Why I Don’t Thrift My Wardrobe

Allie I am surprised you don’t wear more clothes that are thrifted or from consignment. I buy most of my clothes this way it saves a lot of money and I find a lot of the brands you wear. You write about ethical fashion and this is a way to be ethical and also save money. Thoughts??

When I was in college, the majority of my wardrobe was thrifted. Leather jackets, vintage jeans, rock tees, even cashmere sweaters I found in excellent condition for ridiculously low prices. My friends and I went after classes at least once a month, spending hours going over racks with a fine-tooth comb, sometimes buying things that didn’t fit us to share with friends who were that size.

When I was single, I loved thrifting. I had a really big Goodwill near my home that would receive whole estates from the wealthy elderly folk who lived in the nearby town and scored insane things – vintage designer clothing, amazing homewares, gorgeous coats and bags. I also loved taking my clothes to consignment shops; I’d use the store credit to buy new pieces for the upcoming season.

And now I am 40, with a daughter, a job with a long commute, a second job with this blog, and a family I don’t see often enough. I do occasionally stop by a thrift store on the way home if I know Karl and Emerson are still at dance class and have gone on days off from work, but those times are pretty rare. I don’t thrift much these days… in fact I don’t do much in-person shopping at all.

Time is money, and I don’t have a lot of free time. While thrifting is economical, it’s not a process where you can have a specific list, dash in and out. I just can’t justify the hours away from the family, or even schedule the time when the stores are open and I am not at work, to make it happen on a regular basis.

Thrifting takes even more time when you are a larger size. While larger sizes can be found, there’s less chance for good condition or a cool style. Us larger girls don’t let go of great fashion; if it fits and flatters we often wear the heck out of a piece before it leaves our closet. While we’ve seen great leaps and bounds in cusp and plus fashion in the past couple of years, thrift stores haven’t caught up and vintage fashion in larger sizes is hard to find or usually of the housedress or knit separates variety. Also when you’re soft and older, you can’t rock that sequined tunic sweater or acid washed denim jacket with as much style or irony. That’s not to say I haven’t found some great scores at thrift and consignment shops, but it’s far rarer now than when I was 26 and a size 6.

Alternatives to Thrifting: How to find used and vintage clothing when you're short on time and/or a hard to fit sizeMy alternative is shopping used online, and a lot of my wardrobe was acquired in such a manner. eBay is a great place for shopping very specific pieces; you can search by brand, size, color, and more and even create alerts so you are emailed when new pieces that fit your criteria are listed. I’m now using Poshmark, and have found some great gently used fashion on the app. I’ve also found larger-sized vintage on Etsy, though it’s still pretty darn rare. I don’t always state whether an item has been purchased on one of these sites just as I don’t share whether a brand name piece was acquired from TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, or Amazon.

But I agree with you. Thrifting is a way to build a wardrobe for less while also being more ethical. Less in landfills, less production, and the ability to have a more unique personal style. If you have the time, I highly recommend it. And if you don’t, there are great online alternatives that let you sift through listings instead of racks at any hour from any location!

32 Comments

  1. December 21, 2015 / 11:06 am

    I was going to say that online shops like Threadflip and Poshmark make it easier. But I hear ya, it does take some time to find what you’re looking for.

  2. December 19, 2015 / 2:04 pm

    For those interested in strategies for thrifting a stylish wardrobe, I blog at http://www.thriftshopchic.com.
    I have 2 jobs and a toddler but can make it work bc I am in a city (Atlanta) with a multitude of incredible secondhand stores, mainly Goodwill. I actually do find lots of good plus-sized stuff as retailers now carry more and plus-sized consumers buy, then donate, more. If you’re in the Seattle area, I’ve heard there’s an exclusively plus-sized thrift store there!
    If you want to try shopping secondhand online, Goodwill’s auction site has tens of thousands of listings (I described it in a recent post: http://thriftshopchic.com/thrifting-from-home-goodwills-auction-site/)
    Thredup.com is also a good resource for secondhand shopping online.

    Allie, I love that you look for and feature ethically made brands alongside vintage and eBay finds. Every little bit helps in the search for alternatives to fast fashion!

  3. Ginger
    December 16, 2015 / 8:29 am

    My children are grown and I have some time, but I haven’t been satisfied with thrifted clothing. If the store deals in estates, as in “Mom’s passed, come and take this stuff away” then the clothing is likely 10 years old and out of date. I find things marked as a size 12, but size 12 10 years ago is not a size 12 today 🙁 I will look at shoes because I know from my own experience that I have a high rate of shoe rejection and many of the shoes I give away are hardly worn.

    What I have had good luck with is housewares. Lamps that would be $100+ for $12, kitchen utensils for .25, serving dishes, small appliances. If I’m looking for housewares I will drop in to my favorite thrift.

    If you’re in a resort community and have time it may be worth dropping on on thrifts. Often the homes are sold with the contents and depending on the buyer everything will be given away. Fall is a good time because once homes are not rented or in use by family is when their contents turn over.

    • December 16, 2015 / 2:56 pm

      Oh I fully agree with housewares! My sister and I collect silver candlesticks, and I have found FiestaWare for pennies. My sister found an Ethan Allen couch in like-new condition but an ugly print for $150. She reupholstered it in a leopard fabric and it is the coolest looking couch ever, so well made, and would cost thousands new! And agree on the resort community thrifting. When I lived in Annapolis it was a bit like that and the Goodwill there was a goldmine. I still recall visiting relatives in Boca when I was in high school and finding amazing items at thrift stores in their community!

  4. GoddessMel
    December 14, 2015 / 9:18 pm

    Thanks for your response Allie, particularly in relation to we not-as-young-and-thin ladies 🙂 My sister has an amazing op shop eye, and while only a couple of years younger than I is 2-3 sizes smaller. We both despair that I struggle to find quality ‘me’ items when trawling second hand stores, and if ever sees an item she thinks I might like that’s in my size she calls and sends me a pic (we live in different states) so I can let her know if I want it!

    I have had success with some consignment / upcycling ’boutiques’ now operating in my area but eBay is hit and miss – sadly I’m finding many ‘vintage’ items are actually reproductions produced in Asia and therefore smaller than the indicated size when I actually receive them (on the positive many of those retailers will accept free returns and provide refunds so I’m not out of pocket). Etsy also has some lovely sellers who upcycle and remake using vintage fabrics for unique pieces.

    These days though I tend to be sticking to my black and white basics and purchasing unique accessories instead, which can be found in a range of places and at all budgets.

    • December 16, 2015 / 2:54 pm

      I was listening to a piece on NPR about TheRealReal and how people will send in what they believe to be an authentic designer piece, often received as a gift, and the company has to tell them it’s a reproduction. They say about 10% of their consignment submissions end up like that and most of the time the owner had no idea it was a fake. I see these “vintage” pieces on Etsy and Poshmark too and it drives me batty!

  5. Cath
    December 14, 2015 / 7:51 pm

    Finally, some pragmatism in the fashion blogging world. Totally take your points regarding the fit of clothing when you’re at the cusp of the plus sized world, and frankly who has the time and inclination? I’d rather go to the beach or garden! No point in doing it if it is unlikely to produce results.

    As you say, if an item is that great, the previous owner is unlikely to get rid of it until it is completely worn out.

    You’ve produced a couple of posts that have really resonated with me within the last month or so! Well done.

  6. SusurrusLight
    December 14, 2015 / 7:10 pm

    And one of the nicest things about your blog and your personal style is how often your daily outfits include something you have had for a while. I love when you link back to something from a year or two ago. I can really see a fashion story and the timelessness of your basic pieces. It isn’t a bad thing to buy new when you buy quality and you buy something that really suits you.

  7. curvesmart
    December 14, 2015 / 4:17 pm

    You can’t score those great thrift finds if noone is doing the buying and discarding at the top level of the chain. There has to be a layer of non-thrifters to support those who do.

    If nothing else, I would hope those people are buying better quality clothing that will last through multiple owners, rather than high street fads that turn to rags in a couple of years ending up in landfill, not swap party piles or Goodwill.

  8. Luci
    December 14, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    I’ve been thrifting for over 20 years, but the last 5 years I have seen a major down swing in quality at the thrift stores. Vintage is virtually non existent. Too much worn out faded fast fashion crap. I still enjoy ebay. My fave stores are Thriftchicks and *planetofthetapes* sells cute anoraks. They mostly have smaller sizes but sometimes have really cute cusp/plus sizes. Allie, I almost bought one of your breton tops on Poshmark but missed out. Great post!

    • December 16, 2015 / 2:51 pm

      Thanks for the eBay store tip, Luci! I think with the success of those who scout thrift stores for good stuff and sell for a ton at boutiques and online sites like Etsy and eBay, it’s even harder for everyday folk to find treasures. I also know a lot of people are starting to realize the value of their old clothes and are donating the tees and worn-out jeans but selling their nice pieces. As for the Breton tops, stand by I will be listing more over the holidays. I am gutting my closet, my drawers, my attic and putting it all on there! 🙂

  9. Laura Tarwater-Scharp
    December 14, 2015 / 1:58 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I thrifted for years, decades really, since I was in college and had no money for clothes. But in the last year or two I’ve cut back almost entirely. I’m also on the cusp of plus size and tall, so it was a lot of sifting through things that would never fit me, and occasionally bringing home stuff that was ‘close enough’ that really wasn’t when the initial rush of acquisition faded. I started buying a lot via Twice, which was the best of both worlds: secondhand prices but the ability to drill down to the brands and styles that worked for me.

    When Twice closed last summer, I tried a few alternatives like ThredUp, but nothing really ever gelled, and I don’t find I miss it. I still buy things on eBay occasionally, but not that often, and I don’t go to the thrift stores in my neighborhood anymore either. The “consider everything” mentality that you have to have when secondhand shopping gets to feeling overwhelming, you know? It’s almost like mental clutter. And it is a time commitment that I find I would rather spend on other activities.

    I’m sure I’ll go back to thrifting at some point later in my life, and I definitely don’t have any negative opinions of those who thrift as their main way of shopping. But for right now it’s just something that brings me stress instead of enjoyment.

    • mostlatestvegetable
      December 16, 2015 / 10:36 am

      Gah, I’m a size 12T and I miss Twice so, so much! It was so nice to have everything curated and filtered for you so you could tell at a glance whether you wanted anything that day. All the sad face at its demise! 🙁

    • December 16, 2015 / 2:49 pm

      I find when I thrift I buy things I don’t need. Sure, that sequined top is awesome, and it’s only $2, but will I ever use it? Then my closet gets full of useless fun items and it makes it difficult to dress or actually see what I truly need. Whether it’s $2 or $200, if it’s not necessary it’s a waste.

      • Laura Tarwater-Scharp
        December 16, 2015 / 9:44 pm

        Yeah, same – I’ve thrifted so many fun pairs of heels in good shape, which is lovely except I only wear heels something like once a month, so I don’t really need 10 pairs of them, no matter what a bargain they may be.

    • Kathryn Braun Fenner
      December 16, 2015 / 3:34 pm

      Man, if you find a good source for cusp-sized talls, please share!! EBay is my best shot. J Jill trends a bit mumsy, and Talbot’s is price-y for a so-so fit–their fit models are just not very curvy. Lands’ End also has a curious fit, and I miss their ponte pants in talls…Lane Bryant is usually too big, and the quality of the fabric is not justified by the price.

      • Laura Tarwater-Scharp
        December 16, 2015 / 9:43 pm

        Anna and Kathryn, I buy a lot of my jeans and pants from Loft these days – a couple times a year when they’re having a big sale, I order all the curvy cut styles available in my size in tall, try them on at home, and then return any that don’t work to the store. A bit of a process since they don’t carry talls in store, but they fit me pretty well. Old Navy offers talls online too, but the quality is uneven. LE and JJ have always been too boxy for me.

        Two other thoughts – Boden is a bit pricier but they do have sales – their talls aren’t super-tall but they work for me at 5’9″. Also, Kut from the Kloth is curvy and usually has longer inseams – Macy’s and Nordstrom carry them among other places, and they’re usually in the $50 range before sales.

        • Kathryn Braun Fenner
          December 17, 2015 / 11:14 am

          Yay! Thanks!
          I forget about Boden, because I am not a floral sort of dresser, but they have so many other choices, in longs, and most all the way up into cusp sizes!
          Loft is great for tops, but their pants aren’t big enough for my capacious rear.

  10. December 14, 2015 / 12:11 pm

    I’m always amazed that people have time to sift through the Goodwill buckets…!

    But I also agree about the size issue. I usually have a hard time finding decent non-frumpy pants at TJMaxx or Marshalls in my size (12) and the Goodwill is an even worse bet 🙁

    I do have a friend that thrifts successfully at a larger size. Her secret is that she made friends with the owner of a consignment shop, and the owner knows what her interest is (vintage, mostly) and gives her first dibs on things. So maybe, if you like thrifting, go out and befriend your local consignment shop owner… 😉

    • Kathryn Braun Fenner
      December 16, 2015 / 3:32 pm

      Thrifting =/= consignment. Consignment is “curated” far better. Any store that wants to stay in business won’t accept everything offered to it. Thrift stores may not be so picky. I have gotten a lot of very nice things at my local consignment store, vs. pretty much nothing thrifting.

  11. Kathryn Braun Fenner
    December 14, 2015 / 10:54 am

    Amen on the sizes issue! Down here in SC, folks are bigger than in the big city, I think, but the quality of larger size thrift is still way down. Add to that being really tall–I have to check even online to make sure used hasn’t had the sleeves shortened, and stuff, and forget tall inseams in a shop!
    I tried Poshmark, but I can’t easily search with specificity as I can on eBay!

    • December 16, 2015 / 2:47 pm

      I do miss the specific searches in Poshmark. I end up scrolling for EVER. And I wish I could create alerts like I can with eBay!

      • Kathryn Braun Fenner
        December 16, 2015 / 3:37 pm

        Maybe they will improve their search feature. eBay still has the gold standard, and it keeps improving!

  12. Happinessatmidlife
    December 14, 2015 / 10:30 am

    I agree with you that the time it takes to find an item while thrifting “cost” way more shopping online. I have to decide how I spend my time and shifting through racks of clothes (thrifted or at the mall) is not what I think is productive. I would prefer hanging out with my family.

    Alice

    http://www.happinessatmidlife.com

    Hope to see you Thursday for TBT Fashion link up.

  13. December 14, 2015 / 10:08 am

    I thrift every week, but you are right…it takes time and a lot of patience. I turn my thrift finds into items for my etsy shop, yet I don’t find things I *love* too often. I told myself to not settle on an ill-fitting garment just because I can get it for a few dollars. 😉

  14. Ros
    December 14, 2015 / 9:34 am

    This. I seriously don’t have the free time. Yay if you do, but… Not for me.

    Also, logistically: the nearest thrift store to my house is still 30km away, and the nearest DECENT thrift store is 50 minutes away. The amount I’d save on clothing would be gobbled up by car expenses getting there.

  15. HokieKate
    December 14, 2015 / 9:34 am

    Great response. Different approaches work better at different seasons of life.

  16. The Adored Life
    December 14, 2015 / 9:26 am

    I totally get that. I grew up thrifting so that’s partially where I learned how to, but as I’ve gotten older, digging and digging and digging and digging just hasn’t appealed to me as much when I don’t find anything!

    The Adored Life

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