There are a lot of great pieces in my closet which I’ve found at second hand stores over the years. When someone asks me where it’s from, my response is usually met with a pang of frustration and often the declaration that the individual asking can never find anything good at Value Village. If that feels like you, read on for my tips on how to shop better, get the best quality, save the planet and stay under budget by shopping second hand.
Give yourself enough time
The best way to get frustrated thrift shopping is by being rushed. The clothes will probably be organized by gender, size and type but you really need to go through the entire rack to find something. That usually that doesn’t happen very fast, so make an afternoon of it.
Think outside the box
Some of my favourite sweaters are from the Men’s section and my jean jacket is a Kid’s XL. There might be something great hiding where you least expect it and you’ll never find it if you don’t look.
Try everything on
Since there is every brand, era and style of clothing under the sun at a thrift store, you can’t just assume anything is going to fit. It’s worth waiting in line to be sure.
If something catches my eye I will pick it up and try it on even if I’m pretty sure it’s not going to work. Since everything is a one-off, if you leave it on the rack and someone else scoops it up there’s no going back.
Word to the wise – just like in any other store, the employees will always appreciate you putting the items you try on back onto their hangers once you leave the fitting rooms.
Read the label
While I’m shopping I look for brands I recongnise in order to get an idea about the quality of the garment. You will find a lot of fast fashion brands at most thrift stores, but I prefer to pick up higher end pieces that I know have stood the test of time. Even if you don’t know the designer, look for how dated the label is – something that looks old fashioned or was made in Canada are good signs. If something has no sign of branding it may have been removed or could be home made!
Once I have tried something on, one of my deciding factors is looking at what the item is made of. Being sure the jacket you love is real leather will help you make your final decision about if you should buy it or not.
Shop alone or with someone who isn’t your size/style
Things can heat up pretty fast if you both reach for the same amazing pair of boots that are $9.99! I’d recommend going solo or with someone you won’t be fighting over those great finds with. Again, because there is only one of everything, you have a better chance of success if you’re not competing with your best friend for deals.
Look on the “go back” racks
Throughout the store and by the fitting rooms are rolling racks of items that have been tried on and discarded. I often find something really good on those racks, you know what they say about one man’s trash…I sometimes even check these twice if I’m not having any luck elsewhere.
Keep an open mind
Unlike a typical store where you can go in looking for a specific item you saw online and know how much you’re going to pay for it, you never know what you’re going to get at a second hand store. Going in with an idea of a few things to look for is good, but it works best to be open to other possibilities depending on what you find.
Pay close attention to the price
As with anything, some items are better deals than others. I find sometimes current name brand pieces can be over priced (Aritzia, TopShop, designer jeans etc.) so double check it’s worth it. Often things from bargain fashion chains like H&M or Forever 21 will be on par with or more expensive than they were new from the store. When I was a manager at F21 I would see exact items which were $5-10 more at Value Village than the mall. Not saying you shouldn’t buy, but keep it in mind.
This is another area where checking the tags, knowing how to spot a fake, or googling will help you out. Thrift store employees generally price the donations that come in, and sometimes designer or luxury items can fly under the radar due to the sheer volume they receive.
Check for flaws
Even an $20 pair of shoes that retails for $400 new isn’t a good deal if they are in unwearable and unrepairable condition. Check everything you want to buy for holes, stains, defects or other issues before getting to the register.
If that pair of shoes just needs to be resoled, and you’re willing to invest the money to have them fixed up, then go for it! However, it’s best to be realistic about what can or cannot be fixed. Today I bought a cashmere sweater for $6.99 that had a few small holes. Normally I wouldn’t have gone for it, but they were totally hidden (armpit!) and I can sew it up myself so I took the risk. If it works out, I have a gorgeous luxurious sweater on the cheap. If not, I only wasted $7. Calculate the risk vs. reward if something isn’t in perfect condition.
Check the return policy
I didn’t realize until I was in my late teens that you could actually bring things back to Value Village. Often jewellery will be final, but for clothing you can exchange something within 7 days. Always know the rules wherever you shop to avoid disappointment.
Wash everything when you get home
This probably goes without saying, but there is no knowing if the clothing on the racks has been washed before donation. Best to wash it yourself once you get home!
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Anyone who loves fashion knows that we live in a pretty environmentally unfriendly world. If you can’t totally reduce the amount you shop, you can at least lessen the waste and reusing clothing by shopping second hand. Often thrift stores are involved in local charities or run by non-profit organizations as well.
Once you are finished with something that’s still in good condition, pay it forward and donate it back. Occasionally stores like Value Village will also reward you for your donations in store credit or discounts.
If that’s too much work, try a consignment or vintage store
In more curated stores like this, everything has been selected by a buyer/picker. These people know what they are doing and your chances of finding something are pretty good. Items are also generally either laundered by the store or required to be clean upon being consigned. Keep in mind that you will pay a premium for all of the above.
Travel & Thrift
If you’re in another town or city, consider taking a stroll down the aisles of one of their thrift stores. Shopping and vacations often go hand in hand, so this is great way to find some unique pieces that remind you of your trip and stay under budget. I’ve found some really awesome things for a bargain in small town second hand stores.
If you have any other tips to add let me know in the comments!