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The Pros and Cons of Thrifting for Workwear

thrifting-for-workwearWhat are best practices for getting workwear at the thrift store?  What are the pros and cons?  Reader JP wonders:

I’d love to see some people’s thoughts on THRIFTING. Macklemore seems to have popularized it. I’ve become an avid thrifter in the past year. This week I bought a Tory Burch shirt for $2. Curious to see the opinion of others.

Great question, JP! We’ve talked about workwear on eBay before, but not this (and now may be a great time to revisit that discussion — please tell us your favorite eBay finds in the comments!).   I know there’s been a fair amount of discussion of thrifting in the comments, and I believe one reader even set up her own blog to catalog her thrift store finds.  Personally I’ve never gotten into thrifting as much as I perhaps should have — in New York I’ve always felt that a) bedbugs are a concern in anything cloth and b) the hardcore fashion people are getting the good stuff anyway, so why even bother?  (I’ve read far too many profiles of random stylists and PR women to hear about how their ritual is waking up at 6 AM to go thrifting, or how the women at the consignment store just know them, etc., etc.).  My reluctance aside, though, thrifting is great for the environment as well as the wallet (and other reasons), so it’s a great hobby to get into.  I’ve always heard that the best way to go thrifting is to:

  • find the thrift store (or consignment store) in the ritziest neighborhood
  • find out when the thrift store puts out new inventory (every Tuesday, say)
  • go early, go often (and get to know the staff)

Thrift store shopping can be a bit more difficult than shopping at the regular store, though, so there are a few caveats.  First, things may be there from all sorts of time periods, so I’d either suggest picking classic pieces, or pieces that you truly love/know look fabulous on you so much that you don’t care if you don’t look “on trend” or even look a bit dated.  (Watch out for the shoulders of blazers — the puff sleeve craze of a few years ago would generally look dated now, and the width of lapels can also vary with the trends.)  Furthermore, brand identifier isn’t necessarily going to be that informative of quality as it may be in a regular store — tags may be missing or so old that you don’t recognize (for example) that it’s the factory store tag instead of the regular brand tag — so it also helps to have a solid understanding of which fabrics you like, how seams are constructed, which details are worth paying for, and so forth. (This is also true of stores like TJ Maxx that buy a lot of discounted merchandise.)  Finally: trying clothes on is kind of essential when you’re thrifting, because you never know what alterations someone made to the clothes before they thrifted them — if something is hemmed too short there’s very little you can do about it.

With all that said, though, with enough time and energy I think there are amazing deals to be had — even I managed to Instagram this picture a few weeks ago when I passed the local thrift store that had a ton of white Theory pants on sale for $10.  I was en route somewhere else, but I stopped to rifle through them — winter whites, summer whites, white wool, white cotton, white denim… most of them new with MSRP tags listing prices around $295.  A lot of the pants seemed to be without sizes, though (and the sizes I did see were super small), so I passed on by…

 Readers, how often do you shop at thrift stores for workwear — and what do you get there? What are some of your favorite finds?  (In a semi-related discussion: what do you get at eBay? Do they compare in your mind?)

thrifting workwear

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thrifting for workwear

Comments

  1. LilyStudent :

    If you’re going thrifting, it can be good to carry a tape measure. If you know you need, say, 40 inches around in a non-stretch top, you can measure that and ignore the size label.

    • TheGraduate :

      Second this: “ignore the size label” i.e. unless the item also comes from a store or brand you recognize e.g. Ann Taylor, JCrew, Banana Republic, Talbots etc. A skirt may be labelled size 12 or 14 and you think “oh that’s too big” or alternatively “why does it look that small?” and you pass it by. But if you had a tape measure or if you tried it on you would realize the its in UK sizing which might translate to US Size 6 or 8…

      I think one of the drawbacks of thrifting in a huge city might be the amount of traffic in the store i.e. they might be getting loads of new stuff but it gets picked over just as fast. And yes I would also worry about bugs, so if you buy something always wash before storing away with other garments. Also while going for brands can be helpful sometimes the stores over price something just because it’s a brand name–I have seen this in the my local Goodwill. Does not make sense to me because really, the items are second-hand and unless there is a marked difference in construction or fabric quality, I don’t see the point. Sometimes one might even get better deals at stores like TJ Maxx where the clearance section can have items marked between $10-20, especially good for off season items or those styles that you might personally prefer but other people passed over.

      I think for work, thrifting is good for one item here and there. IMO it would be hard to create an entire wardrobe from thrifting alone especially for more conservative dress codes. It’s great when you are a student or in grad school. I’ve had a lot of luck with casual stuff like summer skirts, blazers (excluding black-this seems like a color everyone wears until the end…), work wear skirts/dresses e.g. Ann Taylor, LOFT etc

  2. I’ve never had luck thrifting. I try occasionally and all I find is old polyester

    • Diana Barry :

      Ditto. I am also lacking in time, so I don’t have time to shop, let alone go through racks and try stuff on. :)

  3. Must be Tuesday :

    I love thrifting!

    I’ve found some great workwear at thrift stores, including blazers, pants, matched suits, blouses and sweaters. My favorite thrift store finds include: a Theory suit for $12, class black 8-eye Dr Martens for $8 (not workwear, but I love my Docs), and a Mark Jacobs bag for $12 (it had a rip, but the rip was very close to the bottom seam and I gambled that it could be fixed easily by my shoe repair people, and I was right). I find J Crew sweaters and t-shirts, Banana Republic suits and tops, and everything Ann Taylor and LOFT to be well represented in my area thrift stores.

    I regularly go to the thrift store a block from my house whenever the mood strikes. I also frequently go to Goodwill after my Sunday yoga class; it’s in a good neighborhood and has 50% off certain items on Sundays. I hit other thrift stores here and there. Frequent shopping helps, along with keeping an open mind about what I’m looking for on any given day. It’s hard to thrift shop for specific items like a black button-front silk fitted blouse or a grey pant-suit with a 2-button jacket. It’s easier to shop for broader categories wool sweaters or silk blouses or any suit (pants or skirt) that fits.

    I tend to go into the thrift store with the intent to search a certain section, whether that’s sweaters, or blouses or jackets or dresses or suits. I rarely search more than 3 sections in a single trip. I focus on fabrics and colors and cuts first, and if something catches my eye, I check brand, sizing and look for any stains or holes, and I particularly check underarms for sweat stains, and I hold the item up to me to get an approximate idea of whether it’s likely to fit. If the item still interests me after that, it goes into my basket to try on. Goodwill has a fitting room. If I’m going to a thrift store that doesn’t have a fitting room, I’ll wear something like leggings or skinny jeans and a slim fitting tank top or t-shirt (as a base layer or on its own, depending on weather) so I can try on items over my clothes. I usually try on anywhere from 10-30 items, and rarely buy more than 5 or 6, usually it’s more like 1-3 items purchased.

    • Great tips from Must be Tuesday (also, Buffy fan? h/t to your username). I want to second: be prepared to try things on over your clothes right there in the aisle – not all thrift stores have changing rooms and sizes vary greatly, plus things may have been altered. Also, have goal items: a long sleeve silky shirt, camisoles, pencil skirts, grey blazer. If you try to shop the whole store you’ll have decision fatigue by the end and make some questionable purchases.

      Just want to add, shopping at the ritziest neighborhoods is not always a pro tip, a lot of stores take bulk shipments from outside the area to re-sell.

    • Must be Tuesday- that’s a great strategy! I have ADD and get overwhelmed with choices.

      My biggest problem thrifting is that I’m short so many jackets and dresses won’t work on me, even with (too expensive) alterations. There aren’t often “petite” sections at thrift stores.

      • Anonymous :

        If you have a good tailor, the cost of a thrifted item + alteration cost < cost of new item of poorer quality fabric and/or construction. I've done this a couple times, since I have trouble finding nice petite suits lately.

  4. I love thrifting! I’ve gotten some of my best work pieces at thrift or consignment stores. I definitely second the suggestion to go to thrift/consignment stores in more upscale areas–you’ll probably pay a bit more, since they tend to know what they have more than say, Goodwill, but I’ve found that the selection is better and the quality of the clothing tends to be higher. I would also recommend being way more open to trying on things in weird sizes, if you like the look of it; the thrifted dress I’m wearing today is in a smaller size than would usually work for me, but then I also got another sheath dress over the weekend that’s two sizes bigger than what I’d normally reach for.

    I find it difficult to go into a thrift store looking for something specific–so if I need a black, suiting-material sheath dress I’ll just go to J Crew or Ann Taylor–but I’ve gotten some really fantastic pieces by going in and being open to what’s there. I’ve gotten some great, workhorse dresses that I never would have afforded otherwise, and have also had good luck with boots and cashmere. But really it’s what happens to be there on the day.

  5. Our Junior League has a thrift store and it gets donations from many area stores of their stale (to them) merchandise (the owners are often league members). But I only buy things that are true lucky finds (Gucci scarf!) that I would want to have but couldn’t justify the expense in my usual budget. Otherwise, you could just buy too much quantity because the cost is so low.

    • My previous JL also ran a thrift store. Many of the donations came from League members. My husband scoffed at buying thrift store clothes until I came home with great condition Brooks Brothers shirts for him.

  6. Tuesday brought up some great points that I use as well. I will second that you can’t really go into it with super-specific needs. “Black shirt” is about as specific as I get, but more often than not, I usually go in just to look for “pants” or “skirts” rather than specific pieces.

    Thrifting has definitely opened my mind to styles and colors that I would not have otherwise picked out.

    Another tip–not only to try to choose the “ritziest” thrift shop in town, but time your visits according to seasonality. When the seasons start to change, folks tend to comb through closets to get rid of old or ill-fitting pieces. Also, there is a lot more donation of clothes to places like GW and the Y toward the end of the year for people’s tax purposes. Lastly, if you live in an area with a “seasonal” population, shop those turnover times too. I live near a university, and end-of-semester (especially in May) is a great time to shop, because all of the college kids are offloading everything they don’t want to move.

  7. On the Ebay question, I’ve found that it always sounds better than it is. I’ve bought shoes and maternity-wear, and I think that every time it’s been something that winds up “OK, but I wouldn’t have bought it if I had seen it in person first.” Which is annoying, since then it becomes that item that’s not bad enough to get rid of or refuse to wear, but that you never feel great about wearing. I guess it would be worthwhile if you’d had an opportunity to check out the same item in person first (i.e., you know the brand, style, size already); I’ve generally had good luck with things being what they were represented to be, but I don’t think that I’d buy anything again just based on thinking that I would like it from the picture. Too hard to tell.

    • On ebay I’ve actually had better luck looking for a specific item. You can have ebay save searches and send you alerts when something matching your search shows up. For instance, I found a VS sequin blouse that’s perfect for the holidays for nearly half of the full price.

  8. Frozen Peach :

    Cannot second enough the “choose the riziest thrift shop in town” comment. You pay more, but it’s much more efficient.

    Also, beware the “but it’s so cheap” trap. Don’t buy it unless you really, truly love it and would buy it new. Otherwise you can end up with a lot of halfhearted stuff that you rarely wear and end up donating a year or two later.

    • Also true. I bought a lot in the beginning of my thrift-career, but I am much pickier now. When I started, though, I was basically building a wardrobe from the ground up. I had very little workwear that fit, and so I just needed volume. Now that my weight has evened out, I’m more able to hone in on my purchases.

    • Meg Murry :

      Yes, I am currently going through my closet to re-donate some items to Goodwill that I just don’t wear for one reason or another. But its still worth it to me in the end if only a few items wind up going back.
      I work in a very casual office, so I’ve found pieces that work for me at Goodwill, etc – but I don’t think I could if I worked at a dressier place for whole outfits – although I’ve found good deals on shirts to go under blazers, or cardigans, and decent dressy-ish pants.
      I’ve also found better pieces that i like more at a local resale/consignment shop that is a little bit picky about what they take, as opposed to the dumping ground that s Goodwill – but its totally hit or miss as to whether they will have something in my size or style the day I go.
      One last tip is always to check 1-2 sizes up or more – a lot of things wind up donated because the previous owner shrunk them in the wash. I found my son a bunch of kid-sized wool sweaters that I’m pretty sure were originally men’s sizes.

  9. I’m in between sizes as I lose weight and recently went thrifting for the first time. My goal was jeans. Fortunately, the thrift store I went to had defined sections, including petite and plus. My friend, who is a thrifting veteran, advised combing the whole store because people drop stuff as they go along. Plus, I was able to get things that I never imagined would fit if I had based it on size alone. However, if I hadn’t been with her (who is a great sounding board for “does this look questionable?”), I probably would have been overwhelmed. Having an honest friend talk me out of some potentially hideous purchases *just* because they were $3 was helpful.

  10. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always had good luck finding high end consignment places for work wear. “Thrifting” not so much because it conjures up dirty, musty stores, but consignment absolutely. The trick is finding a well-curated store.

    In D.C., working women NEED to check out Secondi in Dupont. I get so much work wear there! Elie Tahari, Anne Klein (the main line, not the cheap mall stuff), J.Crew, Brooks Brothers. I’d say Banana Republic is the bottom rung of what they’ll accept. I just got a beautiful dark green Elie Tahari wool sheath dress that the owner could have only worn once, if she ever wore it at all. It was $90, but considering it was $400 new, it was worth it to me. I got a J.Crew pencil skirt (the winter wool one on their website now) for $27. I stop in once every two weeks – it’s next door to my nail salon ;).

  11. All of my coach bags and Kate spades karolina pumps were bought uses on ebay ( not technically a thrift store but at least 75% off retail.

    • anon-oh-no :

      I have a handful of shoes — 2 pair of manolos, a pair of jimmy choos, valentinos, and brian atwoods — that I got from therealreal. None of them could have been worn more than one or two times, and 2 pairs were never worn. All told, I probably paid $900 for all 5 pairs, which is a fabulous deal considering they all retail for $600 bucks or more.

  12. It seems like thrifting could be useful for women whose bodies are in transition, such as those in search of affordable maternity wear or those in a weight loss program who have yet to reach their target weight.

    • This is exactly the reason that I got into it (body-changing weight loss), but I am finding now that it allows me to have the wardrobe that I want, even though I am at a stable, target weight. I no longer have to really save, or just go without, because I couldn’t afford a pair of good pants. Now, I am almost guaranteed to find a pair of Banana, Loft, or JCrew pants at my local GW every time I go. Thrifting allows me to experiment more, and not feel bad if I wear something once or twice, don’t love it, and give it back.

      I also have trouble finding clothes to fit me well off the rack in regular stores, so tacking on a tailoring fee to retail prices puts almost all pants, dresses and skirts out of my price range. $4 for a pair of pants, plus $13 for hemming is totally worth it to me.

  13. I’m an occasional thrifter. NYC does have a ton of options on this front but the NYC-specific issues in a lot of stores seem to be that a) the best stuff gets picked up very quickly, and b) the stores seem to know this is a city-wide hobby and price things higher. That said, you can still find great deals on clothes and furniture, I just can’t bring myself to consider a $120 DvF dress from two seasons ago a “bargain.”

    Some other thoughts Kat doesn’t mention:
    1. I always wash/dry clean the item right away (my bedbug solution), often without even taking it home (for dry clean items).
    2. Remember that sizing is different depending on the period. Even if it’s an old Ann Taylor skirt from 10 years ago, odds are you’re going to need to go up a size or two, so be prepared.
    3. Sweaters are the best thing to buy because they tend to be much better quality. I have cashmere sweaters that I bought in 2005 at a thrift store that look better now than cashmere sweaters I bought new last year. One of them I bought for $5. Blazers/pants are the worst because I think they can look the most dated.
    4. Shop around – some places are known for certain items, some stores have lots of X sizes, some have great furniture, etc.
    5. Get to know staff – they can tell you about special events, bag sales (where you can fill a bag for $x), etc.

    • So agree on #3. I got a beautiful cashmere J. Crew sweater for less than $20 at a thrift store last winter, and it’s in excellent condition. It quickly became one of my favorite sweaters. I think sweaters are also easier to shop before because it’s pretty easy to hold them up and tell if they’ll fit you with only a small margin of error. Pants and blazers can have weird shapes that you might not be able to tell just by looking at them.

    • Hi, do you know any places in places in NYC that might be good for thrifting a women’s suit. I’m in high school and I need to find a suit for exhibitions and a few interviews. Ideally, I would want to spend under $40.00. I usually wear size 6 in suits and I prefer a slimmer cut.

      Thanks!

  14. I found my most favorite pair of jeans thrifting. I also get the majority of my children’s clothes from consignment shops, almost all name brand pieces that look brand new for a very low price.

  15. I’m a grad student on a budget and almost all of my clothes are thrifted. I can get away with looking less polished than most of you, but there are a lot of great tips on here that I agree with.

    A few more:
    – If you have a good eye it can be worth doing a quick drive-by through the men’s section. Thrift employees can misread the gender on things like blazers and button downs. So I’m not talking about buying men’s clothes but that you might find women’s stuff misplaced in the men’s.
    – Bedbugs can be found in new clothes too, Kat. Gawker traced the big NYC outbreak of a few years ago to H and M.
    – I’ll often do a quick run down the aisle looking for things that catch my eye, but if I find something in my size/style, stop and go one-by-one through the rack. It’s not uncommon for folks to unload a whole wardrobe at once and they often end up hung fairly close together.
    – If you’re towards the plus size end of the spectrum, you won’t find much in studenty areas or very haute curated vintage shops. Try church thrift stores instead (in my experience) or wealthier suburban areas.

  16. Macklemore did not popularizing thrifting. People who can’t afford the full cost of quality clothing have been thrifting for decades.

    • TheGraduate :

      + 1 – I think the song only made those who had never thrifted become aware of it..

    • LilyStudent :

      I think it might have made it ‘cooler’ for people who had been aware of it but had never thought of doing it. My mother had friends when I was small who were shocked that I was dressed almost entirely from secondhand shops. (Funny story: The exact same dresses that must have been about 7 years old by the time I was wearing them were still making their way around all of the thrift shops in my hometown until I was about 8, with hundreds of little girls wearing them in total)

  17. I have great results on eBay if I put a very specific item on “Watch.” I’ve landed last year’s high-end blouses and dresses for which I would not pay full price but still wanted at great savings.. For example, Mark Jacobs “Burnside” dress, size __. Poof! As they’re listed, I get an email and can look at the listing and decide if I want to buy. It’s like magic! For thrifting, I wander in to such stores with an open mind, just to see if there is anything fabulous that I didn’t even know I wanted. The savings are amazing and the finds can be spectacular. I view it as a bit of a treasure hunt.

    • +1

      I also sell on Ebay unless I’m pretty confident I can’t get much for it. Most of my name brand used sweaters/tops (ie Loft) go for $8-$12 which to me is worth it. I’ve sold for more.

  18. Anonymous :

    Thrifting grosses me out big time, however I do sell my own gently used clothing on eebay. I only wear designer / high-end clothing but wouldn’t have been able to do so if I couldn’t sell my gently used items.

  19. Moonstone :

    Thrifting is enjoyable for me, especially when I am in the mood to go shopping but don’t really have an item in mind. For 10 bucks, I come home with a few new things. I take more chances at a thrift store — skirt shorter than usual? Sure. Color I don’t normally wear? You bet. Item that is either fabulous or too weird? Once I get it home, I often see how great it is.

    WRT bugs, everything goes straight into the dryer on high for about 15 minutes, which reportedly kills bedbugs. Lots of things can go in the washer, of course, but you don’t want to leave something you’ve thrifted near other textiles for a week before it goes to the dry cleaners unless it’s spend time in the dryer.

  20. Every thrift store I’ve set foot in in Chicago smelled or had cute dresses that were way too hipster/pin-up for my taste

    • I LOVE thrifting, but I feel like if it’s not something you enjoy, you can probably do better with something like Twice or ThredUp (or even eBay). All the thrifting tips in the world won’t make it fun for you if you think digging through racks or trying on clothes is a drag.

      I totally agree with Moonstone – I love buying the weirdest stuff. Sometimes I find that it becomes a total staple in my wardrobe, once I figure out how to wear it.

      To E and other urban thrifters – I often find it much better just outside the city limits. I used to travel a lot in the metro area for a former job, and if I had time, stopping by a St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill in one of those counties resulted in a lot more fun finds.

  21. I have had a lot of good luck at the thrift shops over the years. The way I approach the rack is by feel. There is a LOT of horrible polyester stuff on the racks. I just quickly run my fingers over the rack until I hit something made of fabric that feels nice, then I actually look at it. Horrible print? Keep moving. Possibly okay? Pull it out and look at the size, cut, condition, etc. Reject on those grounds probably 90% of the time, but keep going! Eventually you will find yourself with a small pile of items that are worth trying on.

    Also? I wear a large size and I find that it’s still worth hitting up the thrift stores in the hoity and/or college neighborhoods, because: Shoes, bags, hats, scarves, jewelry, home goods, etc etc etc. Here in Los Angeles, we have a shop where TV and movie studios get rid of all their costume stock that they don’t need anymore, and even though I am not a size zero actress, I still have found great stuff there, because: shoes, bags, hats, scarves, jewelry, etc.

    • Yes! My mother was able to buy a suit that fit amazingly well for about $25 after Boston Legal went off the air. I wore it to my swearing-in ceremony, making it officially legal.

      L.A. is an expensive place to live, but there are many deals. I am a huge fan of buying winter wear at sample sales, as most of the locals are not in the market for a cape or lined wool pants.

  22. SoCalTraffic :

    I love thrifting for work clothes. That being said, shoes, underthings, and (most) shirts I buy new. Blazers, skirts, dresses, and pants are my main thrifting finds. They’re also the more detailed / unique portions of my wardrobe so ymmv.

    • Ew underthings no. No no no. Shoes, maybe, as long as they don’t have the ghost of someone else’s feet inside.

  23. Contracts :

    I have really good luck with shopgoodwill (dot) com for designer pieces. My husband found me a gorgeous DVF black wrap dress for $10. If you live in the selling store’s city, you don’t have to pay shipping if you pick it up.

  24. Frozen Peach :

    One more thing– shameless plug for FashionProject. Really nice, heavily curated designer items, and for a good cause to boot!!

  25. My approach to thrifting– I have a high-low wardrobe approach in that my new clothing is generally Bucket 3 but then I also have a lot of thrift store items in the rotation. I generally don’t bother with consignment because I tend to find the prices too high to justify the hunt.

    About 95% of my blazers and coats come from thrift stores. I particularly look for wool blazers and coats because they wear like iron and are often in more classic shapes. Pants are tough because silhouettes change so much over time. Sweaters are often pilled or stretched out and blouses/tops just don’t hold up that well as a rule. I’ve also had great success finding fur (fur coats, hats, stoles, etc.) in great condition at thrift stores, although this has required a lot of patience since secondhand fur in mint condition tends to still be pricey.

    With regard to blazers and coats, I’ve never paid more than $20, including a Theory trench coat, several high-end wool coats, brand new with tags Brooks Brothers blazer, a tuxedo blazer, etc. The key for me is to just dip into a store for 10-15 minutes and then head out. I only look at the coat and blazer racks so it doesn’t take me that long. When I was in the market for silk scarves, I would also do a pass through the scarves. If you do this a couple times a month, you start to get a better idea of what the market looks like and you get more comfortable with quickly sizing up clothes on the rack. It’s actually helped develop my eye and made me a much better shopper when it comes to new clothes as well.

    For location, I do prefer thrift stores in nicer areas because they tend to have a larger selection of nicer clothes.

  26. Thrifting / consignment stores / eBay – whatever type of second-hand clothing you prefer. It’s all the same result, & it can be great. I particularly like doing it for special occasion wear bec. I can either find something truly unique that won’t be similar to what everyone else at the event will be wearing OR I can cheap-out & get something I don’t really love but need for a one-time event. Either way, it’s better than the mall.

    For work clothes via second-hand, I stick to classic shapes & styles. They’re more durable & a better deal thrifted. I really enjoy finding a vintage piece that looks both timeless & slightly retro; it’s more common than you might think. It can add a great quality to an otherwise standard-issue office outfit.

  27. corporette :

    I’m currently wearing a Valentino dress that I got at a consignment shop for $40, so obviously I’m a fan.

  28. All of my jeans & almost all of my other casual pants come from thrift stores.

  29. gingersnap :

    I defended my dissertation proposal in a brown pinstripe skirtsuit from the Limited that I paid $2.50 for at a thrift store (it was half off day). Echoing everyone’s points above- read the fabric content labels, be prepared to try things on in the aisles. Keep an eye out for ripped seams, missing buttons & stains, have an idea of what you’re willing to do to make a garment wearable. I usually have a few stores that I like, and I try to drop in whenever I’m nearby (also, pay attention to discount days and clearance racks). I usually have an idea of what I’m looking for (button down tops, skirts, etc) and quickly flip through sections until I see a color/pattern/fabric that looks interesting to me. I love thrifting- there are so many things in my wardrobe that I love, but wouldn’t have ever thought to look for or buy if I hadn’t just stumbled across them (A-line leather skirt, black sheath dress embroidered with flowers, beaded tunic, etc).

  30. I just picked up two St John jackets are perfect to wear to work this winter. Neither have that standard “St John matron” look. One is a lovely grey zip with none of the standard embellishments (but it does have shoulder pads). The other is a more casual knit zip sweater (black with a little pink and white trim) that I remember seeing in the stores a few years ago. Both are in great shape and while they cost me more than my usual consignment buys, they will be useful in my wardrobe for a few winters (as long as the moths don’t get them!).

  31. Many of my favorite work pieces are consignment. Agreed on being selective – I pop in my favorite local store almost every weekend (Current Boutique – Old Town for DC folks), and find something maybe once every two or three months. Well worth the effort to find things like my two favorite suits, a lovely Classiques Entier dress, and a Cole Haan trench. And if for some reason it doesn’t work out, back it goes to consignment or Goodwill . . .

  32. I used to find great stuff in the thrift stores, up through about 2003 or so. And in the nineties, I found amazing stuff – vintage cashmere sweaters in all kinds of styles, several pieces of vintage YSL, a Dior cocktail dress, nice contemporary silk shirts galore, old US-made leather Coach bags, Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman suits and of course all the smaller stuff I could want – belts, jewelry, scarves. I virtually furnished my house from the thrift store – a fantastic custom sofa, mid-century chairs, high quality vintage ceramics, a complete set of Fire King dishes, several vintage wool blankets (cleaned before use, of course). Half of my high-quality possessions were thrifted around 1998.

    But now I don’t even bother going, because all I find is last year’s acrylic Target sweaters, and the store wants $7.99 for them. I’m not sure what happened, but I surmise that many middle class people are losing ground financially – or even just stagnating – and either keep things longer or sell them rather than donate. I also assume that pickers work with the thrift stores before the good stuff even hits the floor, and it’s all being sold to people who re-sell on Ebay.

    Seriously, everything dried up. Back in 2002, I lived in Chicago for a few months for work, and everyone told me that the thrift stores were picked over – but I got some of my best stuff there. Now everything really is too picked over in my home town, never mind Chicago. Where I once bought a Pauline Trigere wool coat for $15, now I have my choice of faux leather for $29.99.

    I envy anyone who lives somewhere with good thrifting – guard your secrets well!

  33. Interesting thread! I’m surprised no one has mentioned vintage stores specifically. I don’t shop in thrift stores as I find them too overwhelming and warehouse-like with the lack of discretion in stocking/inventory. I don’t normally go to consignment stores because while they might be cheaper than retail, I don’t find the bargains to be big enough to merit the visit to tempt my wallet.

    Vintage stores, on the other hand, I find to be well-priced and well-curated. The one in my neighborhood has items from various decades and they are always high quality and completely unique. I mix and match a lot of pieces for my casual office with modern items. You normally can’t tell that they are dated because some items are so classic, they just look good period.

  34. Busy Management Consultant :

    Wardrobe question – I am wearing a red Banana Republic wrap dress to a company holiday party tomorrow. Best shoes to wear? Black pumps? Nude wedges?

  35. I literally buy more clothes at Goodwill and little local thrift and consignment stores more than any retail store, and have since I was little. I have found everything from J.Crew, Gap, and Limited to Ralph Lauren and yes, even Burberry. The key is to take your time, and make sure you aren’t buying it JUST because the label is good. Sometimes I find that my cart is overflowing and have to make a deal with myself to put things back. I like to think of it as good karma when I put a good label back, you know- someone else’s treasure :) I also find that occasionally I purchase work pants and have them tailored. Not only does tailoring offer an extremely professional look, but it feels even better when you know you didn’t pay a lot of money for the original pair of pants

  36. I don’t go “thrifting” – around here, that means Salvation Army, etc. I’ve tried it and found it’s not worth the hassle.

    Consignment is an entirely different story. I have a few that I know are good – some high end, some medium that occasionally get a piece. I found – no joke – a gorgeous vintage Chanel black tweed blazer for $60. Clearly someone goofed – the next time I was in that shop, they had another Chanel, not as nice, but for $400. It was a smidge too tight and the sleeves were a little short, but the $30 I spent on tailoring was perfect. Black turtleneck, black pencil, black sheer tights and my black boots, it’s what I wear when I meet executives or deans.

    I’ve also found other designers – Westwood, Ricci, D & G, Marc Jacobs – but it’s catch as catch can. Designers I find only at the high end consignment shops. I also found a stretch black wool BR suit for $35 – I didn’t need another black suit, but I find I wear the skirt often and the jacket is one of my go-to blazers for jeans or whatever. I find a lot of JCrew, BR, Gap – which I don’t really wear for work often, WHBM, Ann Taylor, Loft. Some good, some old, but the shop I go to frequently doesn’t take anything beyond 2 seasons old [so they say]. And everything goes 50% off at 30 days, so things move. I also get shoes on occasion, and 7 and Anthro jeans, casual tops, sweaters.

    For eBay, you have to know your size and the label. Period. I have a Bloomie’s black cashmere t-neck that cost me $35, a Lord & Taylor cashmere cardi set that was $40, and a BR sheath that is ok – I ordered a petite, and it’s just a little too short for my comfort, even after tailoring. That was a mistake. I’ve ordered things that were really cheap but good labels to find they didn’t fit – and then sold them for part of the cost at consignment. I figure it’s the cost of saving so much.

    Easily 30% of my work wardrobe is consignment or eBay, and 60% of my casual wardrobe. People ask me all of the time where I got something, and I’m happy to say it’s vintage, consignment, or eBay :-) Plus it’s very green!

    As for those who get skeeved out by “used” clothes – don’t you think people try on clothes in a traditional store? And for a blazer or a skirt, or a casual jacket, does it matter? Oh, and purses on eBay? YES! No one knows my favorite MK bag was eBay then repaired by MK. Total cost was about $250 – not bad considering it retails [and no longer in this color] for $600.

  37. GoldMedallion :

    I’m totally down with thrifting, because I started early. My parents were savers and we used to shop regularly (they still do) at the thrift shop. I was mortified at the prospect of wearing something one of my classmates’
    mom’s had given away, but never happened (to my knowledge). I usually stick to basics from brands I know to minimize wear and tear. I’ve gotten coats, jeans, sweaters, dresses, etc for ridiculous prices. Some of the Housing Works will have sales on specific names, and occasionally good deals are to be found.

  38. I’d say 90% of my wardrobe is thrifted. At first I never found great items but then I found the right thrift store. My biggest tip is to bring that tape measurer and wear clothes you can try on with (ie skirt with dark tights, tight tank tops). The other thing is to know your labels. Sometimes the old navy, merino (target) and George (Walmart) clothes with tags are priced than Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, Theory. I’ve seen Seven for all mankind jeans for under $20.
    The best thing I learned was how to slightly alter clothes so they fit better.
    I love thrifting and rarely buy even highly discounted retail.

  39. I was on a budget as soon as I graduated and went to my local GW to get a blazer/white button down shirt for upcoming interviews. I wasn’t expecting much but I got a beautiful, really well fitting Dolce & Gabbana button down white shirt for $8, and an Anne Klein black blazer for $12. This was before I knew that you can’t put together a black blazer and black pants from different brands and call it a suit..but my two pieces matched pretty well. I didn’t get any comments on my outfit by my interviewers, and I landed the job.

    Another time I got a great Express clutch for $3. Thrift stores are great for random finds.

  40. Locally we have a thrift store that is associated with the hospice care/nursing home. It’s a little morbid, but many of the folks in hospice donate all their goods to the store when they know they are on the way out.

    I have a much easier time finding small and petite sizes at the hospice thrift. Also they pick over the stuff before they set it out, so most of it is great quality, and the store is very nice and not smelly. There are really good art and jewelry pieces too. If you can get into a bit of retro style this is great. I also feel good knowing the proceeds go straight back to my local hospice center to help people who are generally in terrible circumstances.

    • Second the hospice recommendation. The styles are generally classic pieces. Timeless and a great way to build the basics.

      Where I live now, zero luck. When I was in California, my fave thrift was right between three ritzy metro areas. Designer handbags and shoes on the cheap!

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