Finding a Bit of Thrift Store Magic Online

online thrift stores that are close to the real thing

Online Thrift Shopping, Like the Real Thing

I, like many, miss the stress-relieving, treasure-offering, multi-layered-detergent-smelling wonder of the thrift shop in this time of social distancing.

I think there are two categories of people: those who love the thrift shop and those who don’t. This post is for those of us who love it, not simply for the good deals or the sustainability of buying secondhand, but for the thrill of the hunt, the nostalgia, the delightful chaos, and the way it makes us feel connected to the previous wearers.

Thrift shops are for storytellers, ready to spin a tale about where a polyester dress or faded overalls took their previous owners.

They’re for community connections, open to chance conversations with fellow customers and staff.

They’re for magical encounters, bringing the thing you always wanted into your cart and into your arms.

And they’re for reminding us that we are all connected, even down to the things we purchase.

If you’re missing that – as I know I am – I have a few recommendations for online options that scratch the itch. They’re nowhere near the real thing, but they’re something.

This guide is not a breakdown of secondhand retailers. It’s a guide to options that get a little closer to the strange and wonderful experience of the physical thrift store.

How to Get the Gritty Thrift Store Experience Online

1 | GoodFair

GoodFair specializes in thrift shop chic, otherwise known as normcore (if that’s still a thing?) They keep their prices incredibly low by offering bundles of particular styles of clothing. You specify your size and color preferences and they’ll choose the specific pieces to send.

GoodFair doesn’t pre-wash clothing unless requested, so you’ll get your pieces just the way any thrifter likes them: with the co-mingled fragrances of the previous owner on them (wash them, obviously).

I recently bought a men’s button-down bundle ($25) and ended up with the perfect, oversized, worn-in house shirts, shown in this post.

2 | Etsy Vintage

If I’m looking for a specific style or era of item – like, let’s say, a 1980s cotton a-line skirt – I like to check Etsy before I head over to Ebay. Vintage sellers are more likely to list the item accurately and completely in titles, which helps you narrow down size, style, and brand preferences.

If I love an item, but can’t stomach the price, I use keywords for that specific item on Ebay and see if I can find the same piece for less.

3 | Ebay Pre-owned

If you’re looking for something in a general category OR for a very specific, non-vintage piece at an affordable price, Ebay is a great option. I like to click the “Buy It Now” and/or “Accepts Offers” search buttons and make sure “Pre-Owned” is selected in the sidebar menu.

That way, results will contain only secondhand items that I can quickly make an offer on rather than waiting around for an auction-style listing to end.

I recently bought a green a-line skirt ($15) and a pair of Converse high-tops (also $15).

4 | Darling Boutique

My Charlottesville friend, Linnea, owns a consignment store that has gone online due to the pandemic.

New arrivals are listed on the Darling Facebook page each week. Ask about size and price first, then have it shipped to you.

5 | Instagram Vintage & Thrift Shops

To be honest, this is not how I prefer to shop, but I’m mentioning it briefly here just so you know it’s an option.

Other Tips + Thoughts

  1. Ask questions! Especially when you’re dealing with individual sellers, they’re very receptive and quick to respond to questions. Make sure you know details like sizing and condition.
  2. Ask for combined shipping on Etsy and Ebay if you’re interested in several items.
  3. Use these sites exactly as you would a physical thrift store. Think about what you want in terms of categories, styles, colors, and price point, then search in several different ways to find what you’re looking for.
  4. Be patient! Just like thrift stores, sometimes the thing you want is hidden on the last page, or not listed yet.

Related Posts:

P.S. Even though it’s super popular, I didn’t mention ThredUp because their prices are ridiculous and their search tool has a lot of problems.

Leah Wise

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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  1. Hi! we recently opened an online thrift shop and i was wondering if you could check us out, maybe give us some feedback on what we could do better??
    http://www.thriftythrifterson dot com

  2. Just ordered some t-shirts through Goodfair. Thanks for sharing. What a fun concept!

    1. Hooray! I am wearing one of mine now…because I wear them every day. Hope you love your order.

  3. I’ve been quite lucky on Poshmark as well.

    1. That’s good to hear. I often find it less satisfying and a bit higher priced than other sites, but when I’m looking for a specific item, I look there.

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