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6 Things to Buy at the Thrift Shop

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6 Things to Buy Secondhand

Scavenging for treasures at thrift stores is one of my favorite pastimes but, admittedly, it can be a bit tedious to find just the right thing. A few weeks ago, I shared 5 things to avoid buying at thrift shops, but my advice doesn’t end there!

Today I want to share the items I prefer to buy at thrift shops over regular retail stores. For me, thrift shops aren’t just more sustainable alternatives to the mall, they’re treasure troves of goods that defy current trends and traditional merchandising standards. My personal preferences (and my body type) don’t always mesh with current trends, so thrift shops provide an essential resource for finding things that work for me across brands, styles, and eras.

1. Durable Cotton Denim

Even if you’re not big into the mom jeans trend, you have to admit that thick, cotton denim from the 1990s and earlier just holds up better than jeggings. Since I carry most of my weight in my hips and thighs, I hunt for high waisted denim with extra room in the hips to make into cut-offs in the summer. Cropping full length jeans allows me to customize the length (booty shorts just aren’t my thing) and they’re a lot more flattering than the flimsy, skin-tight shorts you often find on the market today.

2. Skirts, Skirts, Skirts

Why buy a new midi skirt when you can buy a groovy, vintage one from your local thrift shop? I don’t shop for skirts from traditional retailers at all now that I’ve discovered the skirt wonderland that is the thrift shop. All sorts of patterns, lengths, cuts, and brands are available in a single place, which allows you to try on lots of different things and find the perfect fabric, pattern, and cut. I recently styled a vintage Ralph Lauren Country skirt I thrifted in a The Moral Wardrobe post.

3. Sweaters & Outerwear

Cold weather clothes made of high quality, cozy fabrics like cashmere and wool are expensive, not to mention that a lot of today’s luxury materials just aren’t as high quality as they used to be. That’s why I’ve become a secondhand cashmere hoarder ever since I started working at a thrift shop. I used to stock up on Old Navy sweaters made of acrylic and cotton blends, but they never really held in my body heat like a layering piece should. Now that I have access to cashmere sweaters (at $4.00 a pop!) and the perfect wool toggle coat (for $29.99), winters are a lot more bearable.

4. Statement Dresses & Tops

The ethical fashion world is great at producing high quality, organic cotton basics and I tend to prefer to buy those sorts of things new for the best fit and long term wear. But fun, printed garments produced under fair trade guidelines are either harder for me to find in the right cut or out of my price range, so I seek them out secondhand. Favorite finds: a cold-shoulder top, a ’90s skater dress, a slinky polka dot t-shirt dress, and a Ralph Lauren color-block button-down.

5. Swimsuits

This may surprise you, but I actually prefer to buy swimsuits secondhand. Hygiene issues aside (just be careful to check for wear and wash thoroughly before wearing), the thrift shop provides better variety and better pricing on swimwear. I found the perfect, daisy print halter swim top at a shop in a neighboring town a few years ago (I can officially say that I had a halter swim top before it was cool) and it pairs just fine with the black swim bottoms I already owned. For someone who is neither an hourglass nor a wearer of push-up bras (it always seems like swim companies assume we all fit in those categories), I like being able to select from a wide variety of silhouettes and sizes. In fact, I think my top may be a children’s item.

6. Purses

Though I have a pretty even mix of new and used bags in my collection, I often get more use out of the surprise finds from the thrift shop. I always use a mid-sized crossbody, preferably made of lightweight fabric with lots of organizational pockets. Finding all of that in an ethically produced bag is pretty much impossible, so I keep my eye out for conventional brands with those specs at secondhand shops.

I’m interested to hear your thrift shop victories! Let me know in the comments. 

See my other Shopping Guides.

Read about 5 Things to Avoid at Thrift Shops.

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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Leah Wise

Saturday 30th of July 2016

It's funny, too, because if you shop secondhand enough, you start to forget how much of your favorite stuff didn't belong to you first.

Leah Wise

Saturday 30th of July 2016

Yes! Sheets are so much cheaper secondhand. I've only found one set that fits my mattress at the shop where I work, but I scooped it up as soon as I saw them and now they're my favorite because they've become softer from several washings.

Leah Wise

Saturday 30th of July 2016

Great tip on the gusset hack. I haven't cut down men's sweaters, but that's also a good idea. I need to refresh my sewing and crafting skills.

Leah Wise

Saturday 30th of July 2016

Thank you! And yes on quality. It's terrifying how bad textile quality has become and how little people seem to care about it. That's awesome that you found a lens that's compatible with your camera at a thrift store! That would be the score of the year if I could find that.

Rebekah Jaunty

Wednesday 27th of July 2016

Amen on the sturdy denim. The thrift stores I've found in Germany are all small, so it only takes a few minutes to scan everything in the shop. Plenty of my favorite stuff is secondhand.

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