Given that you don’t have unlimited time OR an unlimited budget, how do you make thrifting work for you? Has your thrifting changed as you’ve gotten better at it? Unlike your younger self, you can’t spend your life in cut-offs that ‘sort of fit’. So how do you find good stuff without spending a parcel of time and money on near misses?
Leah: My turn for a question: how has thrifting changed for you over the years? What’s your approach now vs. what it was like in the beginning?
Ginna: I’m at a stage in my life where I’m learning a new job and have less time to thrift. I’ve also learned that thrift stores without dressing rooms aren’t worth it for me.
Ginna: I find myself gravitating toward thrift stores like Buffalo Exchange that are more expensive and more curated. Hence $25 for a pair of jeans. I do miss the days of $2 jeans when I lived in Virginia…
At the beginning, thrifting just meant saving massive amounts of money on clothes. When I started thrifting at age 19, I had never been inside a second-hand store and was blown away by how many clothing items I could get for $10. I wasn’t very conscious of my appearance then, so I was not picky. If something fit and I thought it was cute, I bought it.
In my mid-twenties, I met a couple of hard-core thrift buddies who took me to task on my purchases. My friend Erin taught me how to go straight down a rack and immediately find the items that were made of quality materials like cashmere, leather, and silk. She also helped me see that my current outfits were too big for my frame, so I started looking for items with a better fit.
Leah: I love that you had friends who staged a sort of thrift intervention and helped steer you towards the good stuff! I had a very similar trajectory of discovering the wonders of the thrift store, then learning to filter for higher quality pieces, then figuring out *my* style amidst all those delicious finds. (My trajectory was minus the friends’ guidance, regrettably – I think that would have sped up the process!)
Ginna: After that, I got interested in fashion. Thrifting became more than just a money-saving solution. It allowed me to experiment with clothes and try all kinds of colors / patterns / cuts. I spent several years experimenting, learning what looked good on me vs. what I should pass up.
Now I’m moving more into a phase where I know what general kinds of styles/colors/textures I’m looking for. I also have less time, so I tend to frequent more expensive thrift stores where the pieces are all good quality, like the $20-for-jeans thrift stores. It’s rare these days that I can say, “Look what I found for $2!” But I still really enjoy the hunt of thrifting, maybe even more now than before because I know what I’m looking for.
When I thrift shop now, I’m really keeping an eye out for well-made pieces with interesting details.
Leah: That’s my unspoken filter for every piece, every time.
Ginna: When I find something that’s exactly what I’m looking for, I’m even willing to get it repaired if it’s a simple repair like resewing a hem or repairing a ripped arm hole. I found a place in New York that will re-weave wool and cashmere sweaters, and they seamlessly patched a hole in a thrifted navy blue cashmere sweater last year. That’s a beautiful piece that I’m happy to have saved from the dumpster, but also thrilled to get to wear it regularly!
When I first started thrifting, I was definitely saving money. Even with some of the ‘misses’ I bought that didn’t work out, I could still fulfill most of my clothing needs for the same price as a couple pairs of jeans retail.
Now I still save money, but I’m not getting a steal on every item. I still pay WAY less for my clothes than they would cost retail, but I also buy more and better quality clothes than I would if I had to pay retail for everything.
What about you? What role does money play in your decision to thrift? Have you seen changes as you’ve thrifted longer in terms of how many items you buy, how much you spend, or what sorts of pieces you’re looking for?
Leah: I loved that you said “But I still really enjoy the hunt of thrifting, maybe even more now than before because I know what I’m looking for” – it’s totally true. It may take me longer to find a “win” but the process is fun because I know the outcome will be such a great fit.
I live in Atlanta where the Goodwill of North Georgia is like an empire – SO many stores, and they’re strategically placed to get good donations to their market. Nothing’s dirt cheap (like you, I no longer score $2 finds!), but I can definitely find quality stuff for $6-$8 on a regular basis.
Ginna: Guess I’m not the only person who no longer scores $2 jeans. ;( But it’s awesome that you have lots of moderately priced options! If you can find good stuff through the Goodwill route, you’re still saving a big chunk of change.
Leah: Yeah! Although that in and of itself can be dangerous – the $$ barrier to buying something I like but don’t love is a lot lower than at a consignment store.
Speaking of which, there are also several consignment stores here, and while I would be down with paying $25 for a dress or a designer pair of jeans I love, I often don’t have to spend that amount to find what I want. I have a little more time to search through the racks at Goodwill to find what I love. (That’s another perk of thrift stores here – sometimes they don’t realize a piece is high quality so they don’t mark it up.)
Case in point: J Brand jeans for $6 at the Goodwill.
One thing I’ve noticed is that consigned clothes tend to be more trendy; it makes sense that people would keep their classics and consign more short-lived styles they’re “over,” whereas I tend to go for more timeless items that can usually be found at the thrift store year after year.
Ginna: A lot of consignment stores won’t accept classic pieces anyway. The one by me only accepts things that are ‘on trend’ and in like-new condition. I went the other day and it was all lace tops that show your midriff. I was like, “Geez, I don’t just want these tops, I want the life that goes with them!”
Leah: Hello style bloggers’ Instagram feeds!
That’s weird that consignment doesn’t accept classic things…I guess some trends last “long” enough (ha!) to get through a buy, consign, buy cycle before the trend has jumped the shark, but I wouldn’t really want to walk into a store and be surrounded by a bunch of trends I’ve seen everyone else wear and just haven’t gotten around to trying out myself. Played. Out.
Ginna: That’s true. And in some cases, the ‘buy’ cycle can be really short. A lot of the things at the consignment store look like someone got it for Christmas and it didn’t fit, so they consigned it. Or they wore it a few times and it wasn’t really them, so they consigned it.
Leah: Ahh, makes sense. Or you bought it on final clearance and then realized it was a mistake…
Going back to how you may end up spending $75 for 2 or 3 tries to get the “perfect” secondhand jeans – I see it as sort of the cost of thrifting, or at least my MO for thrifting. Admittedly, the scale I pay is lower – maybe $15-$20 for 3 pairs of pants when I end up keeping just one, $6 pair. But I’ve realized that, especially when exploring a new style, my preferences sometimes takes a little while to distill, and I like having the options in front of me to marinate on. If I was doing this retail, I could theoretically return those things and not spend the extra money…but of course retail originals would cost much more than the $6 pants…or 2 or 3 pairs of them…cost me at Goodwill.
There’s also a little bit of fear-based scarcity going on here – I’ll think “I LOVE everything about these pants but the specific shade of grey…so I’ll just hold onto them until I find a grey I like better” instead of trusting I’ll find the right color without having to hoard the placeholder. Working on it…
Ginna: I hear the placeholder thing, I do the same thing. It’s easy to be like, “This item is SO close to perfect! I must have a use for it!” It is rare that I regret walking away from an item, though. Usually I think back and it was the right decision.
Leah: Good point about walking away and not regretting it. This has happened to me a few times, but I’d rather that be the case and have fewer “I shouldn’t have bought that” moments, which are a little too frequent for how long I’ve been doing this!
We’ve talked about $ cost, but what about time cost?
Ginna: Time? Maybe 4-5 hours a month right now. I usually just pop by the thrift store on Saturdays, or on the way home from work. You?
Leah: I probably do about 4-5 hours per month, too….my spouse I’m sure would put that estimate higher since he’s a 15 minutes in/out thrifter and hates waiting for me to really scour the racks. Which means I usually try to go alone and savor the freedom!