Why I Don’t Thrift My Wardrobe: Shopping Secondhand When Fat

why I don't thrift my wardrobe: shopping secondhand while fat

While I am a fan of sustainable fashion, I am not one who thrifts on a regular basis. I am regularly asked why I don't thrift my wardrobe if I am looking to live a greener existence. There are a lot of reasons why I don't thrift my wardrobe and after this most recent email from a reader, I share my reasons why:

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 several times a month, spending hours going over racks with a fine-tooth comb.

When I was a single college graduate, 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. It was on my way home from work; I'd use the time to decompress from the workday, scanning racks, finding gems.

I had basic sewing skills and would occasionally repair and modify my thrifted treasures. I'd sew on new buttons, fix a dropped hem, add patches to worn shoulders.

I also loved taking my clothes to consignment shops; I’d use the store credit to buy new pieces for the upcoming season. I worked in apparel and would have contractor bags full of clothes from the brands I worked for, hardly worn. It was a pleasure to know these items would get a second life in someone else's closet and in turn, I'd have money to update my own wardrobe.

Why I Don't Thrift my Wardrobe

I am now over 40 years old. I am married with a child. I no longer work in apparel, but Corporate America. I have a middle management position which is over 40 hours a week and an hour-long commute each way. On top of that, I have this blog which is like a second job.

Thrifting isn't as easy to fit into my lifestyle. I occasionally go with my daughter to a thrift store near where she takes dance classes, but I rarely find items for me (though I score with great deals for her). But thrifting takes a lot of time, time I don't feel I have enough of these days.

Time is Money

While thrifting is economical, it’s not a process where you can have a specific list, dash in and out. And having a busy life, I realize that time is money. I 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.

On top of that, I am not the same size I was when I was in college finding leather jackets and cashmere sweaters at the thrift store. And I have found that this 40-year-old postpartum body isn't as easy to dress in mall brands, let alone thrift stores. Thrifting takes even more time when you are a larger clothing size.

The Larger Size You Wear, The Harder it Is To Thrift Your Wardrobe

I have friends like Vivi from Heart, Print, and Style who ROCK gorgeous thrifted clothes. But even she will admit that it isn't easy to find gems when thrifting.

While larger sizes can be found when thrifting, 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. Almost every time I thrift and find something that is in my size that looks good on the rack, I pull it out and find that it is threadbare under the arms or between the thighs, it's stained, stretched out, or otherwise an example of a beloved piece that was worn until it was no longer wearable.

On top of this, smaller sizes love to size up to create slouchy looks or modify their thrifted finds. It is very hard to compete with single-sized thrifters who clear the racks for their online shops or upcycled creations. I know many thrifting and low-waste bloggers who purposefully buy plus-sized fashion at thrift stores to have a larger piece of fabric to create a completely different item. I get it, but it makes the larger sized options at thrift stores even more rare.

Dressing for My Current Self is Harder with Thrifted Clothing

When I was young, I thrifted sequined tops and dresses, vintage bomber jackets, distressed jeans. I'd wear men's Hawaiian shirts tied above my belly button, the sleeves rolled up and the collar popped. I'd belt a man's blazer and wear it as a dress and ironically wear the trends I originally wore in the '80s and '90s. Thrifting made my wardrobe so fun and my best clubbing and night out looks were from the thrift store.

But now I am a middle-aged wife and mom with a busy job. My social calendar isn't full of the kind of events where a sequined butterfly top or vintage JNCOs would work. I rarely go thrifting and find a piece appropriate for my conservative workplace, taking my kid to a playdate or picking her up from school, or going out to dinner with friends.

I have narrowed down my closet to make dressing simpler with a busy schedule. Filling my closet with fun but impractical pieces will only make my mornings more complicated. And any clothing collecting dust in a closet, whether it was purchased at Forever 21 or Goodwill, is wasteful.

online alternatives to thrifting when short on time, when you are plus sized, or when thrifting isn't a good choice for your lifestyle.

My Alternatives to Thrifting

That doesn't mean I don't purchase used clothing. In fact, a lot of my wardrobe is secondhand. I find shopping used online to be a better use of my time, and better for my ego.

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. It's nice to filter out all the items that wouldn't fit so I can focus on what I could buy versus what I want but isn't available for me.

I’m now using Poshmark, and have found some great gently used fashion on the app. I love this for when I am looking for a specific piece from a specific brand from a past season. I find a lot of high-quality plus size fashion on Poshmark and can often find the same pieces being sold in stores right now in my size which is sold out, and often for less.

I’ve also found larger-sized vintage on Etsy, though it’s still rare. However, there are some Etsy shops that are focused specifically on plus sized vintage fashion.

Shop Plus Size Vintage at Etsy:

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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!

30 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. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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! 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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. 😉

  12. 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.

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

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

  14. 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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