Looking for Retail Finds Secondhand – Should I?

If you don’t count the odd trip to Kohl’s to help the Spouse buy pants, I haven’t been in a retail clothing store in probably…15 years.* I’ve gotten so used to thrift stores as my primary source of clothing that it doesn’t even occur to me to look in retail stores, let alone lust after the clothing therein. Don’t get me wrong – when I first went off of retail cold turkey, it was hard to walk into a Target for some other shopping need and just pass by the clothing section. They had cuuuute stuff, and even on a tight budget I felt like some of it was affordable. (Isn’t that how people end up with overflowing shopping carts at Target? Their stuff is all affordable – even $150 worth of it!) I had to learn to peel my eyes away from the racks and content myself with the occasional underwear or sock purchase (both items that are hard to find – at least hygienically – at thrift stores).

I still shop at Target (Tar-zhay, yes?) for laundry detergent, toilet paper, art supplies for my kid, etc. And while I now find some of the clothing on their racks to be in the fugly zone (cold shoulder tops – why? cheap lace in blah muted palettes that look like the 70s threw up – why?), they definitely have upped the chic factor with some of their newer brands. Evidence: see the Queer Eye episode where Tan France takes a dad on a budget to Target to spruce up his wardrobe. I generally still walk on past the clothing sections – mostly out of habit, but also out of the knowledge that it’s just easier not to have to talk myself out of something attractive.

But a few months ago a top just happened to catch my eye – it was the most gorgeous emerald green color, with gloriously large pink poppies scattered jauntily throughout. And lo and behold, it was a perfect match for my Light Summer color palette. (Yes, I tend to carry my color swatches around with me – you never know when the opportunity to thrift will present itself!) Instead of trying to justify a retail purchase (or two), I tried on both a top and a dress to see which size fit me, and mentally committed to tracking them down secondhand, once someone else had bought and then decided to resell them.

So I saved a few searches on eBay and checked in regularly with Poshmark. I kept seeing the longer-sleeved top show up, and both the tank and the dress in not-my-size; but after a few months the dress popped up in my size on eBay and I hit “buy now.”


Slightly less dorky pose:

It’s very… ladylike? I feel like I could be off to a garden party, or tea. The tie at the waist makes it look pulled together, while the collarless neck balances out the ruffled shoulders, keeping the froufy- to-chic ratio in check. And the whole thing, made out of nice-ish quality polyester, feels light and floaty in this hot weather. I am a fan.

I’m still on the hunt for the longline tank, as it will go great with white or pink bottoms and look fab under my white blazer when it starts to cool down a bit. This is it from the back (yes this comes in a skirt, too, but as I haven’t (yet) gotten on the midi skirt wagon I feel safe saying no to that part):

So here’s what I’ve been chewing on with all of this spotting-a-retail-find-then-stalking-it-online business:

Is it really that different from buying something retail?

I was sort of shocked by how quickly items from this collection turned up in secondhand online sites – maybe just a few weeks after I saw them in store? – with “brand new” or “worn once” on the listings.

(I don’t quite get it – why did the original purchaser (OP) not just return the item if it was still for sale in stores? Had this collection already been marked down and OP figured they’d get more money by selling online? Did they not live near a Target, ordered online, and then not want to pay return shipping – or maybe Target doesn’t take online returns? Or was the OP just really honest and, after having worn it out once but not loving it, they didn’t feel they could rightly return it to the store? Anyone out there who’s done a quick turnaround, retail-to-online secondhand please enlighten us!)

Whatever the case, buying something that fresh from the retail racks, for almost retail price (once you pay shipping), and calling it “thrifting” feels a little disingenuous.

I suppose it would help if I knew the piece I was buying had had a nice long life with someone else first – although in a sense I’m still saving it from a landfill or from sitting unworn in the back of someone’s closet for years. After all, plenty of people who decide to make the transition to a slimmed-down wardrobe give away brand-new-with-tags items and I definitely want reselling to be a more attractive option than dumping them.

But if I can go buy fast fashion at a big box store and turn right around and sell it for (almost) as much as I paid for it, doesn’t that just fuel the fast fashion cycle – the sense that I can continue to buy clothing I don’t really love or won’t really wear because I know there’s enough of a market for it to keep me in the habit? (You could probably make the argument that any online secondhand shopping, where the OP gets paid instead of merely receiving a tax-deductible receipt, fuels this cycle.)

I should note that I don’t feel bad about this particular purchase because the wait to find my size gave me ample time to confirm I loved and would wear this piece for many years to come, instead of trying to talk myself into something cheaper but mediocre at the thrift store. (That’s one of the pros/cons about secondhand shopping online – you pay more, but you can find exactly what you want, thus increasing the chance you’ll end up with a juicy cost-per-wear ratio and really getting the most out of your find.)

I don’t particularly want to make a habit out of spotting retail items and stalking them online – I guess it just feels more desire- and consumption-driven than need-driven. (“Need” being relative – filling a wardrobe hole here in the first world is much more often a want than a true need.)

What do you all think? Do you ever buy things secondhand that are still hot off the retail racks? Do you stay away from it for a particular reason?


*Wait – there was that one time I went to Old Navy to see in person if a new color of their Pixie Pant was in my color palette – so I could try to find it secondhand online, of course.

7 thoughts on “Looking for Retail Finds Secondhand – Should I?

  1. This is a tough issue. The way I’ve settled it for me is I’ll buy second hand items that are currently in stores but only in natural or recycled fabrics made with fair labor practices . . . for exactly the reason you mentioned. I don’t want to encourage fast turnaround of Fast Fashion by the OP. But I think it’s easier for me to be picky about items since I have a casual lifestyle. If I wear the same pair of cargo shorts on Monday and again on Thursday, it’s no big deal. It’d be harder if I had a 9-to-5 job in a more formal office setting.

    1. Priscilla – great approach to very new online secondhand finds! Your purchase actively fuels a market driven by sustainable/fair practices, which is great.
      It’s interesting – as you note, while natural fabric/fair labor options continue to proliferate (yay!), the aesthetic still tends toward the casual and/or bohemian (e.g. Eileen Fisher) than the tailored, formal office setting. (Readers aware of more formal options out there, please chime in!) I think if I worked in that kind of an environment and had your approach, I’d be sticking more strictly to brick-and-mortar thrift stores and consignment shops. On the other hand, online secondhand shopping for specific wardrobe holes has pretty significantly ramped down my shopping overall… so it’s a decreased consumption win if not necessarily a stop-the-fast-fashion-cycle win! There are so many different aspects to responsible wardrobe shopping, aren’t there?

  2. I don’t know her current habits but when the teen who lives next door to me was a little girl, I saw her at the bus stop every day and she NEVER had the same outfit on twice. Everything she wore looked brand new. We had a street sale once, many years ago, and her mom put out dozens of little outfits, all new-looking and on hangers, with high prices on them — rather than the typical 50 cent-$1 garage sale prices in my area. I don’t know for certain, but I think she resold all her daughter’s clothes at consignment stores after one wear and one wash, so that she could get money to buy new ones. Before the age of digital music, a lot of people did the same at resale shoes with CDs and movies. Same thing with video games — guys would stay up till midnight on release date, play the game non-stop for a few days, and sell it right back to the game store. Not how I do things at all, and yes, it DOES fuel the “I must always have something new” craze.

    1. That is wild! And….what is the point?? If you find super cute, designer pieces you love, wouldn’t you want your kid to wear them multiple times? Or maybe that just shows that I don’t “get it” at all – that the point is to never look the same way twice. I’d much rather rewear stuff I love, even if it’s an exact repeat of an outfit – I had better, otherwise a standout, bright green floral dress would be a waste of money!

  3. I think buying as you did online is better than buying new in Target – and definitely the wait to find it is as you said a good indication you really do like it and will hopefully get loads of wear out of it.For me though when I go secondhand shopping I am looking for something different than can be found in the shops – something a bit unusual of good quality in a natural fabric that I probably wouldn’t be able to afford new . But still I think you have most definitely saved something from going to landfill so that’s a win either way .

    1. Thrifting for more unusual, unique pieces is a great point, Eimear – and shopping at Target doesn’t really get you there! It’s a good reminder to keep this in check – one new Target dress + vintage and hard-to-find or seasons-old finds works; many off-the-rack mass-market things start to look a lot less interesting.

  4. In Minnesota, where Target is headquartered, new current or just post-season clothing and other merchandise shows up regularly in Goodwill. Some Goodwills have quite a large percentage of new Target merchandise. One reason I didn’t score any Goodwill finds on my recent trip to MN (not a Target fan). Just one of the many reasons you might have found it so quickly.

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