Tips for Successful Resale Shopping

In my last article, I highlighted the pros and cons of shopping at resale stores.  I hope that post provided some valuable food for thought for you.   While there are definitely pitfalls involved in shopping at thrift and consignment shops, many of you will decide that the advantages outweigh these potential drawbacks.  As for me, I will continue to shop resale, but as with all of my future shopping, I will endeavor to do it smarter!

Resale Shopping Tips

Do you know how to avoid the pitfalls when resale shopping?

In this post, I offer some tips for successful resale shopping.  If you never shop at such establishments, I still suggest you read on, as many of my suggestions also apply to retail shopping.  However, the “final sale” policy of most thrift and consignment stores makes it all the more important that we have a “game plan” when we shop resale.

Shop with a List

This tip definitely applies to all shopping!  Consider a parallel – grocery shopping.  How many times have you entered a grocery store without a list and ended up leaving with bags full of impulse buys?  You see a flashy display with a new brand of potato chips or cookies and voila, these items somehow find their way into your cart.

Well, the same is true for clothes shopping and the stakes are generally higher.  While it’s true that those chips or cookies might not be good for your diet, they’ll still likely be eaten instead of wasted.  The same thing can’t always be said for the trendy top you snap up while clothes shopping.  It often ends up unworn and your “good deal” becomes money down the toilet, as it were.

Review Your Closet Before Shopping

When shopping resale, a list is especially important, as one can rarely return garments bought at such stores.  If you happen to purchase a virtual duplicate of an item in your closet or a color that makes you look like death warmed over, you’re stuck with it!  Yes, you can re-consign the item, but you’ll only recoup a fraction of your losses.  Better to not buy the wrong clothes in the first place!

So before you set out on your next resale “treasure hunt,” take a few moments to review your closet and jot down what you’d like to buy to round out your wardrobe.  Perhaps you have a few wardrobe “workhorses” that are on their last legs and you’d like to replace them.  Or maybe you’d love to find a casual dress or two to wear on the weekends during the summer.  Write these things on your list and be as specific as possible.  The more you set the stage for what you’re hoping to buy, the less likely you’ll be to purchase items that will hang in your closet unworn.

Do You Want to Wear it Right Away?

As you look through the bulging racks of “goodies” at the resale shop, keep a few questions in mind.  My favorite one (which I mentioned in this recent post) is:

Do I want to wear this tomorrow?”

One of the main reasons for this question is to avoid buying things “just in case.”  On many occasions, I’ve bought garments at consignment stores because I might wear them to some mythical future event.  For example, I rarely wear business attire, but I purchased a few suiting separates because they were inexpensive, fit well, and could potentially come in handy should I ever need to attend a more formal professional event.  However, such an event never came around and I eventually ended up donating my professional blazers and skirts to the local charity shop.

Ask Powerful Questions

Querying yourself as to whether you want to wear something right away also helps you to gauge whether you actually love the item or if you’re just considering buying it because it’s a “good deal.”  Which brings me to another powerful question to pose to yourself:

Would I buy this at regular price?”

One of the reasons for shopping resale is the opportunity to buy quality pieces at low prices, but remember… It’s only a good deal if you actually wear it!  Asking yourself if you’d be willing to pay full price allows you to consider the utility of the item in question for your wardrobe.  A “yes” answer is a step in the right direction, but there are some other important points to consider.

Here are a few other powerful questions to ask yourself when considering a resale (or retail) purchase:

  • Do I love this item on me?
  • Do I feel comfortable in it, both physically and emotionally?
  • Do I already have something very similar in my closet?
  • Do I see myself wearing this within the next week or two (i.e. does it fit my lifestyle)?

Sizes Vary – Try Everything On!

Since returning thrift or consignment purchases is rarely an option, it’s critical that you examine your prospective buys as closely as possible before buying.  Most importantly, you should always try on all of the garments you’re considering and preferably in a fitting room (I personally wouldn’t shop at a resale store that doesn’t have fitting rooms!).

Sizes vary widely in general and you can never be sure how a “pre-loved” garment was cared for.  Hot washing machines and dryers can shrink clothes a full size or more, so the size 10 in your hands may be closer to an 8 or even a 6.  For these reasons, I recommend trying on a variety of sizes when resale shopping.  Vanity sizing and laundering variations make it difficult to determine which sizes will fit you, so don’t hesitate to try on a garment that’s marked at a size (or even two!) smaller or larger than your regular size.

Also worth mentioning is the common habit many women have of cutting the size tags out of their clothes.  I didn’t know about this phenomenon until I started resale shopping!  When there is no size tag, the resale store personnel have to guess at the size, and their guesses are often way off.   So if you find something that appears as if it might fit you, by all means try it on.  If something fits you and you love it, who really cares what size it is?

Close Examination is Key

In the fitting room, make sure to look at the front, side, and back views.  Since many thrift stores don’t have three-way mirrors, I always carry a small hand mirror in my purse so I can check out my rear view.  Also, it’s helpful to try prospective purchases on with the types of companion pieces you’d wear with them.  For example, if you’re trying on blouses you’d wear with skirts, bring a skirt of two into the dressing room to pair with the tops, even if you’re not shopping for skirts that day.  You get a much better picture of how a garment works when it’s part of an actual outfit.

If you decide you’d like to buy a particular garment, be sure to check it over to make sure the seams and hems are intact and there aren’t any potentially stubborn stains anywhere.   While some flaws can certainly be mended, you’ll have to decide if the time and money required to make the fixes are worth it to you.

Factor in Alterations

Don’t forget about alterations when shopping at resale stores.  Even if potential alterations may cost more than an item you’re considering buying, it can be still worth it.  For example, if you find a quality wool skirt that’s a bit too long or a tad too large in the waist, you may not want to pass it up.  Simple alterations like this don’t cost much and can go a long way toward creating a wardrobe workhorse for you.  Just consider the full cost of the garment including the alterations (a rough estimation is fine) and make sure the price still seems reasonable to you.  And of course, make sure you love the item and that it fits your lifestyle needs.

That said, if you have to completely re-work a garment in order for it to fit you properly, it’s probably time to walk away, even if you’re looking at a designer piece that’s being sold for a “song.”  Trickier alterations can be difficult to execute well, even by an experienced tailor.  If the tailoring doesn’t work out, you’ll be out the money you paid for both the garment and the alterations – and you won’t be able to return the item to the store!

Don’t Settle!

I have one final tip to offer before I leave this important topic… Never settle!  I’ve often suggested that everything you buy – or keep – should be at least an “8” on a scale of 1-10.  Resale buys are no exception!  You should still love the things you purchase at thrift and consignment stores.  Who cares if something only costs $5?  You shouldn’t buy it if it’s just “okay.”

If you find yourself thinking, “This will do,” walk away!  How do you think I ended up with nine black skirts (well, now it’s only six, but still…)?  Almost all of them were resale buys and I didn’t take the advice I’m giving in this article (if I only knew then what I know now…).

I’ve had to learn all of these tips the hard way!  Many, many of my wardrobe benchwarmers were bought at thrift and consignment stores because they were “good enough,” a “good buy,” and something I should have “just in case” I might need it one day.  You see where that type of logic got me… I hope to save you from some of that grief!

Now It’s Your Turn…

I hope my advice will be helpful to you as you hit the resale (and retail) shops in the coming months.  I’m sure you have other tips to offer and I’d love to read them!  Please feel free to share your words of wisdom in the comments section below.  I always learn so much and gain new perspectives through my readers’ comments!

New on the Website – Resources Page

Since many of you likely read this blog via email or a blog reader, I’d like to alert you to a new page on the website.  I recently added a Resources Page with links to some of my favorite books and online courses.  Every resource on the page has been personally vetted by me.  I’ve read all of the books listed and I’ve taken the courses that I recommend.

The books fall into the following categories:

  • Books on Shopping Psychology & Ethics
  • Style-Related Books
  • Personal Development Books

I will continue to add to this page as I become aware of new resources that might benefit my readers.  If you’d like to recommend a book or course, please feel free to connect with me to share your thoughts.  In the future, I will be adding new sections for blogs and ethical/sustainable clothing manufacturers, so I’d love to get your input on these topics as well!

7 thoughts on “Tips for Successful Resale Shopping

  1. Close examination is very important and I’m glad to see it mentioned here. Although my fave resale shop says they only take clean garments they must make some exceptions — or they allow folks to eat cream soup in the dressing rooms. I almost bought a beautiful designer suede jacket until I noticed a series of “drip” stains down the front placket. The cost of cleaning suede is pretty high — and with no guarantee that the stains could be removed, I passed on the jacket. The shop wouldn’t discount further and the jacket sat there until it was eventually donated at the end of it’s consignment.

    • Interesting story, Dottie! I’ve had the same type of experience with stains on resale garments, as well as holes, tears, and the like. The store you mention ended up being pretty foolish and lost out on a sale because they wouldn’t budge on price. Hopefully they learned from that experience!

  2. As someone who regularly takes items each season to a consignment shop, if a garment is not in excellent condition, I will not offer it up for sale. Garments that are “less than” are donated to my local thrift store. I don’t think anyone should have to pay expensive dry cleaning bills to make a garment wearable from a consignment shop.

    Interestingly though, I don’t shop that much at the local consignment shop where I sell items! The garments are quite nice, and the owners are very particular about what they will accept–but I often find it difficult to find items that I like in my size. Many of the garments that appeal to me are too small. I suspect that because I am of an “average size”, that higher end clothing in my size range is snapped up more quickly.

    When I do shop there, I am always on the lookout for items from past seasons that I saw in department stores and wouldn’t pay full retail for, such as JNY printed silk skirts, one of my favorite summer looks. I tend to look for specific brands this way, because I know what fits my body and I won’t buy it, even on consignment, unless it is my size.

    • I agree that on one should have to pay expensive dry cleaning bills for resale garments, Deby! Sometimes the stores use sprays like Febreeze to mask odors, but I don’t like the smells of those sprays! Perfume can also be difficult to get out of clothing, even after multiple wears. I should have mentioned that in my post!

      Like you, I am also of an average size, but I think that in Southern California, there are a lot of smaller people. I am still able to find quite a few good garments at resale shops, whereas some of my smaller clients haven’t fared as well. My height often presents a problem (I’ve almost never found pants at resale shops), though. I think it depends on the shop. At some stores, I see lots of really tiny clothes and at others, lots of larger and plus sizes. I think one just needs to know where to look, but luck can play a big part as well! I would LOVE to find some of those printed skirts you mention at resale shops, but no such luck!

  3. I agree with your tips but for us, trying on used clothes in the store is just something we don’t do. We prefer to wash all garments first. While it does mean we sometimes have items that don’t work, it just feels cleaner to us especially if we are talking thrift store purchases. To add to your tip on examining closely.. check that all buttons are there and that zippers work well.

    • I can understand the hesitation to try on used clothing. Although people are supposed to wash the clothes before they donate or consign, I know that’s not always the case. Some stores are better than others, for sure. We all have to do what we feel most comfortable with, but it’s good that you’re okay with things not working out sometimes. If you’re getting things for really low prices and your odds are good, then you’re ahead of the game.

  4. Oh! I see that you already directed folks to Imogen’s post about easy alterations, along with many other helpful articles in your “Useful Links on Tailoring Your Clothes” post . I should have figured that you would have that well in hand!

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