I love thrift stores: the pre-loved clothing crowded on racks rich with past lives and probably dust, mismatched flatware and commemorative beer mugs so you can fondly recall the Stella you drank in Florida last winter, and the smell, a combination of attic-ridden Christmas decorations and your grandma’s closet (the one with the Danish cookie tin full of sewing supplies). Thrifting and buying second hand is on the rise as vintage styles undergo a renaissance and sustainability becomes essential to young people. I know I can’t resist a trip to the nearest thrift store. It’s an adventure that exercises creativity and allows anyone to push the bounds of personal style and expression. I personally go into thrift stores with no expectation so as to keep an open mind. What do I buy? When it comes to clothing, I typically shop within three main categories.
Your closet needs a solid foundation of neutral and practical articles that you can seamlessly accessorize and pair with just about anything. Here is not the time to harp on designer names. Second hand basics can come from anywhere, but it is nice to find higher quality pieces that will last longer. Beige, brown, black, white and grey items as well as denim are valuable finds at any thrift store. Also, staples that you have difficulty finding in your size at other retail shops. I’m 5ft tall (5ft short, rather) and can never find maxi skirts and dresses that don’t drag on the floor. With the range of styles, sizes and decades represented at most thrift stores, it’s easy to find size and shape outliers. It may take digging, but it’s worth it.
Quirky Statement Pieces
Thrift stores are treasures troves for weird and unusual clothing. Of my statement pieces, silly embroidered chambray shirts are my favorites. This is the time to bring retro patterns and colors into your wardrobe. It’s also the perfect place to find ugly sweaters and comical t shirts previously worn by cool dads and 80’s nerds alike. These pieces bring out your personality, and offer an inexpensive way to push your own wardrobe’s boundaries and have some fun. This is an opportunity to go wild in the accessory section and find the beaded bag or dad hat of your dreams. It’s an opportunity to look through all sections of the store, men’s, women’s, pajamas, to find the piece that suits you. It’s these pieces that rightfully garner the most attention from friends and colleagues, even if sometimes that attention is in the form of “what is that?”
Designer Labels and Luxury Pieces
Here is when the label matters. If you’re reading this, you definitely don’t get paid enough to drop cash on luxury brands or premium fabrics. Smaller local thrift stores or consignment shops typically offer a more curated selection, but sometimes increase the price knowing the value of what they’re carrying. No matter, it will still be less expensive and more eco-friendly than buying something brand new. I’ve been fortunate enough to find cashmere turtleneck sweaters and a brand new (tags! still! on!) Michael Kors pencil skirt for less than $10. My boyfriend scored with a full Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece navy blue suit (retailed at a few thousand dollars) for less than $15. Here is where you maybe want to also consider shelling out extra money for alterations if the piece is valuable and right.
Now I’m aware that not everyone can shop for new items at environmentally friendly, ethically made clothing stores. Some people may not even be able to shop at higher end consignment shops depending on tier, or even thrift stores due to travel. This doesn’t mean you can’t still wear sustainable clothes AND be fashionable. Swapping clothes with friends and family is an environmentally friendly and FREE way to refresh your wardrobe, especially when it comes to formal wear and highly seasonal or specific pieces. Cull your closet and invite friends to do the same. Dump your clothes out and swap.
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