In Part 1 we talked about what to do before you thrift to increase your chances of success – and to make it an enjoyable experience! Now it’s time for the The Main Event – finding great clothes at the thrift store.
- Concern yourself first and foremost with quality. Nothing makes me sadder than grown women (of any age) wearing shoddy, shlumpy stuff when there’s great, affordable stuff to be found secondhand!
A big benefit of shopping pre-owned clothes is getting to see whether clothes have worn well or are starting to show their poor construction. Avoid pilling, holes, snags, flimsy/super wrinkly fabric, and items that look misshapen on the hanger (particularly blazers, where poor construction is often obvious right on the rack). Natural fabrics (wool/silk/linen/cotton) are always a good bet, although you still need to check cotton and wool for pilling, which means the fibers used in making the fabric’s yarn were not very long. A little pilling = time to get out your sweater comb/pumice/shaver. A lot = time to put it back on the rack. If you’re not very familiar with how natural or high quality fabrics feel, just check tags on every garment that piques your interest until you start to associate a particular feel with a particular fabric.
Pro tip: if a clothing label has poor grammar/punctuation, a font that looks like it came off your 1994 Mac LC2, or a font that looks like a 6th grader doodled it in their diary, quality is likely to be poor.
If it looks like these, it’s likely a SKIP:
Source for all three pics
If you find this font RUN AWAY:
- Reader Vildy commented last week with some great ideas on how to combat bad lighting that can disguise poor quality or the true color of a piece: “The church thrifts that are my favorite have dim yellowed lighting so bad that what you think is brown turns out to be purple” while “some larger stores like Goodwill have glaring unnatural lighting.” “Take it over to a window” for natural light, she suggests – and take “a small hand mirror [to] check a color against [your] complexion.” Reading glasses or a pocket flashlight are great “to see size and fabric composition” on peskily small tags.
- Stuck with wonky “funhouse mirrors“? Vildy uses that hand mirror to see the rear view. I’d also suggest stepping out of the dressing room to check things out in a better mirror (sometimes located outside the dressing room) or to ask a fellow thrifter for an unbiased opinion. Nothing like thrifting camaraderie to help you out!
- Here’s another tip from Vildy, especially for smaller, independently-owned thrift stores: “Often [store] volunteers miss out on easily repairable damages [due to] that low light coupled with sometimes advanced age – like missing buttons which you’d have to pay to replace or a torn lining inside that you’d have to sew up or moth holes (in plush garments like camel’s hair coats you can tease the pile back through with a needle).” Many times they “will gladly reduce the price or give it to you for free. The flip side of that is the volunteers are only human and they often have notions of what is much more valuable (‘it came from my daughter and she only buys good things’). I never argue against their preconceived ideas and they give me deals elsewhere.”
Now that we’ve talked quality, on to some other parameters:
- Unless your body still has its pre-adolescent proportions, skip items sized with odd numbers; they’re designed for the “junior miss” demographic that most of us left behind somewhere in highschool. Even if you are the same weight/height as in high school, odd-number cuts are far less likely to accommodate curves, hips, and breasts.
- Decide what equals “too short” and avoid it. Refrains I often read on style blogs and comment sections: “I’m done with ‘low-rise’ and ‘crop tops'” or “Why are all the dresses cut up to here??” It goes without saying that what qualifies as “too short” is completely subjective; but if the fabric doesn’t cover what you want covered, move on – even if it’s perfect in every other way. You’ll forever be tugging at/hitching up something, and you deserve clothes that don’t need your attention every 5 minutes.
- Same with sheer. If you are into camisoles, a sheer layer adds interest via texture, pattern, or color. But if camis aren’t your cup of tea and you don’t particularly want to show off your undergarments, skip it. Read why I gave up sheer here and how 81-year-old blogger Dorrie Jacobson rocks it here.
- Figure out a color palette. Contrary to popular style blog advice, this does not have to mean picking 3 neutrals and 2 “accent colors” and sticking to them religiously (although if that works for you, great!). The point is to choose a range of colors, big or small, that can mostly be worn together so that you don’t end up with what I call a wardrobe exponent – essentially one-off items that don’t match much of what you already have and therefore require you to buy several other pieces to get workable outfits.
My best advice for how to create a palette? Learn about color analysis and how saturation, brightness, etc. work. (This post demonstrates how I walk a friend through determining which clothes in her closet hit the same color family. Spoiler: she crafts a wardrobe out of a LOT of different colors and almost no neutrals.) If you are into seasonal analysis (aka the four/twelve seasons) or want to know what colors will make your skin tone sing, google “personal color analysis.” The field has changed a lot since Color Me Beautiful came out; even if you think you know your season it’s worth revisiting, particularly because our season can change as we age.
- Look for brands that will deliver good quality and good style (most of the time – every brand slips up or has seasons where quality goes south). I keep a list of decent brands I regularly find at the thrift store, but here’s a short list of higher quality brands that cater to grown women, in no particular order: Vince Camuto – Talbots – Banana Republic – Land’s End – Chico’s – Ralph Lauren – NYxDJ – New York & Co. – Willie Smith – Elie Tahari – Arthur S. Levine – Loft – Ann Taylor – Anne Klein.
And remember that your likelihood of success increases if you thrift often.
Thanks, Vildy, for your great suggestions; readers, scroll down to add your own! Next week I’ll share style and thrift blogs from older women, so keep your eyes peeled.
8 thoughts on “Thrift Style for Older Women – Part 2”
oohh, looking forward to next week’s featured older women. Great post this week, too. I especially like your mention of asking fellow customers and thrifting often. When you frequent the same shops regularly, you often develop a relationship with fellow thrifters and/or the volunteer staff. This not only results in good advice – my friend and I regularly help other thrifters style what they’ve selected – but both sets of folks will often present you with stuff that they know fits what you like to buy. We do that all the time. “This is you!” But also, quite often the same folks keep donating to that store. (It’s from the Eileen Fisher lady. It’s from the golf lady. ) Therefore, when you’ve found the colors you like to wear, as you mention, you will often find plenty of go-with items that fit or match with that palette because they came from the same closet. It’s like having a personal shopper at one remove. When you find an item you like, it pays to go back out to the racks and try to spot some coordinating items on the same day – they may have been donated all at once. And don’t forget to check menswear. Depending on your size and build and how you like to wear your clothes, you can often find great well-made and well-fitting items – shirts, sweaters, pants, leather bombers – for the same very low prices in the menswear section. Men’s simple indigo linen crew neck sweater from a name brand for a dollar. Saw a photo in a vintage Vogue style book of a dashing woman with a dark wool plaid lightweight coat streaming out behind her – it was a man’s wool robe! I’m short and a kind of sturdy semi-hourglass and a man’s firm woven shirt in a small looks like a custom made fit on me at a tunic length if worn untucked. And you know menswear holds up a lot better.
Glad you are enjoying, Vildy :)
“It’s from the Golf Lady” – lol! Good thoughts on getting stuff that goes together.
Menswear is a GREAT suggestion – I had men’s trousers for awhile that I loved because the pockets were actually big enough to hold more than chaptstick. Second on the sweaters as well, and outerwear!
If you like menswear styling check out http://www.alterationsneeded.com (she’s also petite) for great styling suggestions. I also think of the Mireille Guiliano’s go-to look of a men’s shirt over leggings.
Thanks again for great suggestions!
If the tag “looks like a 6th grader doodled it. . . run away,” haha, funny but true! I’m looking forward to next week’s post with older women’s style and thrift in mind!
Glad you’re enjoying, Priscilla!
Thank you for the tips Leah and fellow thrifters. It never occurred to me to be concerned about the font on a label of an unfamiliar brand, but that is certainly something to consider. A tip I have, as weird as it sounds, is to check the underarms of garments. All too frequently I discover, when I return home, subtle yellowing on the underarms of light tops. Ditto on darker tops as they can fade under the arms more quickly than elsewhere, and some deodorants can also whiten darker clothing. Of course the aforementioned poor lighting does not help!
Jill – great point! You will often also find holes in the under arms as they get a lot of wear and may show poor construction earlier on.
I’m not sure this is older-lady specific, but in addition to looking for certain brands I look at where an item was made. India does lightweight woven cotton really, really well, and tops made there often wear and hold up nicely even if they are from a “cheap” brand (e.g. Old navy). (Im not sure about the ethical-ness of this sourcing, but I admit I don’t worry so much about that when thrifting.)
You’re right, Sarah – although the country of “made in” may not be the same country as the source of the fabric, it’s a good starting point. For example the best-feeling cotton shirt (not the lightweight kind you mention) was Pima cotton and also made in Peru (where Pima is grown).
Thanks for commenting!