A Guide to Shopping Secondhand

Happy Friday everyone! Perhaps the biggest challenge of finding clothing to wear is the hefty price tags. The best remedy for a lacking closet and a  hurting wallet is a visit to a thrift/secondhand store. Often enough, thrift stores are viewed as sufficient for only the tasteless (or most desperate) of people, but that is far from the truth! I pay a visit to Goodwill about once every two weeks (if not once a week) and always find something I love.

Here are some ways to make the most of shopping at thrift, secondhand, or consignment shops:

Find a suitable location

Thrift stores get a bad rep for being in a sketchy area with frightening clientele, but that’s just the opposite for me. I got lucky, and found a close Goodwill on the edge of a high-end neighborhood, so half of the store is comprised of decent brands. For example, I always see items labeled: Gap, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, LL Bean, Old Navy, Pottery Barn, Laura Ashley, just to name a few!

Search Wisely

When secondhand shopping, it’s easy to fall into the abyss of not-so-nice clothing. Thrift stores tend to be unorganized, so when staring down an aisle, all you see is miss matched items, colors, materials, etc. I used to stare down the aisles in horror then push all the clothing back and slowly move down the whole rack until I had picked over every piece. What a waste of time! Then my mother taught me a simple trick: search the aisles for what catches your eye. There is three ways to use this tip:

  • First, I like to search for in season colors, my favorite colors, or eye catching garments. For example, because my favorite color is pink, I look for pink clothing first, then maybe navy, then anything striped, etc. But I don’t solely search for my favorite colors, while missing other cute pieces; I look for colors that attract me or look good on my skin tone.
  • The second way I “search wisely” is by material. I quickly skim the endless rows for textures or materials that feel of a decent quality. I usually can tell just by looking at the outer side of the garment if it is a more quality material.
  • Lastly, search for what fits your style. It helps to look for colors and materials, but it’s really all about what fits your personal style. For me, I check the button down section the most, as well as the dresses and skirts area. I also like looking through the shoe section, because there is never a shortage of classic flats, loafers, or even leather riding boots. Other than that, I look for preppy brands, classic patterns, timeless styles, and a good fit. If I see something that’s really cute but also very trendy, I put it down because I like to try to follow the rule, “If it will go out of style, don’t buy it”.

Sign up for the card

For the popular thrift shops, like Savers and Goodwill, you can sign up for a card. I have a Goodwill card and it (as I imagine other companies will do) allows me to earn points every time I buy something. Once enough “points” are accumulated, there are discounts or cash back options. It’s very worth it to get a card or account because you are already spending little money, and they throw on discount and special sales.

Go as often as you can 

People are quick to decline a trip to Goodwill, partly because they never find anything. Let me tell you: I find amazing, barely worn clothing and shoes at Goodwill routinely. Since the Goodwill is relatively close to my neighborhood, I often take a trip there once a week (if I’m not super busy). Because most of those who shop at Goodwill are typically searching for ordinary, cheap clothing; the nicer brands that appeal to a refined eye, remain untouched. Larger thrift stores get hundreds of donations daily, so there is always a variety. Also, routine trips to a thrift store may impart the finding of an item you might’ve miss last week.

Here are a few of my many Goodwill finds:

2 Ralph Lauren Oxfords (OCBD’s)

Gap striped shift dress

Old Navy Striped shift dress

Red Minnetonka Thunderbird boat shoe/mocs

Talbots lambs wool/rabbit hair cardigan (a shetland-like material and very soft!)

Eddie Bauer OCBD (one of my best button down fits, surprisingly)

Gap white jeans

Gap boyfriend jeans

2 (yes 2!) LL Bean Field Coats

J.Crew utility jacket

O’Kief and O’Kief quilted barn coat

Several Gap OCBD’s

Madewell shift dress

Gap cashmere cardigan

Platinum Sperrys

Brand New Asics


If you think thrift shopping is a waste of time, I encourage you to try again, because you could be missing out!



7 thoughts on “A Guide to Shopping Secondhand

  1. Hey Emma,

    You must have SO much more patience than I do for thrift shopping! I try so hard to be optimistic but I get discouraged when I have to look through so much crap to find the gems! My one great deal was a solid wood nightstand that I scored for $12 & plan on repurposing when I move to a more permanent location. I’m so glad I found you and your blog!

    Ashley Marie (@craftyaffairs)


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