Thrifting isn’t as simple as it sounds, and if you don’t consider what you’re doing, you’re going to end up with a closet (or two … and several boxes) full of clutter.
Trust me, I know. I’ve been there.
I’ve bought dresses with expensive labels that didn’t quite fit right; stacks of books I’ll never read (despite my best intentions); and dishes that just look old, rather than vintage – all because I could buy them for a dollar or two. It became an obsession. How much could I come out with, and for how little?
I thrifted with rose-coloured glasses, seeing value where there really was none. And as a result, I ended up with stuff and stuff and more stuff … a lot of it having to be thrown out relatively soon when I abruptly noticed that it was faded or snagged or stained. And that’s not what I’m about. Yes, I like the idea of recycling discarded goods, but I don’t want my possessions to be disposable. I want quality.
(Quality I can afford.)
Over the years, and with significant help from a thrift-averse husband, I’ve honed my thrifting skills to the point where I can actually walk out of a secondhand shop without buying a thing. (This is good. This shows power, and control.) And nowadays when I buy something, it’s quality that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. But it’s been a process.
Here are my tips for crafting a quality, thrifted wardrobe:
1. Have a goal.
Personally, I want my life (all-around) to be simple, uncluttered, and high-quality. And this includes any new acquisitions I make, so when I walk into any store I’m looking for quality.
So what determines quality? I’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s talk about when and where to shop.
2. Some days are better than others.
My favourite-ever Goodwill store has $1 Thursdays, where every tag of a certain colour is $1. I found my favourite sweater (Abercrombie), my favourite workout pants (North Face), my laptop bag (Patagonia) and a gorgeous Calvin Klein dress (with the $180 price tag still on it) for $1 each by shopping on that day. I can’t even buy a coffee for $1.
3. Some shops are better than others.
I focus on particular thrift stores where I seem to do well, because I figure the people donating there must be similar to me in style. Try affluent suburbs. Check out sections of ‘better quality’ clothes. Don’t waste your time — it’s precious.
4. First glance: look at the fabric.
You can tell a lot about the quality of clothing via the look, feel, and weight of the fabric. You know what good fabric is. The point of thrifting is that you can afford the good stuff.
Some features to look for are: uncommon detail or unusual textures; well-sewn seams and buttons; a certain sturdiness in the fabric (even for light fabrics.)
Some features to avoid are: fading (a particular problem for black clothes); pilling or snags; fraying; stains; uneven colouring; or translucency (unless that’s the style). Tears or rips in seams can be ok if you feel comfortable fixing them, but don’t put too much stock in repair jobs or alterations. In my hands, chances are the clothes will go into a ‘to-sew’ pile that will never see daylight again; better not to buy them in the first place.
5. Second glance: look at labels.
Because my goal is quality, I’m actively looking for labels associated with quality — and if I find something in my size, I’m likely to try it on. Of course, just because something says ‘DKNY’ doesn’t mean it’s been cared for properly — it may not even be worth the $3.99 pricetag. But if it has been cared for, it might just mean that it’ll last you long time. Making it very worth it.
6. Finally, how does it fit?
This is the most important of all. You have to be able to critically assess the fit of thrifted clothing, because ultimately it’s the fit that’ll determine whether it ever sees the light of day once you take it home. You want clothes that flatter you; that blend well into your existing wardrobe; that suit your style. If you put it on and it makes you feel good – that’s value. Otherwise, hang it back on the rack. Even spending $5 is a waste if you’re not going to wear it.
So. Thrifting can be a cheap and eco-friendly way to enhance the quality of your wardrobe – but only if you’re discriminating about what you buy. It’s taken me years to learn this lesson, but I think I’ve finally got it. I’m in control. Well. Most of the time …
Guest author Amanda shares organic recipes and ideas for sustainable, simple living at her blog Easy Peasy Organic.