Return, Repurpose, Resell

How to know when you should return, repurpose, or resell a clothing item that doesn't fit or work for you.

If you bat a thousand when it comes to style-related purchases, you’re my hero. I’ve never known anyone who adores and uses every item she ever buys and never makes a shopping blunder, but if you are she, you are AWESOME.

For the rest of us mere mortals, purchasing missteps must be dealt with on occasion. In my experience, there are three main choices for items you feel won’t work in the long run: Return, repurpose, and resell. Here’s how I break down my choices.


I return anything that doesn’t fit, is damaged, wasn’t what I expected, doesn’t work within my wardrobe, and, of course, is returnable. Seldom do I purchase anything that I’m unsure about if it’s a final sale situation, but it has happened on occasion. I’m more inclined to return items quickly if they are expensive, since I absolutely hate to have money missing from my account that should eventually be mine again, but once I’ve decided to return something I get a bit obsessed. Even small items will get whisked back to their respective stores or dropped into the mail within hours of the decision being made. Nothing irks me like missing the return window on an item that I have no intention of keeping or wearing.


I generally only repurpose thrifted, used, older, gifted, or non-returnable items. As I’m sure is the case for most of you, if I can get my money back, I’d prefer to do so. But if I can’t, and there’s a way to make something work, I’m willing to give it a whirl. And I’ll also repurpose items if they’re extremely close to being perfect, and I’m quite certain I can nudge them into perfection using my own skills and tools at hand. My repurposing projects are pretty slapdash, and include things like hacking already-washed jeans into clamdiggers, over-dyeing eBayed skirts, and cutting dress hems into infinity scarves. I’ve also had help from my tailor with tasks like hemming and taking in, but consider that to be a bit different than true repurposing.


For whatever reason, I only feel comfortable reselling or consigning items that have stuck around a while. I don’t give up easily on challenging items and prefer to have several rounds of battle with them before admitting defeat. But once it becomes clear that something simply won’t work for my style or figure, if it has any resale value whatever, I’ll hit up my consignment haunts. I have two main reselling criteria: Excellent condition and recognizable brand name.

Items that don’t fit those two criteria slide into an important fourth category: DONATE. Giving quality, undamaged items to your favorite charity shop is always a good option since you can write off the donation, feel fabulous about supporting a good cause, and know that your goods will continue to get used even though you’re done with them yourself. I donate far more than I repurpose or resell, but if I’ve bought an item myself, I feel like it’s perfectly fine to either try to utilize it or attempt to recoup my losses.

No matter how we hone our wardrobes and shopping skills, we’ll always make a few blunders. Luckily, there are always creative ways to work around them!

Originally posted 2012-02-13 06:19:11.

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19 Responses to “Return, Repurpose, Resell”

  1. Cynthia

    I have been much more zealous about really evaluating purchases and then returning them in a timely fashion if needed. I used to think “oh I’ll make it work” but now, I try to avoid that kind of thinking and just send stuff back. If that fails me (and to get rid of older stuff I bought before I started trying to retrain myself) I sell on Ebay if I can, and then donate or give to friends.

    I’d never really tried consigning items before, but I am going to place a bunch of my stuff in one of those big three-day consignment sales in a couple of weeks, and see how many of my lingering white elephants I can get rid of.

  2. LK

    Consignment shops out here in the Chicago Midwest area are horribly picky so I almost always end up donating. I have to get rid of stuff recently because its too small. Rather new, but too small. Now that I’m in Iowa it’ll be interesting to see if the shops have the same standards. Most of the places in Chicago wanted garments that were brand new and under a year old and very trendy. And brand name only. Funny part, I’ve never had success thrifting in Chicago but had success a few times out in Iowa.

  3. Miss T

    I have trained myself to consider all clothing purchases to be “permanent”, nonreturnable, from the least expensive to the most expensive. That way, there is no opportunity to talk myself into buying something that has a strong possibility of not working. For me, the possibility of mitigating a bad purchase just gives me license to waste money. When considering a purchase, I run through ALL the impediments to wearing it — before I buy it. If there’s anything other than the usual alterations to make it fit, I don’t buy it. The only things I return are defective goods. Gifts are worn gratefully.

  4. Katharine

    Before I started shopping online, I dithered much, much longer before buying something, so I did usually have better success with items. (Online recklessness has spilled over into my live in-person shopping, somehow.) Online purchases, I’m ruthless about returning. Doesn’t fit, even slightly? Doesn’t work, even slightly? Off it goes.

    In person, I usually spend enough time in the dressing room that any problems I discover with the piece are going to happen after I’ve worn it too long to return it — serious unsuspected static issues (WTF is it with that?) or a fabric and construction that stretches with wear and sags unacceptably, or the like. Those items I used to keep and keep and keep, because they were SO CLOSE… and I would keep on trying to make them work, and keep getting p.o.ed when I wore them. Now, however, I mostly take them to the consignment shop as soon as I realise, while they’re still fresh and sellable.

    Defective items go back, no question. With defective items, I have even (occasionally successfully) fought a “no return” policy, depending how grumpy I am about it and whether it was just “final markdown” or “sold as is” (obviously, I’m not going to quibble in the latter case).

    “Close to perfect” I don’t consider repurposing; that’s altering/tailoring. Oddly, I’m not really that crazy about serious repurposing, mostly because I’m not satisfied with the haphazard quick alterations that most “trashion” fixes are, and serious tearing apart and proper refashioning of a garment is without a doubt THE most tedious and frustrating kind of sewing I know. (I once remade a size 24 silk wedding dress for a size 10 friend — silk, she got it on sale for $70. NEVER. AGAIN. I found swear words I never knew I’d ever learned during that project.)

    • Laurie Olson Williams

      You have my sympathies and my admiration over that wedding gown refashion. I am a professional seamstress/alterationist, and have done some of that kind of work. It STINKS. And I usually won’t even consider a size change that extreme. Then again, people usually don’t want to pay me for the time it takes to do that kind of alteration. I hope your friend was properly worshipful over that project. ;D

  5. Anne

    It drives me nuts to have unwearables lurking in my closet. They are a symbol of money wasted. I debate long and hard these days about whether I need an item before I purchase it. I have noticed that even exchanges online are becoming a hassle : they charge you for the new item (even if it’s just a size exchange) and even for shipping.

    I used to have a very casual attitude about clothing purchases. If they didn’t work out, I could just consign them and get my money back. It never really works out that way. I never fully recoup my money and these days there is such a glut of resale stores in the Sacramento area that my clothes don’t always sell during their consignment window..

    These days, more often then not, I send my cast offs to thrift stores. The tax donation is often bigger than the profit I’d make at a consignments store and I’d like to think my old items find their way either to some one who really needs them or some one who will enjoy them.

  6. Mia

    I donate almost everything I buy that doesn’t work. This works for me because I buy almost all my clothes from thrift shops these days, so if it turns out that my fitting room tests didn’t really reflect how the garment would work in real life, it simply goes back to Goodwill! I do buy some items retail, but much more rarely, so I really can’t think of the last time I had to return an item to the store.

  7. Halo

    You left out DISCARD. I recently had an epiphany that I can actually *throw away* things that are not fit for donation or resale and that are just taking up space because I don’t know what to do with them. Most items in this category are worn out undergarments and socks/hosiery and stained, threadbare tops. It was really liberating to offload stacks of stuff that has no usefulness left in it.

  8. joann, sidewalk chic

    I think since I’ve started blogging, it’s made me more conscious of what I buy, and I’ve tried to minimize any purchases that might cause me to do second thinking. It’s such a hassle to return or resell, that I try to get it right the first time.

  9. Tara

    If I can’t return something that doesn’t work, I will usually give it to a friend or donate it. I never bother trying to sell clothes. I would rather just know that someone else is getting use of out of it.

  10. Aziraphale

    Aaaargh. I hate nothing more than having to return an item! So I try not to buy anything unless I’m very sure. This means no buying online, of course. I need to touch the fabric, try it on, stroll several times around the store, stand, sit, do squats, etc. before I can walk to the cashier.

    So the mistakes I make tend to be discovered waaaay later — far too late for returning the item to the shop. Usually it will go something like this: two years after purchase, I realize I’ve only worn the garment twice because even though it fits well, it’s in a colour that I don’t like as much as I thought I did, or it is uncomfortable in a way I hadn’t anticipated, or it’s a closet orphan. If the garment is an orphan but it’s really beautiful, sometimes I’ll try to figure out what else I need in order to be able to wear it. Other than that, every garment I own that I don’t wear gets donated.

    I nearly always donate items I don’t want.

  11. Carol N.

    I hate trying on in the store with a passion! So I am pretty good about returning things that do not work for me. I do a fair amount of shopping online but tend to buy from retailers where I am very familiar with their fit so that there is more likelyhood of things working for me. If I’ve tired of something or decide after wearing a few times that it just doesn’t work like I want it to, I give it to my sister-in-law to resell. I am fortunate to have a good job and she is not, so that helps her out financially and she is the one who has to do the ironing and taking the items to the store for selling. I rarely have anything to donate because if it works for me, I’ll wear it till it is worn out.

  12. Carol

    I donate a lot of clothes that don’t work out for me. I make sure they are of the best quality, but just didn’t work for me. Since I don’t itemize, I can’t deduct anything, but it gives me enough happiness to give them to someone who can really use them…and that sure beats them hanging in the back of my closet collecting dust.

  13. Alyson

    I’d love to know more about the inifinity scarf from a dress hem! I always repurpose where I can, and any online purchase that isn’t right (rare) and can’t be made so goes to ebay.

    • Sal

      Oh gosh, I basically took my rotary cutter and removed the bottom 4″ of the dress hem. It’s a loop of fabric already, so I wear it as an infinity scarf! Obviously, a better crafter would hem the raw edge. 😉

      • Anne @ The Frump Factor

        Hee! I was WONDERING if you hemmed the raw edge. As a non-sewer and all-around low-maintenance type, I am so relieved to hear that you don’t! As far as my attitude toward returns, etc., Aziraphale and I are twins! I feel left out of the whole online shopping phenomenon, but I just don’t have the patience for the inevitable returns.

  14. Claire

    Heehee, I am the absolute RETURNS queen. Is it possible to return more than you buy? Well no, I guess technically not, but I tend to frequent the same places so often that it’s just part of the cycle to have returns whenever I go to shop again. I use this method mainly to audition new pieces (usually sale/clearance items) for my closet in the company of the other permanent players, but sometimes it’s because I run out of time to deliberate while in the store (I never shop online). And I have a thing about buying and returning within the same month, so that when I am entering line items on my budget spreadsheet for the previous month, the debit and credit magically cancel out and never were. 🙂

    I definitely repurpose items that contain a fabric or detail I still love and can’t bear to give up. These items can also go in my “costume” basket for Renaissance festivals and Halloween and theme parties and whatnot.

    And I second the poster (Halo?) that talked about having an epiphany about throwing things away. This feels so wrong to me (per Grandma, “waste not, want not!”) that I’ve had to practice placing and leaving things in the trash that really do belong there. Otherwise, I give away or donate all my unwanted items, as it feels much more rewarding to me personally than selling or consigning (not that there’s anythign wrong with doing that, obviously!).

  15. DWilliams

    I have bought some clothes on ebay but for me to sell some would require me having a better picture set up than I have now(like a dress form). There seems to be a market for name brand clothes. I give some things away via