Expert Tips to Master Second-hand Shopping!
There are many ways to say it – thrifting, shopping curated, vintage, pre-loved – they all fall into the category of secondhand. Pieces in someone’s wardrobe that they gave up to have a new life with someone else!
We’ve been talking about how to adopt the practice of choosing sustainable, ethical clothing this month – and shopping secondhand is a fantastic way to do that because you’re reducing the demand for retail apparel and preventing the overwhelming amounts of unwanted and unused clothing from reaching a landfill.
If you want to learn more about this – check out these episodes:
Read below or hit one of the links above to listen!
The rise of second-hand shopping
Second-hand shopping has historically been looked on by society as something negative or implying poverty or uncleanliness. But within the last decade, there’s been a major shift. Shopping second-hand has become a trendy activity and a go to for many people wanting to live sustainably. This is partially due to the rise in awareness of fast fashion’s unethical practices that harm people and the environment. People want to take a stand and reduce their impact – specifically Gen Z and Gen Y “who are reportedly, more concerned about climate change compared to older generations.”
But another big reason is the availability to shop second-hand online. Many second-hand sellers now have websites, Instagram pages, and Depop or Poshmark profiles, making it easy to find curated pieces from all over the world. Social media is flooded with DIY thrifting tutorials. From total revamps like taking shirts and making them into tailored dresses to tailoring the fit of an old-style to make it trendy – you can find it all on the internet.
And while you should still be mindful of quality over quantity when shopping second-hand, it really does allow you to access unique clothing, develop your style, and save you money – all while helping the planet.
In the words of Macklemore – one man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up.
How to shop responsibly?
But it can be overwhelming to shop second-hand sometimes since it isn’t as cut and dry as retail fashion. And how do you responsibly shop second-hand – meaning you find pieces that you will genuinely love, wear, and take care of? In this episode, we’re going to go over how to master second-hand shopping (with tips from an expert!), including how to make the most out of your shopping experience and how to find pieces that are smart buys for you, and the planet.
Our expert at Maude Vintage
I reached out to my absolute favorite vintage shop in Columbia, Missouri – Maude Vintage for answers, and boy did they deliver! Let me tell you, the owner, Sabrina Garcia-Rubio, is a second-hand expert!
Sabrina opened Maude V in 2000 and wears second-hand exclusively, so she has all of the pro tips! You can shop a range of clothing selected from pre-50’s styles up to the 90s in person or on their website maudevintage.com.
I’ve gotten so many beautiful things from there, and there’s always a unique find. I really have to thank Sabrina for her invaluable input on this because I know I learned a TON, and I’m excited to share it with you!
So let’s get into it!
Top Tips to Master Second-hand Shopping
Get Comfortable and Bring a Tape Measure
The first tip is to get comfortable and bring a tape measure. If you’re shopping in person, make sure you wear comfortable clothing and are ready to try on outfits easily. If you’re getting hot and sweaty just taking on and off layers of clothes and feel uncomfortable – you’re less likely to enjoy the experience! And trying on clothes is the best way to know if something will fit. However, our expert Sabrina with Maude Vintage says that “If you are shopping at a thrift store where you cannot try on first, have the measurements of the waist of your favorite jeans, your favorite dress’s bust, and bring a measuring tape!” That way, you know the fit before you take it home because most second-hand items are non-refundable.
If you’re shopping online – the thought process is similar. Know the measurements of what you’re looking for, and if they aren’t listed online, you can usually contact the seller and get them!
Learn what is alterable
The second tip is to learn what is alterable. I know I’ve bought second-hand clothes before that I thought I would be able to do something with and then realized that they can’t be changed how I imagined them. Partially this is because I wouldn’t pay attention to where I could give a little and what spots were non-negotiable (like my waistline).
Sabrina says, “You don’t have to learn how to alter clothing, but if you know what is alterable, you will be able to pick up things that don’t quite fit right off the rack. For instance, you find a lovely 50s cotton spring swing dress, but the bust is 1” too tight. Take a look at the seams from the inside on either side of the bust area. If the dress was made with 2” or more of hem you’ve got yourself a perfectly alterable dress. You can practice on simple alterations such as this on lesser loved items, and when you feel confident, you can do that fab dress yourself.”
As I mentioned, there are TONS of tutorials out there from beginner to advanced on altering clothing to make it the perfect fit for you.
And alterations don’t have to be an entire overhaul to the piece. Something as simple as adding a patch or embroidery to clothing can give it an entirely new look!
Not interested or ready to make alterations? Try looking up local sewists or asking your local vintage shops who they recommend. Sabrina tells us that “Once you create a rapport with a local person, they will know your fit inside and out as time goes on, making alterations with them a cinch.”
Check for Damage and be ready to repair
The third tip is to check for damage and be ready to repair. I think most of us have probably stained some piece of clothing – so it’s not unlikely that you’ll find articles at a second-hand shop that have stains or show slight wear and tear.
Sabrina tells us that clothes are put right out on the rack in thrift stores often without being vetted or cleaned – so many stains are still treatable.
She says that “practicing on how to remove different types of stains will give you a “toolbox” of knowledge so when you see a stain you will be able to recognize the possibility of removing it. If you find a stain on a piece at a vintage shop, ask the attendant if this has already been worked on and was unable to be removed and therefore being sold as-is or if they just put it right out without treating. This will help you to consider if you may be able to eradicate the stain.”
In my experience, many stains can be removed with a mixture of vinegar, water, and baking soda. You can even try lemon juice and table salt for the most common sweat stains – letting the mixture soak in, rub, and then leave outside in the sun to let it bleach.
Suzanne Carillo, a style blogger and vintage reseller in Toronto, told Chatelaine magazine that “washing items with vinegar or baking soda can help to get rid of the unwashed “thrift store smell”—items that shouldn’t be washed can be hung out in the sun or placed in a bag in the freezer.”
You should also check the zippers on all clothing before buying because they are the hardest to repair. Other things to watch out for are missing buttons, torn seams, and holes. These might not be a problem if you have a trusted seamstress on hand, but you can always practice one fix at a time and know what you’ve got the capabilities to handle or not.
Understand the value and quality
The next tip is one of my favorites – especially since we have been talking about quality and making sure that what we buy is made well versus made cheaply with fabrics that can harm the planet. Understand the value of an item and its quality.
You want to understand the item’s monetary value – so you don’t overspend on a piece that isn’t worth it. Sabrina tells us, “Whether you are at a vintage shop or a thrift store, you may find an item that you feel is too expensive from a fair market perspective. eBay has a filter option in the search tool that lets you see only the sold items of your search. You will be able to see the range of prices that an item you are considering has sold for to determine if it’s worth it.”
You also want to know the quality of the item you’re buying. One way to do this is to check the tags. The tags will tell you how old the piece is and what fabrics it is made of. Like I mentioned, at Maude V, you can find pieces that are still rad after many decades – that’s a sign that it was quality made and will likely last you for decades to come.
Blogger Caitlin Pianta says one way to tell the age of a garment is to look at the RN numbers stating, “RN Numbers were first used in 1952 and are a fairly reliable way to determine the era. The best rule of thumb is that if an RN number is six digits can be aged from the 80s, while numbers of 5 digits can be dated around the 60s and 70s. So, for example, an RN number of 17272 would put the garment in the mid-’60s.”
You also want to look for quality, durable, sustainable fabrics (think cotton, linen, and denim). The type of fabric will also help you determine the age, as many synthetic materials were used commercially in the 50s on up. Be sure to go back and listen to the last episode, sustainable fabrics 101, to get a rundown of why it’s crucial which materials we choose.
Know yourself and your wardrobe
All of this is moot if you’re buying clothes that you will never wear just for the sake of buying them. So the next tip is to know yourself and your wardrobe. When you’re looking at a piece, do you say to yourself, “I wish I were the person who wore this” or “I can’t wait to wear this ASAP!”
You most likely have an idea of what style of fit you prefer for your body, what you have too much of, and what patterns and colors you gravitate towards wearing. Don’t be a wish buyer. It wastes money and just prevents someone else from getting that item they might really love it and wear it often. The goal is to build a functional wardrobe you love. I have been trying to do this by thinking of at least three outfits I can make with the other clothes I already own. If I can’t think of how I’ll wear it – I don’t get it.
Have trouble deciding? Our expert Sabrina suggests, “bring a friend who also enjoys second-hand shopping excursions. You’ll find their feedback about what you are trying on to be authentic and more enthusiastic than someone who doesn’t get it. And if you know someone who hasn’t gone on these types of adventures, invite them out for a day of poking around in your local second-hand shops or garage sale shopping. Not everyone has been enlightened on how fun and exciting this form of shopping is.”
Take your time
The follow-up to that tip is to take your time. If you know you have a specific article of clothing in mind you want or have a gap in your wardrobe you need to fill, start looking now and make it fun to find something perfect for you. When you finally find it – you’re going to rock it even harder! Part of that process is learning to put things back and walk away empty-handed instead of feeling the need to buy for the sake of buying. This is a hard lesson that I’m still learning, but it makes you feel so much better about your buying power if you are mindful of your choices.
Know when to let go
And the final tip from Sabrina over at Maude Vintage is knowing when to let go. She says, “If you are really good at loading up your closet with really great finds, you will eventually find you should be equally good at knowing how and where to rotate out less worn items. For vintage items, try selling them!” Maude Vintage gets its inventory mostly from buying or trading with the public. And for trendier or modern pieces, try donating to local thrift shops or non-profits that give back to the community and support clothing people in need. And I’ll throw in a quick note to try to avoid buying from shops that are primarily meant for those in need if you can buy from other locations as it takes away from the quality pieces they may have access to and truly need.
So that’s our top tips to master second-hand shopping, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to go hunting for my next find!
Something to grow on
For this week’s something to grow on, I’ll leave you with my final notes. The more you practice second-hand shopping, the more comfortable you will feel, and it will become second nature to you! It is a unique form of self-expression and helps you see and appreciate the world in a new way.
You will begin to understand the role that fast fashion plays and how the weekly changes in trends don’t matter if you have a timeless style that is true to you.
Shopping second-hand creates a mindfulness mindset that goes hand in hand with sustainability. Our clothing carries a story. The story of who made the raw materials, who manufactured it, who’s worn it before us, and where it will take us moving forward. Our clothing, just like the people who make up its story, should not be disposable. Once you slow down and make that connection – your life will be much richer for it.
So until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor.To find out what book we’re reading this month in the Hello, Neighbor! Bookclub join the Facebook Group!
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