Sheila Wenham bought her first vintage piece, a pink fit-and-flare dress, for just $14 when she was in high school. She was amazed at how inexpensive it was to buy second-hand clothes. “I was like, ‘Second hand is the way to go!'” she recalled.
Today, Wenham’s closet in Victoria is stocked with second-hand clothes. Years of browsing thrift store shelves have made her an expert at finding high-quality vintage and designer pieces, which she models on her blog Ephemera, and she often brings friends to thrift stores to teach them. to find good parts.
The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and the production of a single pair of jeans generates 11 kilograms of carbon dioxide. As concerns about sustainability grow, many Canadians are turning to thrift stores as a greener alternative to buying new clothes.
But walking into a thrift store can be overwhelming. Here’s what you need to know before hitting the clothing shelves at your local thrift store.
Start with the accessories
Wenham says the easiest way to get your feet wet in the world of savings is to check out the accessories section. Purses, belts, and hats are often inexpensive compared to clothing, and it takes less time to browse these sections because fit isn’t much of an issue. Make sure the accessories you have chosen are in good condition. “Shake them,” Wenham said. If trim, lint, leather rot, or other loose ends fall out, put them back in place.
Check the measurements
Last year, London Blackwood and their partner launched Chubby Fem Thrift, an Edmonton-based online thrift store that brings used pieces to the plus-size community, often excluded from mainstream fashion. They emphasize to their customers that different brands size their clothes differently and that the dimensions of the garment may be different from what you expect. “Start with your usual size,” they advise. “So if you’re usually an extra large, go for it first, but be sure to check the measurements.” Older clothes also tend to be different sizes than modern clothes, and items in thrift stores can be mislabeled, so don’t be afraid to stray from your usual size. Even items that aren’t quite your size can be tailored to fit.
Amid the pandemic, many clothing stores and thrift stores have closed their locker rooms, making it hard to know if a piece will fit you. Julie Ethier, who resells used clothes at Sick Jacket Vintage in Edmonton, says the easiest way to avoid this problem is to bring along a tape measure. “Measure your favorite pieces. If you have a sweater that you really, really like, take a measurement,” she says. Measure different parts of the garment, like the chest and waist, so that when you’re at the thrift store, you can pull out your measuring tape and check whether a piece fits you or not. For skirts and pants, wrapping the waist of the garment around your neck can also be a handy size check – items that fit comfortably and snugly around your neck will fit the same way around your waist.
Check the tags
The second-hand clothes in Ethier’s closet are mostly vintage pieces that date back a few decades. “If they’ve already lasted 40 or 50 years, chances are they’ll last you a lot longer too,” she says. Checking the labels can show you if a part has already stood up to a few decades. Brands with a long history, like Nike, will have changed their label styles and logo over the years, so if you recognize the brand but not the label, that’s a good indicator that it’s vintage. Also, the labels will often tell you what fibers the garment is made of. Ethier says to avoid synthetic fibers like polyester and acrylic. She prefers to buy and resell clothes made from natural fibers like wool, cotton or silk – a thrift store experience can help you identify them by feel. “They last a long time, they don’t pill as much. They’re just really good quality,” she says.
Check for damage and be ready to repair
When Wenham finds a piece she likes, she zips the zipper up and down several times to make sure it works properly. She suggests checking the fabric at the bottom of the zipper to make sure it isn’t torn. She also looks for moth holes, which are usually deal breakers for her. “Put your hand in, stretch out the sleeve, hold it up to the light. The holes will jump out at you,” she said.
For Angel Time, which resells used clothes on Instagram, checking the seams of a garment is essential. “I look at the seam: if it is well sewn, if it is tight, if it is still intact,” they say. Overall, they say a part is of good quality if it retains the integrity of its original design, including its original color and shape.
Suzanne Carillo, a style blogger and vintage dealer in Toronto, says the more she saved, the more she began to see what she could do with even damaged or dirty pieces. She says washing items with vinegar or baking soda can help get rid of the unwashed “thrift store smell” — items that shouldn’t be washed can be hung out in the sun or put in a bag in the freezer . Silk and satin stains, as well as armpit and rust stains, can be difficult to remove. But she says soaking most fabrics in hot water with powdered OxiClean should remove other stains. You can soak clothes for up to two weeks, though she recommends keeping an eye on them to make sure the solution isn’t stripping the dye along with the stain. If that doesn’t work or you’re hesitant to risk the dye, she says you can find different stain removal recipes online to experiment with.
Ethier says almost all damage to used items is repairable if you’re willing to put in the work. Savings aren’t just for those who know how to sew and mend, she says. “If you can’t do it yourself, just take it to your local tailor and they can do some magic.”
Take your time
Blackwood says one of the hardest parts of saving is finding the time to sift through mountains of clothing. “It really takes a long time to find the perfect piece,” they say. When they first started saving, they would spend hours going through all the rooms, but they say spending that time searching is worth it. “There’s usually a gem you find in the massive amounts of clothing at the thrift store,” they say.
If you’re not inclined to spend hours in a thrift store, look no further than your computer or phone. Small second-hand dealers often settle on Etsy or Depop, or even Instagram. The biggest sellers, like Chubby Fem Thrift from Blackwood or Sick Jacket from Ethier, often have their own websites.
If you want to shop thrift stores in person, however, Wenham says it’s important to plan to spend more time at a thrift store than at a new clothing store. “Anything that you really want to do that matters to you is going to take time and effort,” she says.