For most of my adult life, I purchased all of my clothing at retail stores. It wasn’t until about eight years ago that I discovered a new type of place to shop, the resale shop. These stores are known by all types of terms – thrift, consignment, second-hand, opportunity (or “op-shops” for short), to name a few. The common thread is that the items sold are not new; they were previously owned by someone else, or “pre-loved” if you will.
Many people swear by the virtues of resale shopping and a number of bloggers have pledged to only shop at such stores for a year or longer. I don’t think I’ll go that far. For one, the availability of pants with tall inseams at such shops is in short supply (pun intended – sometimes I can’t resist…). That alone gives me pause when considering a “resale only” pledge. I also like to keep my options open, especially now that I’m aiming at being smarter in terms of what I buy and using my head more than my heart when shopping.
Not a Black or White Issue
Whether or not one shops resale is not a black or white issue. In my option, there are plusses and minuses to this type of shopping, just as there are for standard retail buying. In this post, I outline what I see as the pros and cons of resale shopping. In my next article, I’ll offer some tips for successful resale shopping for those who choose to pursue this avenue. While I’m by no means a resale shopping expert and still make mistakes with this type of shopping (and all shopping…), I have learned some useful lessons over the years which I’m happy to share with my readers.
The “Pros” of Resale Shopping
There are a number of advantages to hitting your local consignment shop instead of the mall, including the following:
If you’re concerned about the impact of your shopping on the planet, resale shopping is a good option for you. By purchasing “pre-loved” clothing, you are giving these items new life and saving them from being thrown into a landfill or shipped overseas. You’re also making a statement with your clothing dollars that you care about the environment and want to decrease your participation in the “fast fashion” madness, which has negative ethical and environmental consequences. Even if you only buy a portion of your clothing at resale stores, you’re taking a positive step in the right direction toward helping to heal the earth.
When you shop at the mall, your choices are mostly limited to the current trends for styles, colors, and fabrics. If these options aren’t to your liking, you’re pretty much out of luck. At a resale store, you will have many more options to choose from. While most resale stores stock items that are still relatively current, the selection isn’t just what’s on the cutting edge of fashion. Consequently, you’ll see a wider variety of cuts, colors, and prints, and may be more likely to find things you really like.
Designer Styles, Bargain Prices
Many of us have designers we love whose offerings are out of our price range. But if you shop at an upscale consignment store or on Ebay, you’ll likely find the pieces you covet for much lower prices. In many cases, these items are still in excellent condition and you’ll be able to enjoy them for a long time – without having to break the bank!
Another bonus is that some designers may not be known to resale store personnel and thus clothing from those makers may be priced much lower than you’d expect. If you know your designers and fabrics, you might benefit from knowing more than the people who price the clothing. That’s definitely been the case for me over the years.
Better Quality Pieces
As “fast fashion” becomes increasingly common in the retail landscape, the quality of clothing has declined. Consequently, even those brands we used to trust are offering sub-standard merchandise these days. However, if you find garments from those brands in a resale shop, they may be a few years old and of higher quality than the current offerings.
You may find better fabrics (i.e. natural fibers instead of the ubiquitous and dreaded polyester), thicker weight materials, and superior workmanship in a consignment store than at your local mall. Sadly, as “fast fashion” continues to dominate, even the quality of resale clothing has gone downhill. But it’s still often better than what one can find in a retail establishment.
Remember the old quote from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, the same thing is true of resale shopping. It’s like a treasure hunt every time you visit these stores. You can find amazing, interesting, and unique items if you’re open to searching for them. I personally love the “treasure hunt” aspect of thrift and consignment stores. Sure, you need to pick through more clothing to find those “diamonds in the rough,” but the feeling of gratification derived from unearthing these finds can really be worth it.
The “Cons” of Resale Shopping
While the “pros” I outlined above are definitely compelling, there is also a downside to shopping at consignment and thrift stores. Listed below are what I view as the “cons” of resale shopping:
It’s always a good idea to shop with a list and aim to only buy items that are on that list. However, when resale shopping, it’s all too easy to become distracted by what’s in front of you. You may become dazzled by the low prices and buy things you don’t really need or that are very similar to what you already have (how do you think I ended up with nine black skirts at the beginning of this year?).
Limited Size Selection
When you shop at a department store, you can usually try on garments in multiple sizes to find the best fit for you. Not so in a resale shop. Most of the items sold are one of a kind and you get only one shot at the size. If something doesn’t fit, you’re just plain out of luck.
“This Will Do”
Piggy-backing on the “con” above is the “this will do” phenomenon. Since you only have one size option available to you, you may lower your standards related to fit. You may be more willing to accept a garment being a bit too loose or a smidge too tight.
While alterations can handle the former issue, a tight garment is unlikely to be worn very often. Even if something fits you well, you may be willing to settle for buying something you don’t truly love simply because the price is low and you’re “getting a deal.” Remember, we’re aiming for “8”s and above as much as possible!
Poor Fitting Room Conditions
If you’ve ever shopped at a second-hand store, you probably know that the fitting rooms aren’t up to Nordstrom’s standards. Some resale stores don’t even have fitting rooms at all! If you are lucky enough to be able to try on your prospective buys, the lighting is often poor and you’ll rarely find a three-way mirror, let alone a mirror large enough for you to see the “big picture.” While you can always use a hand mirror to see the rear view, you won’t be able to see things are clearly as in a department store setting.
When you buy items at resale shops, they are usually “final sale.” That means returns are not an option. While many shoppers do their best to avoid having to make returns, sometimes it’s difficult to discern the suitability of a garment in the store. Once you get something home, you may find that it doesn’t work with your existing wardrobe, isn’t right for your lifestyle, or just doesn’t look as good on you as you thought (if you saw the Seinfeld “skinny mirrors” episode, you know what I’m talking about…). If you bought that piece at a resale store, you’re probably out of luck. The best you can do in most cases is to re-consign it and hope to get a portion of your money back.
The Choice is Yours
As you can see, there are quite a few plusses and minuses involved in resale shopping. It’s up to you whether or not the pros outweigh the cons. Perhaps simply being aware of the potential pitfalls will help you to avoid them. I know I wasn’t really cognizant of the dark side of consignment shopping until I ended up with an overabundance of “wardrobe benchwarmers” that I purchased in such stores.
I’ve decided that for me, the benefits of resale shopping make it a worthwhile pursuit. However, I’ve chosen to shift my “game plan” for when I set foot in my favorite consignment stores. I’ll share what I’ve learned and offer my best tips and suggestions in my next post.
Did I Forget Any “Pros” or “Cons”?
How do you feel about resale shopping? Did I leave out any important “pros” or “cons”? If so, please share them in the comments section below or connect with me to offer your thoughts.
One con that immediately came to mind is that if you find something you like, taking a “power pause” to think it over runs you the risk that it won’t be there when you return. (And you know as well as I that when you find, say, a pair of pants that are actually long enough or a pair of shoes that actually fit, it can be very hard to walk away!) This has definitely made me more likely to buy things that, in the end, weren’t quite right. A better philosophy to [try to] adopt is “if it’s meant to be, it will still be there when I go back.” But sometimes that’s easier said than done.
Good points, Renee! With resale shopping, the “power pause” is more difficult to do. There is a Starbuck’s in the same complex as my favorite resale store, so perhaps I can take a coffee or snack break while I think about my prospective purchase. I find that asking myself some powerful questions (which will be in my next post) is also helping a lot with resale – and other – purchases. Having an “if it’s meant to be…” attitude is a good philosophy for sure. When I’ve been able to do that, I usually have not been sorry!
I like resale shopping. I’ve done it ever since I discovered resale shops almost thirty years ago when I was a student, and I still do it, though there’s been a time when I didn’t shop at resale shops as often as I used to and bought most of my clothes new. Having said that, some of my best loved clothing items are pre-loved clothes that I bought ages ago. My black leather jacket comes to mind. It cost me only 25 old fashioned Dutch guilders, and seeing that we got the euro back in 2002… I wear that one a lot, and it still looks and feels just as good as the day I bought it.
Now, I’m lucky as I’ve got a size 38 (US size:8, UK size:10), which makes it much easier for me to find nice clothes. Also, I like my tops a few sizes larger because generally I hate tight fitting clothes. This means I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to tops. Skirts and trousers are more challenging, but not impossible.
One of the cons I’ve encountered with resale shopping is that sizes aren’t always accurate. Sometimes the size tags are removed from the clothes, and the personnel have to guess what size a piece of clothing is. As often as not, their guesses are way off.
Sounds like you’ve had some great success with resale shopping, Leah! I am the same size as you and have done very well with tops in such shops, too. I’ve found quite a few skirts, too, but some have not been the best buys (I’ve sworn off polyester now!). Your point about sizing is a good one. It’s amazing how many women cut the size tags out of their clothes and the store just has to guess! Also, sizes are so variable and vanity sizing is prevalent with newer pieces. I’ve gotten better at holding things up and eyeballing whether or not something might fit me. I’m often wrong, but it saves me some try-on time.
I have found some excellent things in resale shops – fantastic quality (such as thick silk, great velvet) for next to nothing. It’s a great and socially responsible way to shop. However, as my main problem is impulse purchase related overshopping and wardrobes that are already too full, I’ve decided to steer clear. In the past, I have made way too many ‘this fits – almost’ and ‘I’ll have this altered’ and ‘this will do for now’ type purchases. I did not do the repairs and I did not wear most of those items. For the same reason, outlet shopping is fraught – you are tempted to buy things that are almost right, but often never fully satisfying.
I’ve found a lot of great quality pieces in resale shops, too, but I’ve also made similar mistakes to the ones you describe. I haven’t sworn off resale shops yet, but I’m being MUCH more careful these days. I almost never shop in outlets, but mainly because there aren’t any all that close to where I live. It’s difficult not to buy the almost fits items, especially if it’s a beautiful designer piece, but after so many resale buying mistakes, I’ve better learned when to say no!
For me a major downside is the sheer amount of time it takes to look through everything. This is major for me as I suffer from Chronic Fatigue but I guess it would be the same for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time shopping. Also I’m tall and I just find it easier to shop where I know things will fit (hardly anywhere as it happens).
I hear you on the tall fit issues, Marion! I really wish manufacturers and stores would better serve the tall community. My husband has the same problem because he’s thin and tall, not “big and tall.” But I could go on and on about the tall issue! Yes, it does take a lot of time to go through racks at resale stores and one has to be in the mood. Even as a major shopaholic, I sometimes don’t want to take the time.
Like you, Debbie, I enjoy the “Treasure Hunt” aspect of shopping in thrift and consignment stores. It’s very hit and miss though and you have to be prepared to walk out empty-handed. By no means will you find something great on every trip.
If I’m attending a party with a theme I really enjoy perusing thrift stores to see what I can find. Several months ago our synagogue held a big party with a Hawaiian theme. Of course what to wear was the big dilemma. I found a brightly colored silk maxiskirt in a Hawaiian tropical print at an upscale thrift store. While the tropical print was perfect, I didn’t like the silhouette of the skirt due to its bunchy elastic waist. I bought it anyway and brought it to a tailor, who re-fashioned the skirt into a dress with shoulder straps. Of course the tailoring cost was significantly more than the $15 I paid for the skirt but I was okay with that because I love my new silk dress. I’m fairly certain I’ll have other opportunities to wear it.
Your tropical maxiskirt sounds lovely, Starr! What a great idea to turn it into a dress! I’ve turned a dress into a skirt before, but never the opposite. Very creative! Good point about being willing to leave empty-handed when resale shopping. I never used to be, but after many ho-hum buys, I’ve become wiser!
I have never shopped in a resale shop and don’t think I will ever. For one thing, in the past 20 years I have not lived near anything that would compare to ‘upscale’ resale, but more a giant rummage sale under a roof where the sheer amount of staff is overwhelming. Secondly, I have never shopped just for entertainment. I can spend money with the best of them, but unless there is an item that I would like or need (as in NOW), you will not see me inside a retail store. I belong to this strange group of people who go shopping only when the need arises and resale shopping requires more time then I am willing to give to it.
You raise a good point about location in terms of resale shops, Cornelia. I live in an area where there are some good upscale shops, but I’ve visited resale stores in other communities that really were sub-standard. One day, I hope to be part of that “strange group of people” who go shopping only when the need arises. I am still far too willing to devote a big chunk of my life to all types of shopping, resale included. But that’s why I started this blog 🙂
Your are very kind in responding to everyone’s email comment. I do not want you to think though that I’ve am the perfect shopper. Far from it. My biggest obstacle was learning to shop for the life I live. As a matter of fact, I will be visiting your beautiful city again next spring, and rest assured, I will worship at that beautiful mall you have. 😉
I love to interact with my readers! I think your biggest obstacle is many people’s greatest challenge (I know it is for me!). I’d love to meet you – or any of my readers – when you come to San Diego 🙂
One very esoteric “con” of resale shops or thrift stores is that these establishments also serve as a safety valve for the guilt/anger/depression of our over-shopping. Let me explain: We go to a retail store (especially during a sale), buy stuff we don’t need or that doesn’t really coordinate with our existing wardrobe. Once we realize we have stuff we don’t need (and maybe can’t return), we take it to a resale shop. We feel good doing this because we’ve found an additional “purpose” for our shopping mistakes (i.e., supporting a charity, reducing our footprint on earth, etc.), thus reducing the guilt/awareness/shame of over-shopping in the first place. We get a small dividend in the form of a consignment payment if our stuff sells. And while we are in the resale store, we also over-shop, potentially setting up another round of “recycling” our bad clothing purchases.
Very good point, Dottie! I’ve definitely been guilty as charged. I got a big jolt of reality recently when I got a print-out of my transactions this year at my favorite consignment store. I was shocked to see how little money I actually made on many of the items I brought there. I used to only donate clothes, not consign them, and I think I might be back on that track. Either way, I have to be careful not to over-shop when I take things to donate or consign. That has been a big problem for me, similar to when I buy more when returning items to retail stores. Both are hazard zones!
A few years ago I worked in a downtown fashionable corporate office, with a number of upscale consignment stores (and Nordstrom) nearby, and all of my coworkers shopped at lunchtime. I fell into the habit of shopping every other Friday. This was how I ended up with a ton of good quality clothing that fit me well, and far more clothing than I needed. But I also ended up with too many orphan pieces, and my willy-nilly emotionally fueled shopping also caused me to gain a peculiar eclectic wardrobe. After my project 333 purge I made a few changes. Now I only do planned purchasing. If I’m looking for a completer piece to wear with a specific skirt, I wear the skirt to the store so that I can tell if I like the way it looks together.
Great tip, Terra! Planned purchasing is best for ALL types of shopping! It’s the impulse buys that get us into the most trouble. Your suggestion to try things on with the types of items (or even the actual piece!) you’ll be wearing them with is one of my tips in tomorrow’s post. Great minds think alike 🙂
I have always shopped at resale stores since I was in high school. It was the 1970’s and we liked to wear vintage. That’s how I got started with it. Later, as a college student and onto being a young mother trying to look professional at my job, I shopped resale because I could find expensive classic garments that I could not otherwise afford. I’ve always had the taste for quality fabrics and fine leathers, and I didn’t mind if the pieces were preloved, because it gave them the patina of old money, the image I was after by the late ’80’s, as I was starting my own graphic design business on the thinnest of shoestrings.
You seem like an example of truly successful resale shopping, Deby! I think it can be a great way to shop, but you have to know what you’re looking for and shop wisely. If you do so, you can unearth some wonderful finds. However, you can also run into the problems Dottie mentioned above. I’m glad it’s worked out so well for you. For me, it’s been a mixed bag, but I’ve gotten MUCH better at this type of shopping.
I recently discovered resale shops. I always thought of them as musty old places with tired clothes. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. I took some of my discarded clothing (*333 Program) into a resale shop and entered a wonderful new world.
On my first visit, I picked up a pair of cashmere lined, leather gloves; Stuart Weitzman black pumps (barely worn) for work; and a ‘like new’ Neiman Marcus tote to be used for work. The total bill was $125.00. Thrilled beyond reason, I ran home and discarded my old business shoes and tattered to shreads briefcase (*333 Program rule).
I now go into the resale shops to brouse. More often than not, I leave with nothing in hand. When I do buy, it is something I need and often replaces something that is almost unwearable in my current wardrobe.
I love the high quality items at affordable prices. They last longer, have enduring style, and feel great.
I’m glad you’ve discovered the beauty of resale shops, Beth! I’ve found a lot of great things in such stores for myself and others. However, I’ve also made quite a few mistakes, which is why I wrote the “pros and cons” and “tips” posts. Sounds like you had great success there with the shoes! The Project 333 rules (or a “one in, one out” policy for those not doing Project 333) and a willingness to leave empty-handed can help you avoid overbuying with resale or otherwise. My problem was that I always wanted to leave with something and often too many somethings! I’m glad to be reforming in that regard…
I am so enjoying reading your back posts! This has been so helpful for me!
For the past few years I have shopped exclusively at resale shops for all clothing for a family of 5 exept underclothes amd socks and sometimes shoes. For us it works. We have a local thrift where all shirts are $1.25 and as I shopped the other day I found a cute Tommy Hilfiger button up shirts with pretty little flowers on the rack that I loved and I was so thrilled. Our family all dress in very nice clothes and we pay a small fraction of what most people may. All clothes are brought home and washed and then tried on. Rarely do we have an instance where something does not fit, but it happens and we donate it back. It is very important to inspect each item very carefully and then you are golden. Love to thrift shop!
Welcome, Brittany, and thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying reading my blog posts! It sounds like resale shopping has been a very good thing for you and your family, which is wonderful. You seem to have a system in place that works well for you. It’s great when you can find designer clothing at very low prices, isn’t it? I definitely recommend that people try resale shopping, especially if they are on a budget, but I also thought it was important to point out the potential “gotchas” that can arise. When done wisely, resale shopping can be a very good thing!
For someone just starting to figure out or looking to transition to a different style and/or color palette, thrift stores offer a good opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of colors, materials, styles, and sorts of garment construction, all in one place.
If you can’t afford a professional color analysis, but are hoping to learn more about what colors look good on you, then finding a shop with natural lighting and bringing a small mirror along (or borrowing a mirror temporarily from the housewares section of the shop) can be helpful for quickly checking out how different hues look draped across you. Fluorescent lighting can be problematic, though, and keep in mind that colors nearby may also reflect on your face. I may do this to check out colors of interest even in garments that I don’t plan to try on, much less buy… and it has helped me to be much more selective about which shades of clothing I will even bother to look at, when I’m going through the racks.
Helpfully, the wide variety of different styles available leads me to try different things, so that my resultant outfits tend to have a variety of different silhouettes, instead of all looking similar.
Trying on accessories such as different sorts of belts in front of a mirror can also help you figure out what sizes, shapes and positions of such items work best for your body. (You can do this in retail stores as well, of course, but there’s often a wider variety at resale stores. Just be careful of the quality and check for damage, if you intend to buy, as with anything.)
A lot of the things I find, I immediately know will become a staple in my wardrobe. I am certainly guilty of buying some garments that don’t fit my current lifestyle, but as I’d like to transition into a lifestyle that does require those sorts of clothes, I’m slowly pulling some of those items into circulation (more will work as the weather gets cooler). I also have some items that don’t work out, and must be donated again. In my initial search for some nice blazers, I did end up purchasing four blazers for $3 to $4 each (during some 50% off all clothing sale days) that have already been taken back or are now awaiting donation, along with three others that I’m keeping. I feel that it was worth that cost to have the opportunity to take everything home and try them all on with my existing wardrobe, as I learned a lot about what sorts of construction, collars, fastenings, etc. suit me best. More recently, when looking at blazers in retail stores, I could immediately eliminate 90% of them, and focus on determining the whether the fit was appropriate in the few in styles that suited me.
For crafty folks (and those with hobbies/avocations that require unusual costuming), thrift stores can be even more of a treasure trove: even a garment that doesn’t fit or that has some damaged areas could potentially be recycled into a different garment or accessory, if you have the needed skills and know-how. However, avoid purchasing something if you do not yet have the needed info or experience to modify it in the way you imagine. For instance, if you were thinking of dyeing a garment, you’d need to consider not only the type of fabric of the garment (e.g., plant vs. animal fibers often require different sorts of dye), but also whether thread used might be polyester, which would not take the sorts of dyes for plant or animal fibers typically available for home use. Also, many dyeing processes require high heat, so if the garment care label calls for washing in cold water only, then the dyeing process could cause shrinkage in unpredictable ways.
Thanks for writing this blog, Debbie! Your shopping tips and closet-purging tips are so useful… I’m making a list to carry with me the next time I have the urge to shop. Thanks for sharing your experiences with such depth and honesty, too.
I’m glad you like my blog, Sabrina, and are finding my tips useful. Thank you for sharing your resale shopping insights! I enjoyed reading them and learned some new things. I have never tried to dye a garment, but you provided some excellent food for thought on that process. You seem to be using thrift shopping to your best advantage and your tips can help others to do so as well. I agree that thrift shopping can be an excellent way to explore new colors and styles on a budget and like you, I enjoy the variety and “treasures” one can often find through shopping at resale stores!