Oh secondhand shopping, how I love thee. I don’t know if you guys know this about me, but I kind of have a knack for thrifting and scoring a deal. Between the thrill of finding a one-of-a-kind piece, the knowledge that I am doing my part to lessen the fashion industry’s environmental impact, and the budget-friendly price tags, shopping secondhand is my jam.
Take, for example, my $2 mid-century cork top coffee table. I saw the hairpin legs sticking out from under a dish-ware display at my local Goodwill and was immediately drawn to their sleek style. The tabletop was covered by a yoga mat, upon which dishes were neatly stacked, but that didn’t stop me from taking a peak. To my delight, when I lifted up the teal rubber mat, a beautiful cork table top stared back at me. It was amazing, and it had to be mine. I asked the woman behind the counter if the table was for sale, and she replied that unfortunately it was not. They needed it for their display, she said. Not to be deterred, I quickly inquired about the possibility of a trade. If a sturdy display table was what they needed, I had a beautiful IKEA coffee table that would certainly do the trick. The lady stared at me for a minute and said she needed to get her manager.
Two days later I went home with the cork top table, and I’m pretty sure that IKEA unit is still there, holding up mismatched teacups.
When it comes to clothes, I’ve also had my fair share of good luck at Goodwill, Crossroads, and the like. I spoke a while back about when to save versus when to splurge, and mentioned the wealth of opportunity that thrift stores can present, if only you arm yourself with time, discernment, and a keen plan of action. Together those three pieces – time, discernment, and acuity, make up the secret sauce of thrifting well. Today I’d like to share with you all a few of the thrift hacks I regularly employ when I’m on the hunt for something special. I often come away from thrifting sessions wondering why I ever buy anything new. Aside from wanting to support local, ethically made, and/or cause-driven brands, there really isn't a need to buy anything that isn't pre-loved. Here's what I keep in mind whenever I head to any of my favorite secondhand shops:
1. HAVE AN OPEN MIND // Shopping secondhand requires balancing focus with open-mindedness. I try to never go to my local thrift store without a goal in mind. It might be something very specific (vintage 501s), or something more vague (silk blush button-up), but either way, I find that adhering to a plan with some level of flexibility is the best recipe for success. For example, if I happen to be looking for vintage denim, I always go through the rack backwards. I inspect and rifle through the jeans from the back so I can quickly spot the Levi's rectangle, and if I'm looking for that perfect medium wash, I try to tune out all other styles and just hone in what I am looking for. If, however, I happen to spot a pair that are the perfect wash, cut, and rise, but lack that iconic logo, I still give them a try. I have found some great vintage, made-in-the-USA jeans from brands that I either never thought I would love (i.e., Gap) or brands that I've never heard of. Keeping an open mind has helped me score countless items that I might have otherwise been shielded to. I also look for vintage denim in the men's section. It's hit or miss, but sometimes you can get lucky!
2. KEEP TIME ON YOUR SIDE // Thrifting is a lesson in patience. My number one tip is to be sure to allow yourself enough time to really dig and hunt and go through the racks. Secondhand stores aren’t typically known for their organization, and sizing has changed so dramatically over the years that it’s almost impossible to know if something one or two deviations from your current size will fit without trying it on. My advice is to take your time. Grab an iced coffee. Make an afternoon out of it.
3. PUT UP YOUR BRAND BLINDERS // When scouring racks in search of that perfect vintage blazer or blouse, I try not to let brands be the first thing I consider. I am mostly looking for design and quality, and name recognition isn’t as important. In fact, a handful of my most favorite secondhand finds have been tagless altogether. Sometimes when I find something with a name I recognize, but am on the fence about, I ask myself if I would love that piece if it didn’t have the tag. Do I want it because it’s actually what I am looking for, or am I being bamboozled by a name? If it’s the later I put it back on the rack – a gift for some other lucky lady. The flip side of this is that when I do stumble upon something truly spectacular (I once found a Lanvin sheath dress for $7 at the Goodwill in the Sunset) I usually jump on it. Some things are too good to let get away.
4. CONSIDER QUALITY FIRST // Before checking the tag, I usually take a moment to really consider the quality and silhouette of whatever I pulled from the secondhand racks. Sometimes you might find something perfect with a slight tear or a missing button – easy enough, but other imperfections are hard stops. Many a time I have found a beautiful cashmere sweater, only to discover a spattering of moth holes. No dice. I also make sure to check the labels for the breakdown of materials. I usually look for 100% natural fibers. They tend to have more longevity - plus they just feel better. One of the main joys of shopping secondhand is finding high quality, well-made, timeless pieces, so make sure they actually ARE. Check the labels, prioritize quality over everything else.
5. BE MINDFUL, BUT ACT FAST // I have previously written all about my #leancloset practice of taking a beat to consider an item before purchasing. Usually when I find something I love online or in store, I force myself to take 24 hours to think on it. Not rushing into buying helps me keep my closet lean and clean. But all that kind of goes out the window when shopping resale. Yes, I still consider my capsule rules (will it fill a hole in my closet?; can I think of five different ways to wear it?, etc.), but I also typically strike while the iron is hot. When I find something I truly love at a thrift store, I grab it, lest be faced with some massive FOMO.
6. FIND YOURSELF A GOOD TAILOR // I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a good tailor. It's the secret weapon of any perfectly executed outfit. Take for example the duster featured in yesterday's Instagram post. I found it at the Goodwill on Fillmore and immediately noticed its bones (excellent lines, beautiful silk lining, perfect length). The only issue? It was about 5 sizes too large and the MASSIVE shoulder pads weren’t really my thing. Still, I decided to invest and bring the gorgeous coat back to life. After getting it dry cleaned, I took it to my tailor Meifei in the Marina to work some magic. About a week later I walked away with a duster that garners compliments EVERY SINGLE TIME I WEAR IT. Tailoring. Get into it.
And just for fun, here's a sampling of looks featuring pre-loved or thrifted gems. I have to say, many of the things I have purchased from resale stores are among my most favorite.
So there you have it. These are my main considerations when thrifting (in the traditional sense), and to date these guiding principles have yielded me some of my most favorite finds. Over the next few weeks I'll dive into strategies I employ when shopping secondhand online, and list out some of my favorite local secondhand haunts for any Bay Area ladies who are interested. As always, thanks so much for stopping by! Let me know if you have any thrifting tips or tricks that you live by!