How to Win at Secondhand Shopping

We’ve all read those vaguely threatening articles along the lines of “X items you need to own before you’re 30.” And they’re fun, helpful pieces with beautiful essentials and accessories that are meant to complement or help propel you into the adult-ish woman you aim to be.

And for the most part, I agree with a lot of the suggested loafers, camel hair blazers, and stark white button-downs that usually make an appearance. But they are notoriously expensive, and not many of us have the dough to blow on a bunch of traditionally coveted items all at once.

A lot of the suggested items on those lists are usually investment pieces that you should be acquiring over time (and at any age) — but what if you want something like, right now?

If you’re looking for instant gratification, a way to upgrade your closet while spending a fraction of the retail cost is buying consignment, which definitely requires more thoughtful shopping than regular retail but is often worth the extra steps of inspecting the item or asking questions about any potential irregularities and measurements.

There are a few ways to go about consignment shopping. Brick-and-mortar thrifting is the safest so you can physically try on the clothes, feel the fabric, and see how it looks IRL, but it all depends on your location and how long you’re willing to hunt through racks of (often) unwashed clothes. For example, New York’s Upper East Side is a great haven for consignment goods. People are moving, families are donating boxes of stuff rather than dealing with an estate sale — you’ll be shocked at some of the gems you find lying around.

However, if you’re not in an area notorious for the over-decorated and over-dressed, then the internet is always more than a viable option.

You may have heard of The RealReal, one of the better-known platforms for luxury consignment online. They’re extremely legit, but the site can be overwhelming to navigate on your first or even first few forays into what’s for sale. There’s just so much available from famously expensive designers at prices you can actually afford.

Rather than immediately pulling the trigger, I recommend “liking” items you’re a fan of and sleeping on it for a few nights. The site does heavy discounting, often up to 80% off, and if you have the persistence and don’t need the item immediately — stalk it. TheRealReal usually has 20% off every day with a code, but I recommend waiting for something better.

I find eBay is generally cheaper than TheRealReal, but it’s less trustworthy and you really need to do your research before buying. You have to know how the brand fits you, because returns are generally a pain in the ass or not available at all. Items also have often been accidentally shrunk in the wash, which is why you should always get the measurements of the item and not just go off the size tag.

The other side of the coin is that retail is having such a hard time lately, it’s not worth buying secondhand from discounted mall brands like GAP or J. Crew. Buy your wardrobe workhorses brand spanking new; you don’t need someone else’s tee shirt or jeans.

Other than that, why not save some money while making shopping a sport in the process?

What to look for while consignment shopping:

What you NEED or LOVE

Oftentimes you can’t return the item (or it’ll be too annoying to ship back to an online seller) so make sure you desperately want or need it before pulling the trigger.

Pilling, thinning or the start of holes

People often toss their clothing or accessories at the first sight of disarray. And you shouldn’t inherit/buy the reasons why they’re tossing it in the first place. Unless the item is a total and utter score, you should generally avoid buying anything with any defects whatsoever.

Stains and the like

Often eBay sellers will be like, “such and such stain will probably come out in the wash or with a dry cleaner.” Unless you’re confident that it could come out, don’t even attempt. You’re too good for that.

Is it dry clean only?

Buying something that’s dry clean only is a whole other task in itself. If I’m feeling cheap I’ll wash some dry clean only items on a delicate cycle or throw them in a pillowcase for an even gentler wash, but be mindful of incurring extra, future costs.

Thrifting examples:

Louis Vuitton Clutch ($40)

Consignment Shopping

I snagged this at a flea market in Manhattan for this insanely low price because it was originally a crossbody bag and the strap was deteriorating. I had an expert check out the bag and even though it was legitimate (and from 1983) I wasn’t in the mood to blow much more than I paid on replacing the strap, so I just cut it off. And that’s how I got my favorite clutch!

Elizabeth McKay Silk Dress ($29)

Consignment Shopping

Be forewarned, I have obnoxiously preppy style and that’s what I generally hunt for online. I bought this before the holiday party circuit for $29 off eBay, and wore it to a bunch of corporate events. The great thing about eBay and other online consignment marketplaces is that people are looking to unload their party ensembles for cheaper because they’ve already been photographed in them. God forbid you’re instagrammed in the same outfit twice.

Cashmere Lord & Taylor Cardigan $4

Consignment Shopping

This was a lucky find at a Salvation Army near my parents’ house in Massachusetts. Cashmere for the price of coffee!

Lacoste Polo Dress $25

Consignment Shopping

I found this gem at the Buffalo Exchange in Brooklyn. Polos can be annoying because they shrink in the wash, but this guy has held up his part of the bargain for a few seasons now.

Silk Calypso St. Barths Caftan $25

Consignment Shopping

This was purchased at a Beacon’s Closet in Manhattan while Calypso was shuttering their stores, and I was very nostalgic for the brand. The caftan was a few sizes larger than what I usually wear, but because I really enjoyed the print I tried it on and was surprised that I could make it work. If you’re on the taller side and the dress has a cinch waist, you can usually make larger items work. I’m way too pumped to debut this as soon as it gets warmer out.

Read More