I’m a huge believer in second hand shopping, be it for clothes, furniture, homewares…there is so much stuff in the world already, and so much of it is well-made and just looking for a new home. If you have the time, going second hand means you can access great quality at an impressively low price. Buying second hand clothes is the meeting point between shopping smart and having the freedom to experiment.
If you’ve never bought clothes second hand before, it can seem like a weird and difficult thing to do. It’s true, I’ve put my hands in pockets and found someone else’s hanky (also, once I found a dollar! It’s now my “lucky dollar”) and there’s a lot of tat out there, but if you’re keen to give this a nudge, read on for my tips – and some pics of some of my favourite second hand goodies.
Tip one: know your goals
You need to do two things before you even leave the house: look at what’s missing from your wardrobe, and look at your Pinterest board to remind yourself what you like the look of. Second hand clothes are cheap, but there’s no point in spending $10 and quarter of an hour of your time on buying a shirt if what you should be looking for is skirts. This is especially key if you are heading to somewhere big, like Savemart, where the volume could be overwhelming. If you know your goals, you can zoom in on what you’re looking for.
Tip two: know your fit
As I’ve said before, size does not equate to fit, and never has this been more true than in second hand clothing. To speed up your experience, pull out your favourite top, favourite pants and favourite skirt and really look at them. How wide are they at the waist and shoulders? How do they fit? Why is that top/skirt etc your favourite – how do they skim your body and where do they tuck in and flare out? That exercise is now your mental cheat sheet when you’re pulling clothes from the rails.
Tip three: know your budget
Sometimes I let myself loose in Savemart with basically no budget and a sense of adventure, but usually I have at least some kind of a budget in my mind. This is important because the low cost of individual items will add up surprisingly quickly. Having a budget helps you to sift out a few items that you might just be buying “in case”. Further tip: if you find yourself saying “ah well, it’s pretty cheap” as you throw something on the keep pile, stop, think, and only buy it if you actually want it.
Tip four: know your quality
Good god, we are throwing away a lot of cheap shit from Valley Girl. If you want to feel horrified by our fast fashion culture, just go and count all the sheer, acrylic sleeveless tops from Temt there are at your local second hand shop. Get to know which shops you wouldn’t buy from at full price, so you can avoid them in second hand.
I do a lap through the “Designer” area in any second hand shop that offers it, because I’m lazy and I am happy to buy a fab sequinned dress from Moochi that has been marked up by $5 or so because someone recognised the brand. But, in my experience, there is a heap of good quality stuff out in the store proper. Don’t be entirely led by the name sewn into the neck of the item, but check the fabric labels and try to pick up cotton, wool, silk, leather etc.
Tip five: know your limits
I’m happy to dress up in my clothes and to have a bit of “flair”. That means I’ll spend money on a top with massive organza sleeves, or a full length vintage floral skirt, or a pretty garish retro blouse. I know I feel comfortable wearing those things – but you might be more keen for conservative colours, higher necklines etc. The beauty of second hand is that there’s usually something for everyone!
However – I definitely think that my discovery of second hand clothing is a big part of why I have become a more adventurous dresser. You can edge out of your comfort zone without a huge investment, so try to keep an open mind and try something different from time to time!
Tip six: know your lifestyle
My monthly budget includes a key budget line for tailoring, dry cleaning, and shoe repair. I look after my clothes and shoes, and I’m willing to spend some of my income on making sure things fit properly, last longer and are properly cleaned. If you’re not willing to do those things, there’s no point in buying things that require a nip and tuck, or that are clearly only dry cleanable.
If you are all about that tailoring and repairing life, get to know your tailor and cobbler and get them to teach you what they can and can’t do. I’ve had so many skirts and trousers tailored to manage the issue with my waist to bum ratio, that I’ve now got a really good sense of what can be done and the likely cost. Likewise, I know my cobbler is a blimming magician who rescued my much cherished Ted Baker floral satin shoes, and I know he can stretch, dye and repair just about anything.
I hoped this has helped you to frame up a few thoughts about how to shop second hand. There’s really not a lot more to it – make sure you check out the shoes (I’ve bought many a pair of completely brand new, leather shoes) and check every item over for holes, stains etc. And have fun! Take a few friends on an outing and have a laugh dressing up in cocktail gowns from the 80s.