Frugality in practice: Shopping for second-hand clothes

On a street corner near our house is a store called The Dig, which advertises “most clothes $3 – $4 – $5”. Many of these are items of the latest fashions, which have been rejected for whatever reason. Clean and organized, the store also has dressing rooms, something many thrift stores lack. I used to mock Kris for going to The Dig. It looked like a dive. Then I joined her for a trip a couple of weeks ago — now I’m a convert.

I buy most of my clothing at one of two places: Costco or the local thrift shops. It makes me wince to pay more than $20 for a piece of clothing. (Unless it’s something top quality, like a Filson jacket, in which case I’ll gladly pay $150.) Costco has styles I like, but the selection is limited, and the prices are three times those at thrift stores. Thrift stores have a huge selection, but the garments are often flawed. And to find anything good, you have to sort through tons of junk.

Used clothing stores like The Dig are a compromise. The prices are better than at Costco. The selection isn’t as wide as you might find at a thrift store, but the quality is generally better. Here are some tips about shopping for second-hand clothes. (Kris gave a lot of help with these.)

  1. Set a budget. This is difficult at first — you don’t know how much things cost. But eventually you’ll be able to tell yourself, “I’m going spend $20 today”. It becomes a game to see how much you can buy for $20.
  2. Discard your prejudices. Some people consider thrift stores and used clothing shops nasty dirty places. Some are. Most aren’t. Explore your neighborhood. Find a shop or two that you like, and you’ll be hooked. (My mother-in-law was nonplused when we shopped for used clothes on our San Francisco vacation, but even she became excited when she found a new pair of her favorite Birkenstocks — in her size! — for just $8.)
  3. Go with a friend. It’s good to have a second opinion. Your friend may have an eye for what looks good on you — and vice versa.
  4. Try things on. Sizes vary widely between manufacturers and even by eras. (Today’s clothes have looser fits.) But go in knowing your general size and measurements. Note that some places don’t have dressing rooms, so it’s smart to wear a modest thin layer in case you need to strip down in the aisle.
  5. Examine each item thoroughly. It sucks to get home to find your new shirt has a hole in the pocket. Or that the slacks you thought were a steal actually have a broken zipper.
  6. Check washing instructions. You don’t want to pay $3 for a silk blouse if you’ll never dry-clean it.
  7. Use the tags as a guide to find quality brands you like, but don’t limit yourself. Sometimes a brand you’ve never heard of can yield a favorite piece of clothing.
  8. Think layers. Maybe that shirt with a stain on the sleeve has a great collar for wearing under a sweater. For $3, you can afford to buy a single-purpose shirt.
  9. Use thrift stores as a way to diversify your wardrobe. Buy colors and styles on which you normally wouldn’t spend much. Wear the new clothes a few times to see how you like them, and to gauge the reaction of others.
  10. Used clothing stores are great for certain accessories. Why pay $30 for a new belt in a department store when you can get a better belt in your size for just $2? I like to shop at second-hand stores for hats. (Nice hats.)
  11. Look for clothes new with tags. Sometimes unsold department store inventory finds its way to used clothing stores and thrift shops. You’ll generally pay more for these items, but not much.
  12. If you won’t wear it, don’t buy it. You don’t save money buying a $3 shirt if it just sits in your closet for two years.
  13. Wash clothes when you get them home.
  14. Watch for sales. Used clothing stores (and thrift stores) run periodic specials. Our favorite local store just ran a half-off sale. The local thrift stores often have specials on certain items.
  15. If you go to the same store often, ask when they rotate stock. Stores get new shipments regularly. Most also have extra stock in storage. If you become familiar with the owners, you might even ask them to keep an eye out for particular items.
  16. If buying used clothes becomes a habit, institute a “one in-one out policy”. Every time you bring home something new, get rid of something old. (Give it away, take it to a thrift store, or save it for a garage sale.)
  17. Have fun! Buying used clothing can save you money. It’s also a fun way to kill a Saturday afternoon. At $3 an item, you can afford to be adventurous sometimes.

Used clothes shopping isn’t just for women. Men can find some fantastic deals, too. I hate to shop for clothes in department stores, but I love the adventure of buying used clothes. Don’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Good second-hand stores aren’t smelly, dirty, or scary — they’re just great places to find bargain clothing.

More about...Clothing, Frugality

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There are 20 comments to "Frugality in practice: Shopping for second-hand clothes".

  1. Binary Dollar says 23 October 2006 at 05:43

    Darn. The Dig is in OR only. Let me know if you find out about a stylish 2nd hand nationwide store.

    • Tyler says 10 November 2012 at 18:56

      I have a stylish nation wide option that doesn’t reject your clothing,
      That’s right, online. Dresm is the answer to buying and selling secondhand clothing. It’s up to you the user to provide good images and descriptions of each item but the site works well and is cost effective.

  2. Tim says 23 October 2006 at 06:28

    Here’s a great shop in Bucks County, PA.

  3. BJ Clark says 23 October 2006 at 08:39

    I like to do my discount shopping at Old Navy. It’s usually not as cheap as a thrift store, and sometimes you can only find ultra trendy stuff that will look sily in 1 year, but if you wait for the super sales, you can find some steals.

    Example: Last week they had plain colored, no frills polo style shirts in pleasing colors, in all sizes, for $.97. These are brand new shirts, of top quality. I bought 5. That’s a whole weeks worth of work clothing.

    Their jeans can also be found for 50-75% off on like, the day after christmas. I don’t even ask for christmas presents, I ask for day after christmas presents.

    The nice thing is that they sell everything. If you wait for their “Summer” season boxer underware to go on sale, you can pick up 3 packs for $2-$3, and they make very very nice underware.

    I never buy stuff for full price, because it will all be onsale in 2 weeks. You just have to be faithful about keeping upto date on what they have and when it goes on sale.

  4. NLG says 23 October 2006 at 09:37

    I hate to be the black sheep, but I have actually been taking the complete opposite approach lately. First, I think shopping at these type of stores takes up way way too much time, and I hate shopping so I try to avoid it. Second, to acheive the first point, I try to buy things that are more expensive, durable, not trendy though.
    E.g. I don’t want to pay extra for a label just because it’s a label. I do want to pay extra for quality (like a pair of full-leather gore-tex boots I bought in 1995 for $130 and still wear today and they look fine, except for the laces…).

    All-too-often in the past I found myself trying to save money by buying something less expensive, only to realize that I would have to replace it in a year. Example, some cheap non-stick pans that warped within a year or two. We kept using the pans for a long time because we couldn’t justify throwing them out, but a stainless steel set would have lasted 20x longer!

    My $.02

  5. QJL says 23 October 2006 at 11:09

    I like the idea of “thrifting” as my daughter calls it. People think of it as going to a place with old ratty items….NOT the case. There are plenty of great clothes there just waiting to live out the rest of their lives….for a good price.

    Besides, shopping there also supports low income people who might work there or otherwise get supported by that organization.

    Sure…you have to look more closely at things…not everything is as it appears….but that’s simply a matter of being observant.

  6. Beth says 24 October 2006 at 12:48

    NLG, thrifting and buying quality aren’t neccessarily incompatible. I never, ever buy new jeans for my son, because he’s thirteen and, well, he’s a boy – and I can get Dockers, Duck Head, Lands’ End and (when he was younger, not so much now) Osh Kosh jeans and school slacks for under $5 without even trying. Talk about durable! He has actually managed to outgrow some of his jeans – something that none of his friends whose moms shop at Target do.

    I used to have a “by the pound” store locally, but have since moved. During a period of about a year, I bought my husband (who is an engineer and very hard on his clothes) about fifty shirts – mostly top-brand, superb quality, Ralph Lauren and Structure and so forth – for $1.20 a pound. Ten years and several moves later, he still has about forty of those shirts. I figure I’ll buy him clothes again when he retires. (I also still have most of the clothes I bought from the same thrift store, and they’re also still mostly in great condition.)

  7. Lazy Man And Money says 29 October 2006 at 16:50

    I like TJ Maxx for my clothes. I can get new name brand stuff for about half price. It’s kind of a compromise between the used clothing stores and paying top price.

    I may look to pick up a cheap belt at a used store though. I have no problem wearing a used belt.

  8. barefootwriter says 01 November 2006 at 23:14

    Just adding a point — shop thrift stores in trendier areas. People don’t go far to donate, so you’ll find brand names, quality, and less-worn items in better neighborhoods.

  9. Jo says 29 November 2006 at 00:45

    I can’t remember the last time I bought clothing from a real shop! I get all my stuff at local thrift stores and even have finds at the local rubbish tip. I can hear you all gasping! Shock horror! The rubbish tip?! Its a small country town – most people stop for a scavange when they drop off their rubbish. Women complain their husbands take half a trailer of rubbish in and come home with a full trailer of someone else’s rubbish 🙂
    My tip scavenging started when I was collecting clothes to send to a friend out bush for her very large extended family. I used to spend $50 on clothes in the thrift shop on the ‘$1 for adult, 50c for kids’ sales and send them to her. Then I noticed good clean clothing at the tip, for free so I started picking it up, washing it and throwing out anything that that was stained or worn in any way. Very few adults actually wear their clothes out these days – most discarded clothing is almost as good as new. The tip is also a good source of bed linen and towels to send to my friend – washed and spotless of course. It is also good for dog blankets and ‘garden design’ items! I picked up a very old, ornate, cast iron woodburning stove at the weekend – its going to look wonderful with plants on it in the front garden!
    I’m sure tip scavenging is illegal in cities but if you live in a small town where rubbish can be delivered to the tip in person it may be worth a look, (I don’t imagine clothing would stand up very well to being bundled up with smelly household garbage in a big truck – people from out of town just drop their own rubbish at the tip here).
    My friend who lives in Britain calls her local tip the ‘Civic Amenity Site’ and always checks with her friendly tip workers if she needs a piece of furniture and they will keep it for her when they find what she wants – all it costs her is a tin of biscuits for the workers!
    In this throw away society we all have to do our bit to recycle!!

  10. Stingy Student says 02 December 2006 at 17:55

    I’ve found that Goodwills are generally very clean and well organized compared to most other thrift stores, and you can find those nationwide. NLG, you’re right, cheap pans suck, but if you don’t mind the initial seasoning process, cast iron is a great deal. Cast iron cookware is VERY cheap, is an excellent heat conductor, and is low maintenance (you’re only supposed to scrub it down w/ some hot water – no soap!)

  11. Mike says 09 December 2006 at 11:34

    You’ll never get rich by saving money. You have to generate income.

  12. Aphrodite64 says 08 January 2007 at 11:17

    Oh, I love thrift stores, especially when I just started my job 3 years ago and didn’t have alot of extra income, but still had to wear a suit. I got Classic Joan and David pumps for $7 and they still look good, beautiful Ann Taylor black slacks, A taupe suit by “Charter House (a Macy brand), loads of stuff. Those pieces kept me well dressed until I was generating enough income, but now I find I am spoiled. I still want my Joan and David Shoes for $7 instead of the $150+ at the store!

    My Fav is the Good Will on Nottingham Way in Trenton/Hamilton, New Jersey

  13. db says 14 March 2007 at 06:26

    You’ll never get rich generating income solely. You have to save money too.

  14. Allison says 04 December 2007 at 09:49

    I know someone whose net worth is $57m. He is one of the most frugal people I know. He has been investing in stocks since the 1960’s, but he also doesn’t go out of his way to by something of the same quality for a greater price.

    For example, he just bought is wife a new Mercedes for Christmas– with cash. He spent extra money to have materials and colors put in that normally aren’t because that’s what she’d like. But, he also saw that something he bought last year at the hardware store has risen in price $2 and bought 10 to save him money in the longer run.

    It’s all about perspective!

  15. Mary Mekko says 19 March 2008 at 21:10

    I have always loved secondhand stores here in the San Francisco area since my teenage years. But it can get out of hand, when clutter begins to mount. It takes a real push of emotion to face the fact that I cannot ever, ever, ever wear so many clothes and shoes, or read all the books, that I have acquired so cheaply. We even have a study being done by some national mental health group here in SF, since clutter/collecting has become so widespread and so dangerous in this area. Housing is very expensive, people live in very tight spaces, and it’s tough to find room for anything, as opposed to the big houses in suburbia or the MidWest. Sad…

  16. T. says 21 March 2008 at 14:36

    I don’t pay attention to care labels. Nearly everything I owns goes into the washing machine even the items that say dry clean only. Some things don’t survive, but most do. I will take the chance on an item I like. My one wool sweater, and my most delicate silk items are hand washed. Rayon does well in the wash machine. As for used clothes being dirty, most new clothes come out of sweatshops, and while they may not be stained, I would wash any new item the same as used ones.

  17. Mary says 31 March 2008 at 12:37

    Nancy’s Gone Green is a great online secondhand clothing store. Everything is pre-inspected and quality is gaurenteed, plus everything is organized by size and designer! It costs a little more, but the convenience is totally worth it.

  18. Meghan says 12 April 2008 at 10:08

    I live in Canada but I am sure we have some of the same thrift stores. Great places to buy second-hand clothes in my experience are Salvation Army and Goodwill, especially near rich neighborhoods. Don’t forget well-off people change their wardrobe every season and where do those clothes go? Not to consignment shops-they want to help out the disadvantaged. It’s really crazy the high-end clothes I find. Labels are not important but when I go second-hand shopping I can afford to only go for high-end clothes because I know they will past the test of time (i.e. many washings). Also, I feel good that my money goes to a worthy cause, even if I blow 30 bucks on a bag of clothes I may not wear that much.

    Frugality has so many rewards (and I love my 5 dollar Juicy Couture sweat pants!)

  19. Lucie says 16 April 2010 at 17:04

    I’ll take both sides of this “argument” – buying quality clothing for all your basics is “a must”. Dress for success! But for play clothes – I’m all over the thrift stores! One that is is in many locations across the country is Buffalo Exchange. The encourage you to bring in your used clothing for cash – which I have done, and been paid well – but a good deal of their clothing is new – and YEP – I love my NEW Jones New York sleeveless shell for $2.00!

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