It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve become dedicated to buying secondhand clothes. My attention to ethical clothes shopping started in 2013 when over 1,000 people died in the collapse of the Bangladesh garment factory. After that event I started to educate myself on the fashion industry and what I learned is that it’s a dirty business. It’s hard to ignore the news regarding fast fashion. It’s disgusting and yet we shrug our shoulders and run to the store to buy cheap clothes. I’d argue we can make a difference in part by shopping used. There are humanitarian, ecological, and economic benefits of buying secondhand clothes that can have a positive change on the world. Now, I almost exclusively purchase used clothing, and along the way I’ve learned some valuable lessons.
Avoid Fast Fashion Brands
I avoid buying from the biggest fast fashion offenders, like Gap, H&M, Forever 21, ZARA, and Target. Even purchasing secondhand clothing from these companies encourages production of fast fashion. If you start thrifting, you’ll notice the racks are crowded with these brands. It becomes almost sickening to see the excess and the waste. I vote with my dollars by not supporting these companies.
Seek Natural Materials
In my shift towards living a more sustainable and ecological life, I’ve given great consideration to the materials my clothes are constructed from. Now most of the clothes I purchase are made from 100 percent natural fibers, such as wool, linen, cotton, and silk. I avoid synthetic fibers because they are man-made from non-renewable resources and are treated heavily with chemicals. Synthetic fibers are non-biodegradable, compared to natural fibers that decompose quickly.
Look for Excellent Quality and Condition
The cost for secondhand clothing is substantially less, which can entice a shopper to care less about quality. I prefer to keep a minimal wardrobe, so I still apply a critical eye when buying used. I look for well-constructed clothing, paying attention to stitching, seams, closures, and hems. I only buy clothes in excellent condition and leave behind anything threadbare, stained, ripped, or pilled.
Buy the Right Size
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found an item I loved, but it was too big. I’ll take it home with thoughts of either altering it or wearing it over-sized. Rarely is either a good choice. I’m a pretty good seamstress, but I’m not a tailor, and when I do my own alterations the clothing doesn’t hang right. And over-sized clothes just aren’t flattering. With that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to have a quality piece of secondhand clothing professionally altered.
Be Realistic When Considering a Project
I’ve purchased clothing with the idea to refashion it into something new. Usually the project doesn’t get completed or I’m not satisfied with the results. My best success was simply changing the buttons on a secondhand cardigan, but I’ve learned to leave most projects at the thrift store.
Purchase for You
I’ve made the mistake of purchasing clothes that I like, but they’re not really my style or a color that I normally wear. Those clothes don’t get worn and end up being donated back to the thrift store. It’s also not necessary to clog your closet with clothes that don’t fit your lifestyle. Don’t fall into the trap of buying clothes for the person you want to be or think you should be.
There’s an abundance of places to purchase secondhand clothing. I typically shop at ARC and Goodwill, but there are many smaller, boutique consignment stores that tend to be cleaner and with a better edited selection. There are even online thrift stores. Ebay and Craigslist are other places to shop, especially if you’re looking for something specific. Just like shopping new, you’ll find your preferred stores. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find the right fit immediately – keep shopping around.
You Don’t Have to be a “Shopper” to Thrift
I used to be amazed by friends who scored some awesome secondhand items. I had this belief that you have to be a shopper and be willing to go through racks and racks of clothing to get the finds. I can tell you, I’m not a shopper, and I have tons of success thrifting. The key is learning how to shop. I rarely shop the whole store, but only hit the racks carrying the items I’m interested in. I use the above criteria, which quickly eliminates 95 percent of the items (if not more). I’m willing to go home empty handed, and often do. My most recent score was a $5 pair of 7 For All Mankind jeans, that retail for $178. I found them within a minute of looking at the jeans rack at ARC. Learning how to shop can pay off.
Love What You Buy
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to leave it if you don’t love it. You’ll know when you touch a garment, when you try it on for fit, when you check it over for quality and condition whether it’s meant for you. If there’s any question in your mind, leave it behind.