Consumers purchased more than 80 billion items of new clothing last year. That’s just a staggering number. Do we really need all these clothes? In 1980 the average US citizen bought about 12 new articles of clothing a year. Now we buy about 68 new pieces a year, and half of it we wear once and throw away.
Recently, a lot of news has been coming out about fast fashion wreaking havoc on the environment. From the creation of the clothing, which takes valuable non-renewable resources, to the disposal of the clothing, which is taking up more and more space in landfills, it’s something that we need to get under control.
There is a great alternative to all of this consumer waste. Buy second-hand. If everyone bought 1 used article of clothing it would be equivalent to removing half a million cars off the road for a year!
And the best part? It’s FUN. Thrifting is creative. Rather than having some big box store tell you what you should like, you get to think for yourself.
My 16-year-old daughter and I went thrifting one time in a tiny town in South Carolina. She couldn’t believe the vintage tracksuits, windbreakers, and sneakers that were just hanging out there for $5 — some of those pieces would have gone for $30 or even $50 at the vintage shops back home. She even got some stuff and sold it when she came back, the little entrepreneur.
I’ve been thrifting my clothes for 25 years. When I was a professor, people used to comment all the time on what a sharp dresser I was. Little did they know that head to toe, everything I wore was second hand. If you know how to find the good stuff, and are willing to do a little hunting, you can make out like a bandit.
I’m going to give you all the insider tips, but first of all, if you are squeamish about used clothes, get over yourself. The planet is dying and fast fashion is helping to kill it.
Thrift stores: the cheap and random
Here’s one very important tip as you are starting out. Don’t go searching for something specific like say, a black pencil skirt. Until you really know the lay of the land, and which stores have what, you’ll just get frustrated. Treat the first few trips as research.
To find the stores in your town, start with a simple Google search. Find all of them. Not every thrift store is Goodwill, there are lots of smaller, locally-owned shops and sometimes they have really interesting stuff. Check out Reddit threads to find the inside scoop. Look at Google reviews of the stores. Then pick a handful of shops and make a day of it. Decide which shops are your favorites.
The key to good thrifting is to go back often. Things turn over quickly, and just because you don’t find anything one day doesn’t mean you won’t the next time.
If you live in a larger city, thrifting near the nicer neighborhoods can sometimes land you the good stuff. But be forewarned, if you are in a city most of the coolest items are being snatched up by vintage shops, and kids selling stuff online.
For this reason, be sure to check out nearby towns. If you are traveling, look up their thrift shops too! This can be so fun because you’ll find totally different styles than what you have back home.
For example, you’ll find the best summer stuff in the south, and great winter stuff up north. My holy grail of thrifting was a tiny town in Northern Idaho. Nobody there was hunting for finds, and there were endless supplies of vintage coats, expensive snow boots, and wool sweaters.
Thrifting in small towns is far better than in big cities. My parents live in a tiny town and I make sure to take a trip to the thrift shops when I’m in town. My brother and I have a tradition to go together when we are visiting. Since we both live in bigger cities we have to deal with vintage shops snapping up all the good stuff.
Consignment shops: higher-end goods
Consignment shops are stores that will actually buy what you bring in, rather than just taking donations like thrift stores. They are the next level up, quality-wise. These stores are going to be a little bit more expensive than thrift stores, but the clothes will be nicer because they can afford to be choosy.
I love finding good quality clothing used, especially when I find natural fibers. A cashmere sweater for $20? Come to mama. There’s a consignment store here in my town called Clothes Mentor. They are extremely picky about what they sell, taking into account the label, the season and the quality.
I consistently find Madewell, Free People, Loft and all kinds of fun boutique brands for under $20. It’s not thrift shop prices but it sure beats paying $100 for a well-made sweater. I have a glorious collection of linen t-shirts of all colors, which are my new favorite thing. Each one probably cost me $8. There’s probably a similar shop near you.
Online thrifting: for the pickier shopper
There are so many great ways to buy used clothing online! These sites really help you if you are looking for something specific. I love the thrill of finding some totally unusual piece at the thrift store, but if you want to narrow your search, online shops are the best.
One site that I have to save myself from is thredUP. If you don’t know about it and you already love thrifting, you are in for a treat. The best thing is that you can filter your search to the brands you like, your sizes, fabric type, color, style, anything. It’s addicting. The prices are amazing and again — you are saving the planet — win, win!
Naked Lady Parties!
Something that’s been going on a lot in my neck of the woods is what is called a Naked Lady Party. These are big clothing swaps where everyone brings a bag of gently used clothing, and trades. Clothes are laid out around the space, sometimes organized sometimes not, and you just start digging!
What’s super fun is you get to hear the stories behind the clothes, and you get to see your old stuff looking awesome on someone new. I got so much joy one time seeing my friend loving a coat that I had lost interest in. I still loved it, but I never wore it, so it just sat in my closet. Seeing it looking so great on my friend, and knowing that it would be worn and loved made me so happy!
I’ve been to smaller, low-key swaps, and bigger swaps with tons of people. At one swap I attended, the organizer took over a restaurant after hours. Every table was covered in clothes. It was a blast. Because of booze and partial nudity, these swaps can get crazy! You always end up with stuff you’d never normally buy because 1) it’s free and 2) you have a bunch of friends cheering you on and telling you how fabulous you look. Such a great time.
Afterward, the leftover clothing is usually donated to a shelter or charity shop. Sometimes the nicer stuff is given to a women’s shelter or nonprofit to help women who need work clothing.
I’ve been to co-ed swaps and there’s nothing saying that men couldn’t have their own. You could also organize swaps for specific things, like yoga clothing, camping gear, kid's clothes…the possibilities are endless really.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Here’s an idea, what if everyone bought 80% of their clothes secondhand and 20% new? For a little while, the only new thing I was buying was coats. I’d buy a stylish new coat once a year. At this point, I now have a gorgeous peacoat, a puffer jacket, a faux leather jacket, a jean jacket and a really good raincoat. I’m probably good on the coats. But, I totally let myself splurge on the high-end stuff because I bought almost everything else used.
We can do this. There’s so much clothing already out there, we almost don’t even need to buy anything new! (besides underwear, socks and swimsuits — because yuck)
I’m telling you, there are so many benefits to buying used. Apart from the obvious ones of saving money AND the planet, you can have a bonding experience with friends or family. You’ll also discover your own sense of style, and learn to express your unique voice.