All my life, I’ve been wearing used clothes because my grandma would buy me things from a really sweet kid’s consignment store nearby. Although clothes purchased from a consignment store were always part of my wardrobe, it wasn’t until college that I realized how truly awesome used clothing was (and is). The adult realization that used clothes could be totally stylish AND absurdly cheap has blossomed into a full-fledged hobby. I now seek out used items first and foremost, whether it be clothes, books, or home furnishings. Below is a list of used clothes categories as chronicled through my own personal timeline of when I bought them, which you can use as a guide when exploring the world of consignment shopping in relation to your own location, needs, and price-point.
Children’s clothes (aka my grandma dresses me, but she has sick style): If you are a new parent, do not overlook this awesome and cheap resource to clothe your children on a budget. Kids grow out of clothes fast and even though new clothes seem cheap, you can save a lot of money getting used children’s clothes.
Rummage (aka I live in the South and/or Middle America): These are the types of thrift store deals you typically find at church sales, yard sales, and Goodwill/Salvation Army stores, where the pickings are decidedly superior the farther inland you go. This is my favorite used clothes category because you can often score quality items for very cheap. There is also an aspect to it that feels like you’re on a treasure hunt. I know people who have scored brand name items like L.L. Bean duck boots, Pendleton ties and jackets, Brooks Brothers ties and sweaters, and London Fog trench coats with a warm fleece liners. These items are almost identical to the quality you would find at the normal clothing establishments but are bought for what feels like pennies.
In my town we have a Goodwill Outlet where everything is priced by weight. I would often chide my boyfriend for being a hoarder when he would go there on his days off and come home with 15 scarves, until I realized how awesome the place was. The store sells everything from toaster ovens to sneakers in big plastic trash bins. Shoppers are very serious about the process and grab a cart, and wear gloves to rummage through everything. But let me warn you, it’s an activity that is not for the faint of heart as it is often stressful. There are mad rushes when new bins gets rolled out of the warehouse every few hours. However, it’s worth it, and I’ve found some of my favorite clothes at this store (such as the paisley muumuu below, which someone handmade and which garners a slew of compliments whenever I wear it out, styled with my favorite belt), as well as at the regular Goodwill store. BONUS — it’s an amazing place to pick up items for costumes.
Vintage (aka my college poet faze): The price point at vintage stores can be a bit higher because items are more curated, but you can still score deals and very unique items that jive well with a ~creative style~. There was a great vintage store in the New England college town my grandma lived near, where I scored a killer $10 pair of Jackie O sunglasses that lasted for three years which I constantly got compliments on. I also found vintage dresses which were originally full length, but I had hemmed (for $10) and transformed into more everyday functional items. I also adore vintage stores for their undergarments or pajamas which make for sexy nightwear or basic undergarments to wear under office attire.
Boutique (aka I am now a sophisticate): During my last year of college, a modern consignment store opened down the street from my house, through which I would buy and sell used clothes through. I scored the items below, which included a fabulous Dooney & Bourke bag that cost less than $100 (which I hauled all over Europe my post-college summer.)
Online shopping (aka consignment shopping done at my desk): I am obsessed with ThredUp where I snagged a Brooks Brothers belt, a $25 dress I wore to four weddings last year (and will wear to another wedding this weekend), and an Olivia Pope-esque, cozy, cowl-neck sweater. You can search by size, designer, color, item type and save the search preferences so that the next time you log on, any new items that fit those criteria pop up on your page. You can also make your own style shops for inspiration or save items you like but aren’t sure you want to buy. The best part — all returns are free!
Your mothers/sisters/grandma/friends’ closets (aka share the love): I’ve gotten vintage and designer items, like an anthropologie-style wrap skirt, a robe, a reversible cheongsam jacket, a designer silk blouse, and countless other quality clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories from my mom and grandma. A lot of my favorite clothes have even come from friends who were moving and wanted to get rid of stuff they didn’t want to take with them. I got a vintage fur cape (which made for a fabulous Halloween costume) and French Foreign Legion jacket from one of my college friends when she moved, great contemporary clothes (both casual and office appropriate) from an old roommate who was moving, and some casual outfits that were leftover when my friend’s sister had a clothing swap with friends. I even take items from my boyfriend closet (when appropriate), and repurpose them to fit me. I always make sure to spread the love, and some of the items I’ve inherited I have passed on to other friends to enjoy.
If you have friends or family who are moving or doing a closet purge, there is no shame in asking them if you can take unwanted items off their hands. In fact, I’m sure that they will be happy to have a home to give their stuff to, especially if you are willing to go pick it up. This way, they are spared the agony of having to haul yet another bag to the donation bin. As corny as it sounds, there is nothing quite as special as the feeling you get from seeing the people you care about giving the clothes you once loved, a new life.
Emma is an attorney who moved from NYC to Nashville for law school and decided to stay. She will never again live North of the Mason Dixon line or pay more than 1/3 of her salary in rent. Follow her blog or her Instagram.