Thrifting the Perfect Designer Wardrobe

Recently, I purged my closet of clothes I don't wear and pared down my wardrobe to just 30ish pieces. As I delved deeper into the capsule wardrobe phenomenon, I discovered that many people were building their carefully-considered wardrobes using second hand or thrifted pieces.

On my first trip to my local thrift store, I scored an Anthropologie blouse, a J. Crew shirt, and a Madewell skirt, all for $12. I was hooked. On my second visit, I left with a pair of Joe's Jeans and an Adrienne Vittadini cardigan. A few thrifting trips later, I had beefed up my capsule wardrobe to the point that I had to stop myself from buying more, otherwise my wardrobe really wouldn't be a "capsule" anymore.

To be honest, I have gotten more compliments on my thrifted clothing than I ever did on my full-price clothing. I can now dress the way I've always wanted to, but could never afford before. In addition, my higher-end thrifted clothes are often made with better materials (like linen, pima cotton, silk) and will last longer. All in all, building a secondhand designer wardrobe is a great economical choice that will save you money and contribute to less waste going to the landfills.

Thrifting High-End Items

Whether you're shopping in brick-and-mortar secondhand shops or online, a few tips hold true for building a killer designer wardrobe.

Know Your Brands

Familiarize yourself with brands that you like and their signature designs (as well as, if possible, your size in that brand). That way, you'll be more likely to recognize them in a store, and it'll be easy to search for them online.

Focus on Quality

Often you can tell a designer piece from the quality of the fabric. Disregard clothes that are pilling or worn out. And don't fall into the trap of buying something just because of the brand when it's too worn out, stained, or just won't work for you.

Know What You Want

Have an idea of what specific pieces you are looking for. For example, I knew I wanted a light gray cardigan, and therefore searched specifically in the light gray sweater area at my local thrift store. I found several pieces that would work before I settled on my favorite. When I go into a thrift store with specific pieces on my mind, I have a much higher success rate than when I go in without a goal (which makes it much easier to get overwhelmed).

Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

The great thing about thrifting is that you're paying so much less than retail! So if you've always had the urge to wear hot pink pants, but have never had the guts, go for it! This is your opportunity to expand your style.

Check the Cleaning Label

I try to buy clothes that don't have to be dry cleaned (unless it's special occasion wear), as I'll end up paying more in drycleaning than I spent on the dress.

Don't Buy Stuff You Don't Need

It can be tempting to buy several pairs of 7 for All Mankind jeans when they're $9.99 a pop, but do you need more than one or two? Money spent thrifting is still money wasted if you never end up using the item.

Where to Buy Secondhand Clothing

Now that you know what — and how — to look for used pieces, here's where to shop.

Thrift Stores

I've found that the key with thrift stores is finding one with high volume and high turnover, to maximize your chances of finding something new and on-trend. Thrift stores are crammed full of both high and low-end clothing, so you'll have to sift through a lot of poor quality pieces to find the treasures. Usually though, you get a good price on it. Going to a thrift store in a fancier part of town might increase your chances of finding designer items.

Resale and Consignment Stores

Resale and consignment stores differ from thrift stores in that they buy or consign their inventory (instead of getting it through donations) and thus filter out a lot of the lesser-quality stuff. You will usually pay more, but you won't have to search as hard. Consignment stores are great if you don't have a lot of time to dig through racks of clothing, but still want to get a decent price on secondhand goods. Often, a consignment store might cater to a specific style — so don't go to the hipster consignment store if you're really preppy at heart!

Online Resellers

Online is where the resale and consignment trend is booming. Websites like thredUP buy new or almost-new brand-name clothing and sell them for very reasonable prices. I've bought from thredUP before and have been very satisfied with the quality of the items I bought (they also offer free returns for store credit, a rarity in the resale market). thredUP's main strengths are the sheer number of great items they have, and the excellent search functions that allow you to filter your search by size, color, brand, etc.

Other resellers include SnobSwap and TheRealReal, but I continue to patronize thredUP for its ease of use and low prices.

You can also buy direct from sellers through sites like Poshmark, which has a social media aspect to it (you can follow favorite sellers, participate in virtual "parties," etc.). If there is a problem with the item received, the selling website protects you and can offer you a refund. And of course, you can always search on eBay (be sure to check the "pre-owned" search filter to narrow down your choices).

Have you punched up your wardrobe with great thrift or secondhand finds? What'd you get?

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Guest's picture

Great read! One thing I've noticed though is that some thrift stores are getting wise to designer labels and are raising prices on those items. You have to be careful on pricing to make sure you are getting your money's worth even on second-hand items. It helps if you have a good idea of what the item cost when new too.

Guest's picture

I know, it's so annoying! That's why I prefer to frequent true thrift stores instead of "boutique" thrift stores. And I always do an Internet search on my smartphone if I come across an unfamiliar brand!