Guide to PANTS at the Thrift Store

It’s Pants Week at Thriftshop Chic.  Yesterday’s post featured my newly-thrifted pants; tomorrow we’ll look at all the pants I own to help you see how thrifted pants can work in a real-life capsule wardrobe; then Thursday we’ll help you get started on perfecting your own pants lineup.

Let’s talk pants.  You are probably familiar with the smorgasbord of pant styles out there, including but not limited to the typical styles in women’s/men’s pants featured below. (But first of all, let’s be clear–these are binary-conforming clothing industry terms, not dictates about what genders can wear what styles; I have had “men’s” pants in my wardrobe and know plenty of people across the gender spectrum who wear more than one pants “gender.”)

Women’s pants.  Source.  Notable miss: boyfriend jeans








Men’s pants. Source. Notable miss: a true pleated front






But which one is for you?

Maybe this is a familiar dilemma: you found a pant* at the thrift store the fit and color of which you love, but you’re not so sure about the silhouette or fabric.  Will it go with tops I have?  What about shoes?  And will these be smothering me in sweltering heat or leaving me cold in the winter?


Like the 4 Cs of buying diamonds (is that right?), for buying pants you have the 2 Fs and the 2 Cs.  The FCs, if you will.  (Ooh, that could be dangerous if you pronounce it out loud…let’s just say you need to remember to give a couple of FCs.)






Filter your pants through these categories in the order that’s most important to you.  Does your wardrobe have a limited color palette and above all you want something that meshes with your signature hues?  Get thee to a Goodwill or other store that sorts by color and start with your chosen shades. (Note: the same color may appear on 3 or 4 different racks depending on how big the pants selection is.  If you’re looking for prints, they may be in a another section altogether.)

Do you have lots of colors in your wardrobe but only a couple of silhouettes–i.e. you pretty much stick to the skinny jeans + flowy top look, or the fitted blouse + bootcut look?  Or maybe you adore kitten heels but you avoid the ubiquitous skinny cut because you think they look funny together?  Then hunker down and inspect the pants rack from the bottom up, looking for your preferred cut in the legs.  (Pro tip: this works for button up shirts as well if you want a specific sleeve length.)  Walk the line between realism and inspiration: if you find some gorgeous sailor-style pants but normally rock straight-leg trousers, consult your style conscience and be honest with yourself about whether you’re willing to work them in as a new style or whether they’d sit, lonely as a marooned shipmate, at the back of your closet.  (That was poetic, no?)

Need a pair of pants to equip your wardrobe for the upcoming season?  Maybe all your pants are heavy tweeds or wools but you’ve decided to try wearing pants in the summer; or you just moved to Minneapolis and need pants that won’t expose your nether regions to frostbite. (As the Scandinavians say, there’s no bad weather; only bad clothing.)
Start with fabric by feeling the clothes as you walk down the racks.  For colder weather, look for thicker, denser fabrics like wool and tweed, or lined pants (take a peek inside the waist to see if there’s a light layer inside–don’t be fooled by pocket liners, look all the way down that pant leg!).  For warmer weather, go with cotton, linen, silk, seersucker, or other plant-based textiles–the fabric should feel lighter, but not cheap.  For pants that can be worn in a variety of climates, look for “tropical” wool (essentially a lighter weight wool) or ponte.  Remember that pants with high synthetic content (e.g. polyester) don’t breathe well, so they work best when the weather isn’t super-hot.

Last but definitely not least is fit.  Do you own pants you love but they’ve always sagged or squeezed at the waist, or maybe you’ve gained/lost weight and they don’t fit anywhere?  Consider a tailor to adjust hem length or bring in the waist, but if your pants are beyond the help of the sewing machine, head to a store that organizes by size.  (Pro tip: don’t forget to check the size sections to the left and right of “your” size–sizes have changed over the years, and even current brands size differently based on their targeted demographic.  E.g. Chico’s has their own sizing system wherein a 1 s the equivalent of an 8-10 in Banana Republic, while an 8 in BR is probably a 6 in Land’s End.  Case in point: I fit any of 3 sizes in pants depending on the brand.)
Pay attention not just to size but fit–whether you can sit comfortably, whether they give you cameltoe or VPL**, whether the length hits at a place that will work with your preferred style of shoes.  (Pro tip: find out how much hemming pants, either shorter or longer, costs at your tailor; it’s a cost you will need to add to the stellar $3.50 price point of newly thrifted gems if they are perfect *except* for the length.  Are you still willing to pay that much for the pants?  Then buy ’em.)



What are your criteria for selecting pants at the thrift shop?  Scroll down to comment below!


*Does it make me sound fancy and knowledgeable to use the singular?  Please tell me if you have any idea why retailers do this when we plebeian folks say “pants”…
**Visible Panty Line.


2 thoughts on “Guide to PANTS at the Thrift Store

    1. It’s what you LIKE on you! Trends come and go, “flattering” is, in a way, living into society’s standards for what your body should look like–so pick pants whose look you like on you when you look in the mirror. A lot of folks go with “if it’s loose on top, balance on the bottom with a tighter cut” and vice versa, but that’s honestly just we’ve been trained to see as “pleasing.”
      If it’s worth anything you have really nice-fitting jeans that *I* think look good on you :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *