The secret is out: there are jaw-dropping deals to be had at the thrift store! Even women who previously shunned the idea of wearing “someone else’s clothing” are scouring their local Salvation Armies and Goodwills for designer bargains. But while thrift stores have piles of high quality used clothing at rock-bottom prices, there are also plenty of pitfalls to be found.
“Grant me the wisdom to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Whoever said that must have been a thrift-store fashionista! Here are some things to bear in mind when searching for secondhand steals, to avoid making someone else’s headache your own:
Know your fabrics. There are two kinds of fiber: natural and synthetic. Many garments include both, in proportions stated on the label.
Natural fibers are, well, inherent in origin: cotton, wool, silk, and linen are among the more commonly found ones. Their porous nature makes them absorbent, so they retain stains but also accept dye well. Natural fabrics tend to be wrinkly and are prone to shrink when washed or dried with heat.
Synthetic fibers are made of extruded plastic (!) and include fleece, acrylic, nylon, and polyester. These nonporous fibers usually need little or no ironing and do not shrink. With wear, synthetic knits (acrylic, for example) often develop those insidious small fuzzy balls called “pills” – an effective lint remover (or “pill shaver,” as I like to call it) is an excellent investment to prolong the life of your knits.
Beware of the insidious “Dry clean only” tag unless you’re okay with paying more to clean your clothes than you did to purchase them. Coats and jackets are an exception to this rule if your savings exceed the cost of dry cleaning. These items are almost always “Dry clean only,” but shouldn’t require frequent cleaning anyway.
Know the signs. When you find an item you like, sift through it for flaws and signs of wear. Some can be fixed, and some cannot. It’s a good idea to know the return policy anywhere you shop.
Stains are the #1 reason for the right clothes gone bad. Sometimes they can be cut off, i.e., pantlegs can be cut into shorts, long sleeves can be cut to mid- or short-sleeve length. (If you plan to do this, fold the item while trying it on, to get an idea of how it will look. Make sure it covers all of your assets, so to speak.)
Stains can also be disguised with an applique, patch pocket, or other creative additions. Check your local craft or fabric store for iron-ones, or use your computer to print your personalized iron-on designs.
Some things gain character as they soften with age and wear; denim and leather come to mind. Pair them with newer pieces for wearability. For example, a crisp button-up or T-shirt is right at home under a vintage jacket or sweater. The latest skinny-leg jeans are perfect with a hot pair of old boots. How about a great-fitting pair of vintage jeans topped with an elegant wool or tweed jacket? Any thrift-store fashionista would be well-served to cultivate an appreciation for the vintage/distressed look.
Know when to hold ’em. Check zippers, snap snaps. Broken zippers, snaps, and grommets are robust fixes. Check wool for moth holes by holding it up to the light. Fabric that is ripped or worn away offers the little foundation for a lasting repair. And if clothing could be un-shrunk…well, a dime for every teensy cotton shirt or miniature wool sweater would be quite a fortune!
Buttons, on the other hand, are easy to remove and replace, so long as the fabric and buttonholes are in good shape. Check inside seams for extra buttons included by the manufacturer, or stop by the craft/sewing store on your way home and pick up some fancy ones. Tip: when you wear out clothing with attractive buttons, cut the buttons off and reuse them to dress up secondhand finds.
Be creative with your fixes! Replace a missing snap with a bow, bead, or pin. Check out the jewelry case for delightful brooches or dots that can be reused. Ribbons and trims are inexpensive and available in a wide variety of colors and textures at fabric and craft stores. Use your imagination and work with the character of the piece to make it reflect your unique style!