20 Second Hand Shopping Tips
Let’s talk about some second hand shopping tips!
Second hand shopping is not only the most sustainable but also the most unique option when it comes to shopping – after all, there is no copying and pasting an outfit. Shopping pre-loved clothes can also save you a great amount of money. Yet a lot of people think of second hand shopping as a struggle. Admittedly, thrift shopping does involve some time and effort, but I can guarantee that it is 100% worth it. With my 20 second hand shopping tips you will soon be a thrifting pro!
These second hand shopping tips are all for second hand shopping in real life. Shopping pre-loved clothes online is becoming increasingly popular – but it is an entirely different story! Read more about second hand shopping tips for thrifting online here.
General tips for shopping second hand
second hand shopping tip #1 - Bring cash
The mother of the Second Hand Shopping Tips: Bring cash. There are two main reasons for this:
1) Credit/Debit cards are not accepted in all thrift stores and markets.
2) Stay on top of how much you’re spending! Since pieces in thrift stores are often really cheap, it’s too easy to accidentally spend too much.
Second hand shopping tip #2 - Set aside enough time
This is an important second hand shopping tip not enough people know. The times when I was most successful were the times I had plenty of time and went to several different thrift shops. Thrift shopping is just so much more fun and you’re more likely to discover some hidden gems when you can browse through the shop without having to stress about time too much.
Second hand shopping tip #3 - Prepare to leave without anything
Sometimes it just so happens that you don’t find anything you like when shopping for second hand clothes and if that’s the case, I recommend not getting clothes that you are not really sure about, since thrift stores most often don’t issue refunds or exchanges! But know that it’s okay to leave without anything. Of course that can happen when you are shopping for new clothes as well – and it probably should happen from time to time, when you’re committed to only buying what you will actually wear a lot. But when you’re thrifting, whether you find something you like, really depends on how much time you have and how lucky you are.
second hand shopping tip #4 - Bring snacks, water & your own bags
One of my favourite second hand shopping tips is bringing snack and water. Thrifting requires a lot of trying on and can be quite exhausting, so to make the whole process enjoyable, I’d advise you to bring water and even some snacks. And because most shops and markets actually don’t have shopping bags, make sure to bring your own reusable bags as well.
second hand shopping tip #5 - Don't be afraid to ask
Sometimes you might be looking for something in particular, like a specific brand or a clothing style. My second hand shopping tip for this scenario would be: don’t be afraid to ask! Especially at markets, sellers know exactly what they have and will be happy to help you. Staff at second hand stores are normally really helpful as well and know their stock. In most cases, they will help you, if you are looking for something in particular; a second pair of eyes is always a good idea. Just make sure you are friendly – which leads me to the next point:
second hand shopping tip #6 - Make friends with staff/sellers
It can be really useful to make friends with staff or the sellers. Not only will they be more likely to help you if you have questions, they might also be willing to contact you when they spot something for you in the future.
For example, one time I was looking for a Harley Davidson T-Shirt in a specific colour. When I asked the girl at the second hand store for help, she wrote down my number and what I was looking for and called me when they got a new delivery of T-Shirts that she thought I might like.
On the hunt for second hand gems
second hand shopping tip #7 - Consider bigger & smaller sizes
This one is one of the most important second hand shopping tips! If there’s one thing you need to remember when going thrift shopping, it’s this: EVERY CLOTHING ITEM FITS DIFFERENTLY. So if you would normally go for size M, don’t hesitate to grab a size L or S, if you like a clothing piece – it might fit! Some clothes might not even have a size tag, but never let that irritate you because what truly matters is how a piece of clothing looks when it’s worn. When shopping second hand, TRYING ON IS KEY!
second hand shopping tip #8 - check out the men's section
Another one of my favourite second hand shopping tips: the men’s section. Especially if you like oversized pieces, the men’s section can turn out to be a place with lots of hidden treasures. T-Shirts, jackets, hoodies and flannel shirts are the things to look out for the most. And again: trying on is key.
second hand shopping tip #9 - Look twice
Don’t be afraid to walk around the store several times. Sometimes you miss an item you might love and sometimes you may even feel a little too overwhelmed at first to notice some things. Pick what you like, try it on, have another look and find more things that you like. So not to get lost, keep the following point in mind…
10 - know what you like
“Know what you like” – this sounds simpler than it actually is. Let me explain! Unless you pick a specific second hand store (e.g. one that focuses on 80s clothes), normally, there are all sorts of styles to be found right next to each other in a second hand store. A Parisian-looking lace dress might be patiently waiting for its new owner right next to a baggy pair of denim overalls. While you might like the look of both, you might definitely only wear one or the other. So my second hand shopping tip is: know what you actually like to wear and what you love on yourself. Otherwise, you might just feel a bit lost and overwhelmed.
This also leads me to the next point:
second hand shopping tip #11 - Master "the art of the scan"
Mastering “the art of the scan” is one of the MOST IMPORTANT second hand shopping tips. I actually borrowed this point from an article by The Good Trade (read it here). They make an excellent point when they say that looking at every single piece sometimes isn’t possible (depending on the size of the store), which is why it’s crucial to master “the art of the scan”. To do this, it’s important to know exactly what you like – your preferred colours, style, material – in order to scan each clothing rack or pile. This is a skill that you will develop over time and it will save you so much time and make thrifting even more enjoyable!
Trying on second hand clothes
second hand shopping tip #12 - Dress Comfortably
As already mentioned, it’s best to try on second hand clothing before buying. This is why dressing as comfortably as possible is one of my favourite second hand shopping tips. My go-to second hand shopping outfit is a pair of loose jeans that I can take off quickly, a t-shirt and shoes that are easy to slip in and out of! Trust me, it will make the whole shopping process so much more enjoyable!
second hand shopping tip #13 - Take photos
Taking photos will help you see yourself from several angles and might also make it easier to judge whether clothes suit your skin/hair/figure. It will also help with tip second hand shipping tip #19 on this list – spoiler: put the piece on hold and return if you can’t stop thinking about it. For this, it is helpful to have a reference photo to remind yourself of how the clothing item looks on you and to think whether you like it.
second hand shopping tip #14 - Ask Others for their Opinion
Sometimes, you fall in love with a clothing item and your perception is a little clouded. This can be especially dangerous in a second hand store. Having an objective second opinion might save you from buying something that either doesn’t really suit you, or is of poor quality. If you don’t have anyone to go shopping with, you can send the photos from tip #13 to your friends/family and ask what they think. But also don’t forget that taste and opinions might differ. If you truly love how wearing a piece of clothing makes you feel, own it!
Deciding - to buy or not to buy?
second hand shopping tip #15 - Inspect thoroughly
Since most thrift stores don’t accept returns, it is important to check every piece of clothing thoroughly before buying it. Things you should always check and look out for are:
- loose/missing buttons
- loose threads
- sweat stains (easy to miss on white clothing)
- zippers (might be broken)
- collar (might be ripped/loose)
- pilling/little fluff balls on fabric
… which leads me to the next second hand shopping tip:
second hand shopping tip #16 - Don't Compromise (or know when to)
Let me know if you already know this second hand shopping tip: Don’t compromise, or know when to. In general I would advise you to be careful if you notice any of the mentioned issues on second hand clothing. But I know that sometimes you just happen to fall in love with a piece and might ask yourself whether you should still get it – despite of its shortcomings.
In those cases it’s beneficial to know what you can fix or get fixed easily and what you can’t or shouldn’t.
EASY TO FIX
- Loose buttons or threads: these can easily be fixed if you have a sewing machine or some thread and a needle at home.
- Missing buttons: it depends on the button! If it’s just a simple white or black button, it will be easy to find a similar one at the shops. Special, fancy buttons will probably be hard or impossible to replace without it being obvious.
- Cropping: it’s easy to crop the hem of tops or shorten sleeves yourself, if you’re into a more “self-made” look.
- Pilling/fluff balls: there are many easy tricks for getting rid of pilling on clothes. However, it is most often a sign of poor quality of the material or proof that the clothing item has not been taken care of very well or is already old, which is why my second hand shopping tip is: avoid buying anything with fluff balls.
- Basic tailoring: bringing in the waist, fixing a hem or a broken strap might be an easy job for you if you know how to mend your own clothes. Otherwise these jobs can be done by a tailor within a day or two and should not cost too much. Still: ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
HARD TO FIX
- Broken lining: although it is possible to fix lining, you will probably have to pay a lot for it or spend a lot of time on doing it yourself. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
- Broken embellishments/details: if it is even possible for a tailor to fix delicate details, it might cost a lot. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
- Rips and holes: if they are close to the seam, it’s fairly easy for a tailor to fix rips and holes. If they’re not, it will most likely not be possible to hide the fix entirely. So my second hand shopping tip is: don’t buy anything with rips and holes.
- Stains: the issue with stains is that you never know whether it will be easy to wash out or not. Unless the stain is tiny or in a spot where you could potentially hide it, I would stay clear of purchasing anything with a stain.
- Loose collars: most likely impossible to fix, which is why I would recommend not getting anything with a broken or loose collar.
- Mending Shoes: personally, I would avoid buying preloved shoes where you can immediately see that they have been worn.
second hand shopping tip #17 - Check material & Care instructions
Another second hand shopping tip not many people take seriously enough. Only buy clothes made from good materials such as:
Stay away from materials like:
- other synthetic fibres
Don’t forget to check the care instructions – if it’s too hard to maintain, don’t get it.
second hand shopping tip #18 - Consider Compatibility
One second hand shopping tip that has saved me from some impulse-buys is this simple trick: Before buying a clothing piece, try to put together at least three outfits with it in your head. If you can’t think of three or more outfits to incorporate the clothing piece in, then it is probably not very compatible with the rest of your closet and chances are high that you don’t actually need it, or that you won’t get to wear it a lot.
Or if it’s an extravagant piece, try to envision yourself in a few situations where you would wear it.
second hand shopping tip #19 - Leave without it (and maybe return)
If you’re not really sure if you should buy something or not, put it on hold and leave the store. If you are still thinking about the piece a few hours later, you know that it’s love and you can still go back and get it. Photos might help you with your decision.
second hand shopping tip #20 - Have Fun!
My last and probably most important second hand shopping tip is easy: have fun! Second hand shopping requires some digging, but once you have found a hidden gem, it’s so worth it. So next time: shop like you’re on a treasure hunt!
This is it! I hope these Second Hand Shopping Tips inspired you to do some thrifting, and hopefully you will find some hidden gems that will spark your love for vintage clothing. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or contact me on Instagram. Or if you have any second hand shopping tips you would like to share, drop them in the comments. If you are still looking for any specific clothes for autumn that you can’t find second hand, check out my Fair Fashion Guide for Autumn ’19.