Only 10% of items in thrift stores get sold. This is a scary statistic. The rest typically gets dumped in landfills here, or shipped off to 3rd world countries in the form of ‘donations’ and dumped in clothing dumps and landfills there. Scary right? This makes it a worthy incentive to shop secondhand. Thrifting can be an intimidating process for those who have never thrifted before. Buying secondhand can be one of the best ways to reduce your carbon, water, and waste footprint. Here are some of my top tips for thrifting clothes!
1. Develop or find your personal style
It can be really hard to shop in a thrift store when you’re not used to it. You may get the feeling of “what on Earth am I supposed to be looking for anyway?” if you’re not in for a specific item. Most of this is due to lack of advertising and curated mannequin outfits. Without someone directly TELLING you what you want, it can be hard to know what you like. Look at your current closet, and notice what you actually wear. Do you like a specific neckline? Is a fit of shirt your favorite? Do you like earthy or jewel tones? If you can’t pinpoint what you like in your closet, make a Pinterest board. You’ll notice patterns! For example, here’s mine. You can tell I like a lot of classic as well as vintage styles, and earth tones and neutrals. It’s also fun to just search a certain “aesthetic”- if you’re gen z or a millenial you probably know what I mean- the one I like most for my closet is “dark academia”.
2. Look for quality
It can be so tempting to run into a Plato’s Closet or Goodwill and grab a secondhand item from Forever 21 or H&M. And I’m not gonna lie, it can feel great when you find something from a store you used to like. Plus, keeping fast fashion out of landfill as long as possible is really important. But, these items are often cheap for a reason and can rip and tear easily, wasting you money in the long run. Sometimes quality new is more sustainable if you will wear it for years.
3. Buy things in your size range
This can seem like a no brainer, but often times people grab things too big or small for them because they find something super special. Thrifting is a treasure hunt and it can be difficult to accept that something really cool is not in your size. Also, smaller sized people sometimes grab things in the L to XL range in order to shorten/crop pieces and make them more fitted. Although this seems fun, I encourage everyone with smaller sizes to stay within your size range. This can limit options for those with larger sizes. No one wants to wear old folks clothes, and don’t limit others to that.
4. Look online
When looking for a specific style, color, size, neckline, etc- basically specific anything! going in person to a thrift store is usually not your best bet. Luckily, there are so many online options to choose from. Also, many secondhand resale sites you buy directly from the seller, a real person, so you can ask more specific questions about its measurements and fit. Sure it’s great to reduce what gets thrown away at thrift stores, but it’s best to cut out the wasteful middle man and buy directly from the potential donater. When shopping online, use filters to your advantage and shop for your favorite brands, styles, colors, even fabric. Some good sources for online thrifting is Facebook marketplace, thredup.com, swap.com, Mercari, Poshmark, and Depop. Pro tip for Depop- you can search “aesthetics” there too, as well as find vintage clothing. And tip for thredup- USE THE FILTERS!!!
5.Prioritize natural fabrics
Most clothing has some kind of plastic fiber nowadays- polyester, nylon, fleece, rayon, and other synthetic fabrics shred teeny tiny particles of plastic, called microplastics or nanoplastics, into our waterways when washed in the washing machine and cannot be filtered out with our current systems. This contaminated water makes its way into our oceans, drinking water, food, and bodies. It’s totally ok to purchase clothing in these fabrics when first thrifting because selection is so limited, but it’s definitley something to prioritize and keep in mind. Because I keep a lot synthetic fiber clothing, I use a Cora ball to catch microfibers which I toss into my washing machine. (Note that strappy clothing can get caught so use a delicate bag for those). You can also use a Guppyfriend washing bag to wash synthetics as well.
Before rejecting something at the thrift store, first think- can this be hemmed? Can I sew the button back on? Can I fix this hole or embroider it? Look past an article of clothing’s current state and note its potential. Sometimes good quality clothing can just use some love.