More than 60 percent of my wardrobe comes from thrift and consignment stores. Would you be able to tell if you saw me on the street?
Minus what I’m wearing now, the photo above shows my entire fall and winter wardrobe. It’s not quite as pared down as when I was participating in the Project 333 challenge, but I still like to keep my wardrobe simple.
I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores such as Savers and Goodwill, and sometimes consignment stores such as Simply Savvy. I do have some items that were purchased new, but buying new is a last resort for me for several reasons: 1) I like to save money. 2) It’s difficult to find ethically produced clothing. 3) Buying secondhand keeps perfectly good clothing from ending up in a landfill. 4) The production and manufacture of textiles and clothing (bleaching, dyeing, finishing) uses enormous amounts of energy and contributes to pollution. 5) I can buy my favorite brands for pennies on the dollar. 6) It’s fun.
Though the perception is changing, some people still feel there is a stigma attached to shopping at thrift stores. It used to be a source of shame, and I think there are people who still worry what people will think if their friends/family/whomever find out they are buying secondhand clothes. But my regular readers know that I don’t give a flying fig about what other people think. If someone compliments me on my outfit, I have no qualms about telling them where I got it and how little I paid. I’m proud of my thrift store prowess!
Here’s what’s currently in my closet:
- a.n.a knee-length denim shorts, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Gap boot-leg jeans, $14.99 (I think) at Simply Savvy
- Talbot’s straight-leg jeans, $6.99 at Goodwill
- White House | Black Market cream-colored long hooded sweater, $27 at Simply Savvy
- Banana Republic lavender V-neck sweater, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Gap teal V-neck sweater, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Plum corduroy blazer, around $10 on clearance from Bass outlet store
- Light green Ann Taylor blazer, $6.99 at Goodwill
- Boden polka-dot cocktail dress, $48 at Simply Savvy consignment store
- Black lace mod cocktail dress, $30-ish at Simply Savvy consignment store
- Bold floral sheer Ann Taylor Loft blouse, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Purple cotton Gap dress, $6.99 at Goodwill
- Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt, purchased new at the University Book Store
- Black and gray drawstring-waist sweater, purchased new at Kohl’s
- Cream lightweight cardigan with ruffles, purchased new at The Limited
- Navy blue wrap sweater, purchased new at H&M
- Ellen Tracy flowy gray cardigan, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Black button-up cardigan, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Calvin Klein gray checked blouse, purchased new at Marshall’s
- Ann Taylor navy ruffled wrap blouse, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Blue drape-neck knit top, purchased new at Marshall’s
- Blue patterned mock turtleneck top, purchased on clearance at Macy’s
- Black turtleneck with gray stripes, purchased new at Target
- Blue long-sleeve T-shirt with white strips, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Ann Taylor Loft rose-colored shawl-neck short-sleeved sweater, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Black short-sleeved sweater with attached white ruffled blouse, purchased new at Macy’s
- White graphic T-shirt, $1.99 at Goodwill
- Red fitted T-shirt, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Ann Taylor Loft gray sleeveless top with ruffles, $3.99 at Goodwill
- Scarlet cami with lace inset, purchased new at Banana Republic
- Coral satin shell, purchased on clearance at Ann Taylor Loft
- Dockers curvy khakis in gray, $6.99 at Goodwill
- Ann Taylor Loft black slacks, $6.99 at Goodwill
- Black casual pants, purchased new at The Limited
There you have it. Out of 34 items, only 13 were purchased new. Other than the turtleneck, which I purchased in a moment of weakness last year to prevent myself from freezing to death in this old, drafty house during the winter, the other “new” items are several years old, from before I started making a consistent effort to live more simply and sustainably.
Finding clothing at thrift and consignment stores can be frustrating at times. I can’t tell you how often I’ve found a killer pair of designer jeans or a really cute top—but the size, color, or style is wrong for me. It can be difficult to let these items go, but it doesn’t make sense to buy things I can’t wear.
When building a secondhand wardrobe, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Look for good-quality, classic pieces that you can mix and match.
These are some examples from my wardrobe:
A nicely tailored jacket in a neutral color is a wardrobe staple.
My last pair of black Ann Taylor slacks lasted me more than 10 years and never looked dated. I only had to replace them because I gained some weight and they no longer fit. These are almost the exact same style in a size larger.
2. Try everything on.
This is critical, since the item may have been altered by the previous owner, shrunk in the wash, etc. Most thrift stores have very limited return policies, and some don’t allow returns at all. It’s not a bargain if it doesn’t fit and flatter.
3. Try different stores.
Some thrift stores are nicer than others. Shop around until you find one (or several) you like. For clothing, I have the best luck at Goodwill, but I find the best home decor and textiles at Savers.
4. Examine each item closely.
Are there any rips or tears? Stains? Is the zipper broken? Are you willing to put in the time and effort to repair it? If not, put it back.
5. Watch for sales.
Yes, thrift stores have sales. At Goodwill in Madison, for example, all clothing with a particular color tag will be 50 percent off on Fridays and Saturdays.
6. Wash clothing before you wear it.
Unless it’s a fabulous item you are willing to pay to dry clean, stick to machine washable clothing. My thrift store purchases go directly into the hamper when I get home.
7. Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap.
Buying more than you need or can use is wasteful, no matter the price tag. If you won’t wear it or don’t need it, leave it behind for someone else.
8. Take your time.
Many thrift stores aren’t as organized as department and retail stores. Sizes are often mis-filed, and clothes can be grouped in odd ways. Our Goodwill stores, for example, sort tops by color, so you’re likely to find a ribbed cotton tank top on the same rack as a silk designer blouse.
9. Shop on weekdays.
If you have a flexible schedule, try shopping during the week instead of on weekends. The weekends are busy shopping days and it can be difficult to browse without getting bumped into every few minutes.
So what do you think of my thrift store wardrobe? If I hadn’t told you, would you have guessed that most of the items in my closet cost less than $10 each?
Maybe for a future post I will take an inventory of all the things we own (not just clothing) that have come from thrift stores, consignment shops, garage sales, and the like. I think it make for quite an impressive list.
Are you a thrift store shopper or no? Either way, I’d love to hear about it.
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