As the winter months begin to melt away, it’s easy to think about all of the wonderful new things on the horizon: flowers blooming, the end of the school year, and for some of us, a potential new wardrobe. When you start dreaming about buying fresh threads, don’t forget that resale and thrift shops can be a veritable treasure trove for fashion-lovers. "But wait," you say, "what's so great about the thrift store? Doesn't it kind of smell like an attic?" Yes, in fact, it does smell like an attic, but there are plenty of reasons to make thrifting one of your regular shopping stops. I'll tell you a few of them.
- Save money. Clothing at the thrift store usually costs between $5 and $10, so you can leave with a whole haul of new-to-you goodies for less than the cost of a t-shirt at a pricier store.
- Unique finds. A t-shirt with a wolf howling at the moon? Handmade sweaters? Jeans with embroidered flowers all over them? You won’t find these gems at the mall, but the racks at Goodwill are positively overflowing with one-of-a-kind clothing. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about wearing the same outfit as someone else.
- Explore your style. Trends come and go very quickly. By the time you actually snag that new sweater, it’s basically old news. Developing your own sense of style is a process, but thrift shopping can be a great way to try something different and learn what really works for you.
- Vintage gems. Good vintage pieces never go out of style. Thrift stores and resale shops are bursting at the seams (get it?) with one-of-a-kind clothing from decades past that you can’t find anywhere else. Consider looking for a great vintage dress for your next school dance or party.
- Protect people and the planet. The garment industry employs millions of people around the world, often in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. Major companies produce fast fashion at an alarming rate, often at the expense of workers in fields and factories (read more about fast fashion at The Good Trade). The fashion industry is also responsible for producing massive amounts of waste— from throwing away perfectly good clothing that doesn’t sell to working with materials that are bad for the planet (polyester and nylon are both essentially plastic) to using thousands of gallons of water in production— these companies are largely concerned with profit, not people or the planet. Buying clothing secondhand is a way to avoid these unethical practices.
Now that I’ve convinced you to head to Goodwill or Salvation Army for your spring fashion makeover, I have a few tips that will make your thrift experience that much better. Are you ready? You might want to take notes, or print this article out for safe keeping— this is the good stuff.
- Be realistic. Would that dress be perfect on you if it was just 3 inches shorter? Is that sweater gorgeous besides the hole in the elbow? These things might be true, but ask yourself if you’re actually going to bust out your sewing machine or darning kit. If so, go for it! If not, it’s better to leave those items for someone with the time to get them back into fighting shape.
- Check the care instructions. Whether you’re buying clothing online, at the mall, or at the thrift store, always check the care instructions (hint: there’s usually a small tag on the inside left seam of your garment with these instructions). There’s nothing worse than coming home with a great thrift haul to find that half of your new clothes are dry clean only (seriously, who goes to the dry cleaners?). You’ll probably want to steer clear of those items and anything else with complicated washing instructions. Keep it simple.
- Know your fabrics. As you diligently check your clothing tags, you’ll see your clothing is made from fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, satin, wool, chiffon, and many more. It helps to know what to expect from different fabrics. A wool sweater will keep you warm and cozy in the winter, but will probably be itchy without a layer underneath. Linen is a light, breathable fabric for summer, but wrinkles easily and doesn't stretch. Learn the pros and cons of different fabrics at Go Climate’s Guide to Sustainable Fashion Materials so you'll know what's right for your wardrobe.
- Know yourself. Now, I know that I said thrifting is a great way to explore your style, and that is still true. But deep down, you know what you will and won’t wear. A zebra print top might be a great step towards experimenting with patterns— but is a full paisley suit too much? Will you ever really wear those lime green velvet pants? Try to think of at least three different ways that you’d style each item you’re considering. If you’re stumped, you might need to put something back. After all, you want to find clothing that you love and will wear over and over.
- Take your time. There is a lot of stuff at the thrift store: books, pots and pans, sporting equipment, and of course, dozens of clothing racks. Make sure you have plenty of time to explore without pressure. If you don't want to miss anything good, you'll need to take some time to sort through the racks. It also helps to know which sections you're going to focus your time on.
- Make a plan. I tend to go to the thrift store without anything very specific in mind. I don't want to set myself up for disappointment by dreaming of a very distinct pink and green argyle sweater vest when another sweater will do the trick. But it still helps to have a few things in mind that you'd like to find— just make sure you think broadly. Maybe you want to focus on tank tops or flowy skirts. Maybe you want to find something special to wear to a friend's birthday party. Either way, remember what you're looking for, have an open mind and don't be afraid to think outside the box.
Now you have the know-how and the determination to scour the racks and find new-to-you gems at the thrift store. Go forth and thrift. And prepare for all the compliments you'll get on your stylish new wardrobe.