a bunch of actual plus sized garments mixed in with items marked XL or even L.
Online, it’s much easier: most larger online secondhand sites (like ThredUp) let you filter by size, so just choose your typical size—but also one or two number sizes down and, if possible, one or two above. Since all the reputable sites list garment measurements for most items, you could end up quite surprised when that a garment marked, say, size 10 actually has measurements more in line with a typical size 14. When shopping vintage, look for garments made in the 80s and 90s, when cuts were much more generous and stretch fabrics were exploding in popularity.
Thrifting IRL (In Real Life)
Go Often, Go Early
Every store has their own schedule for when they put out new merchandise but, unless you’re able to hit all your faves on Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday mornings, it’s just not really realistic to plan to always be the first. What works for me, instead, is simply going on the same day every time, and going in the morning. I mean, like, getting coffee and camping out until you see them open the doors early. Not only will it typically be less crowded so you can shop in peace, but you might luck out and show up on a day when they’re putting out new stuff anyway. And don’t forget to go to multiple stores! I know, I know: combing through just one huge Value Village can be tiring but you vastly improve your chances of finding something great by shopping multiple locations. Make a day of it!
Think Outside the Box
With secondhand, sometimes you gotta get creative. Maybe a blouse doesn’t button all the way but it looks great tied up; maybe that maxi dress looks better as a skirt; maybe the jeans of your dreams are actually that old pair of men’s Levi’s. That said:
If you’re not really the DIY type, or a certain fix is outside of your skillset, maybe it’s best to just skip it. While secondhand is a more eco-friendly option, it’s still possible to overconsume and end up with a bunch of stuff you’re not gonna wear. Something that requires extensive tailoring or cleaning or alterations just to become wearable might not be worth it.
Don’t just focus on clothes. Check the shoes, the purses, the home goods, even the books! I’ve personally scored some of my favorite jewelry from thrift stores, and I’ve seen people getting authentic designer bags for dirt cheap at their own local secondhand shops. Checking out every section of the store can be the difference between walking out emptyhanded and finding the rare gem that makes it all worth it.
Check Everything (Again)
Before you check out, you have to do a thorough look at everything you plan to buy. That cute blouse could have pit stains you can’t remove (soaking it in vinegar usually helps, though!), or a hole that can’t be easily/invisibly mended. I stress, again, to be realistic! If I had a dollar for every shirt with a missing button that I swore I was gonna replace all the buttons on, I’d be able to just pay someone to do it.
So, IRL thrifting is basically just about being in the right place at the right time and combing through dozens of racks to find something you like. Your options are limited to what’s in front of you, and there’s a number of factors that dictate exactly what that is.
Now, imagine having every possible option in the world. If thrifting in physical stores is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, online thrifting can be like trying to find a needle in a bunch of slightly different needle stacks spread out all over the globe. But, don’t worry, the needlestacks all have, like, a search engine and filters, you just need to know how to describe the needle you want in the way that somebody with that needle would describe it to help you find it.
Online secondhand hunting can be intimidating, and hard to get the hang of, but it just takes a lot of discernment, good hunting skills, and patience. So much patience, in fact, that my primary way of thrifting online involves just waiting: I save everything I like to my wishlist and simply wait for things to go on sale, or, in the case of Poshmark, wait for the seller to send me an offer for the item at a lower price.
As a general rule, I don’t buy fast fashion, even secondhand, especially when there’s a better option at the same price. That means no Zara, no H&M, and definitely no Forever 21. There have been exceptions, particularly for older Zara, but, remember, quality is still the name of the game, here, and there’s really no upside to buying something secondhand if it still falls apart within a few wears.
Sites I Use and How
Every couple of years, Poshmark and I rekindle our romance and I remember why I loved her so much in the first place. Their interface is a bit dated, and it’s a bit annoying to just browse, but, this is where I typically look first for more basic pieces, like the “black pointy toe mules” I recently nabbed (Calvin Klein, only $17!) and my “knit maxi skirt” (St. John Basic, only $22!). A lot of non-ethical but less-fast fast fashion brands that I try to avoid buying new are overrepresented here, as well, such as Free People, Anthropologie, and Jeffrey Campbell, so, if I know I like something in those brands, I check Poshmark first for specific item names and styles (I found the Emmaline mini dress by Free People for only $25!). I tend to stick to recognizable brands in general here, as there’s a lot of off-brand, brandless and grey market (TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, etc.) listings that are overpriced at best and of questionable quality at worst. Also, avoid the “Boutiques,” they tend to be dropshippers. Stick to the “Closets” that are more likely to just be normal people just trying to sell their old stuff or at least their thrift finds. And don’t be afraid to send offers! Many of the items I get dirt cheap were priced higher when I came across them, like my fringe everyday bag that was priced at $16 but that I put in an offer for and got for only $10. Just be careful to not have too many offers open at once: if an offer is approved, you’re automatically charged!
ThredUp is the largest online “thrift” store and let me tell ya, she has some gems. With their recent collaboration with Rent the Runway, where they sell “retired” designer pieces, as well as their fantastic filtering (you can save your sizes and set up alerts for things in your preferred sizes and brands), ThredUp is where I come for “premium” items, such as the Halston dress I got for only $50, and the Vera Wang satin trench coat I got for $20. They have plenty lower end items for very low prices, up to sizes 6X, as well, including a lot of J. Crew, Madewell, and Eloquii, and they seem to always have a discount code for free shipping. If you’re not as brand-sensitive as I am, you can find pieces for as low as $6, just make sure you either put those filters to work or stick to their curated subsections, otherwise you’ll be on page 5,562 of skirts before you know it with no clue what you’re even looking for.
While I may give off the general air of a label whore, I promise I’m not, which is why I took so long to come around to The RealReal as I thought it was mostly where people who had impusively purchased hyped up designer pieces went to offload them. But, now that I’m here, I can’t believe I ever went without. I primarily use The RealReal to do what I call “targeted browsing.” I have searches saved for specific higher end designers that I know I like and that typically have things in my price range (like Helmut Lang, Theory and Equipment), or things like “black blouses” all in my size so that’s typically where I go first just to see if any of their 10,000 daily new arrivals align with things I’m already searching for. That said, when I’m bored, I absolutely go through their Under $200 and Sale sections and favorite things to my heart’s content, to come back later and buy in the event of a sale or discount code. If you’re looking for secondhand designer goods like Gucci, Hermes, etc., but also newer designers like Molly Goddard or Ganni, this is where you’re gonna wanna look.
Finally, Etsy serves as a bit of a jumping off point for me. Oftentimes, I know what I want is going to be easier to find (or better quality) in vintage, so it’s where I start when, for instance, I’m looking for a “vintage red silk blouse” for Valentine’s Day, or a “brown leather tote.” I don’t always find what I’m looking for, but, I often find several little vintage shops that I then favorite and keep up with when there’s something new. I also have saved searches for vintage Diane von Furstenberg and gold jewelry and get emails whenever things in those categories have been posted recently.
When I say Gem changed my life—as both a vintage lover and professional secondhand shopper—I’m not exaggerating. Gem is a search engine and app that combs, not only the sites above, but also dozens of other secondhand and vintage sites for literally whatever you ask it to. I especially love it for navigating those sites I don’t really care to learn—Vestiaire Collective and eBay, for example—and because I can set up saved searches for brands, or even specific items and see results (usually daily) from everywhere, all in one place. The site is also constantly improving, as they recently added the ability to see size information without having to go to the actual product’s page on whatever site it’s on.
Things You Should Never (or Rarely) Buy New
You know, the hold Shein has on this generation (Z) is truly a sight to behold. One of my favorite style girls on Tiktok, Sammi Jefcoate, has gained popularity lately with her “It’s [Insert Day of Week], let’s get dressed” videos and, as it goes with fashion-related popularity on the internet, hundreds of “Inspired By” hauls based on her style have started popping up on my For You Page. But, one thing you’ll notice about Sammi’s style is that, well, it’s basics.
No, not basic, basics. Take the more obvious designer logos out of the equation and it’s mainly a lot of trousers, sweaters, T-shirts, and shorts with the occasional body con skirt or dress thrown in, topped with some pretty traditional outerwear like leather biker jackets and blazers. And yet, the majority of her outfit recreators I’ve seen are sourcing their lookalike items from the dreaded fast fashion behemoth that is Shein.
Don’t get me wrong, if fast fashion is all you can access, then make it count, make it last, and make it work for you. However, if you can shop fast fashion online, then you can also shop secondhand online, and if you’re shopping for basic items like the ones Sammi wears, it’s impossible to not find something for you. Yes, even regardless of your size. Here are the items that I never (or at least very rarely) buy new because they exist in such abundance in thrift stores:
Sweaters - As someone who loves an oversized silhouette, the very first place I always look in the thrift store is in the men’s sweater section. I’ve found some fantastic, high quality knits from St. John, Banana Republic, even United Colors of Benetton. And, for those of you that sew, it’s not hard to crop knits with a little embroidery floss and a blanket stitch (or you can leave the hems raw if you like a distressed look).
Blazers - Again, I’m someone who loves an oversized silhouette, and that particular look with regards to blazers has been trendy for a hot minute at this point. You might have to cut out some shoulder pads, but, there will never be a shortage of blazers available secondhand. It may be harder to find fun colors in physical thrift stores, but that’s when you put your search skills to work online (try to focus on the 80s if you can, that’s when blazers were at their most fun).
Button-up shirts/blouses - After weeks of soul searching to figure out what kind of tops I actually enjoy wearing (I’ve been a dress girl for quite some time), I recently came to the conclusion that the versatility of a button-down is really all I need in life. I proceeded to collect what may be more than my fair share (I wear them all, though!): silk ones, sheer ones, printed ones, several different types of white ones, oversized ones, men’s ones, even a few with ruffles. All secondhand. Button-ups have been popular for all genders for decades and decades so it’s not even hard to find fun ones, but it’s especially easy to find the basics. Even if they’re not your style worn plain, try tying them up, cropping them, or wearing them as cover ups.
Denim - It doesn’t matter what thrift store you go to, there’s going to be at least one full rack of jeans. Trust me. If you’re looking for super tight-fitting pairs, you may have to do a little altering, but, if you’re into the current trendier styles like straight cuts and mom jeans, please, check your local thrift first. You might even luck out and find some vintage Levi’s with the highly coveted Big E.
Trousers/shorts - This is the same sentiment as above, with the added bonus for those of you who can do a basic hem: every pair of pants you find can easily be turned into shorts. Hell, you can even skip the hem if you like the look. I love the look of a dress pant styled casually, and thrift stores tend to be full of trousers, slacks, chinos, cords and even cargo pants depending on where you’re looking.
Jackets/Coats - Depending on your personal tastes, this one is a little more iffy. You definitely won’t be finding a lot of statement coats at the thrift. However, a high quality trench or peacoat could always be lurking. As a California girl, I can’t speak to the availability of coats that keep you warm, but, it’s always worth looking through that outerwear section just in case a gem is hidden in between all those stupid nylon windbreakers.
True Style is for those who really wanna dig deep into shopping, style, and sustainability…and then keep digging.