Secondhand Shopping in a Nutshell


The secondhand shopping world is growing, and that is a MARVELOUS good thing. Old fashioned thrift stores are still a staple, but they can be frustrating or overwhelming for some people. So I wanted to talk about various other outlets for buying (and sometimes selling) used clothing, shoes, and accessories. And I’m sure you’ll have more to add!

Thrift/charity stores

We’ll start with the big guns. Most thrift stores are associated with a charity, and proceeds from sales of donated goods benefit that charity. Many will also provide job training for those in need. Since goods are donated, you can get everything from designer castoffs to past-season fast fashion. These stores run the gamut from well-lit, well-organized emporia to daunting, dark, disorganized morasses. Just because you’ve had a bad experience at one doesn’t mean you should write off the entire category! Poke around The Thrift Shopper website to find out about stores in your area, and try to sample a few.


Consignment stores tend to have better quality, newer goods only. The items sold there have been brought in by sellers who receive a portion of the sale price, so store buyers tend to be picky. Some specialize in designer goods only, but national chains like Buffalo Exchange and Clothes Mentor are less choosy. If you can’t afford new but don’t want to deal with the luck-of-the-draw aspect of outright thrifting, consignment is a great bet. Also helpful to young women looking to build career wardrobes on a budget.

Antique malls

I LOVE antique malls for style items, and seldom see them discussed as secondhand shopping options. You’ll need patience since most are huge and cluttered and selling gobs of stuff that isn’t wearable. But if you’re willing to roam around and enjoy the browsing experience, you’re likely to find bargain-priced vintage clothes, furs of all kinds (faux and real), handbags, scarves, and truckloads of jewelry. Those last two are my favorites, but I’ve picked up a few clothing items, too. If you’re game for an adventure and in the market for some quirky costume jewelry, hit up an antique mall.

Online consignment outlets

These are the newest members of the family. I’m loyal to Twice myself, but have heard good things about thredUP and Kidizen (kids clothes). There are also designer-only online consignment options like The RealReal and Tradesy. (More of those here.) These are great options for folks who want to buy used, but are looking for specific items. Since you can search for “black dress pants” or “brown leather satchel,” from your own computer, you save time driving from shop to shop and cruising the racks.


When Etsy launched, I’m pretty sure they sold handmade stuff only. Now there are thousands of vendors specializing in used and vintage clothing, and unlike the online consignment outlets you can generally ask the seller specific questions about a garment or accessory. Most vendors list as vintage, but the term is used loosely and may include items that are only a couple of years old. Probably not a good bet for workwear staples, but a great place to look for perfectly beat-up leather jackets, funky vintage jewelry, and retro dresses.

Garage and estate sales

From one extreme of convenience to another. This option is for the most adventurous and leisurely of secondhand shoppers, since there’s almost no predicting when or where shopping opportunities will arise. Garage sale locations and times are often posted neighborhood-wide a few days ahead of time, but estate sales seldom are. If you’ve got a weekend morning to kill, drive around an old-growth suburb and look for signs. Garage sales are often outdoors, whereas estate sales are nearly always inside. The latter can feel a little odd since you are in the home of and looking at the belongings of a recently deceased person, but these sales often help the family left behind deal with a lifetime of belongings. I bought a gorgeous pair of cowboy boots at a garage sale for $5, and have picked up some of my favorite vintage tees at our neighborhood-wide one in June. You’ll likely see clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories at garage sales, mostly jewelry and accessories at estate sales.


Although eBay is definitely a great place to look for specific items or styles that sold out a year or so ago, it’s also a wonderful place to look for good quality used wearables. Like Etsy, eBay allows you to have direct contact with the seller so you can ask sizing and condition questions and even request more photos before bidding. Oh, and if the auction thing makes you anxious you can search for “Buy It Now” only options. eBay is a great place to buy used handbags, but I’ve scored coats, skirts, and shoes, too.

Vintage stores

They’re specific, but still great resources. Vintage purist stores will usually focus on specific decades – many aim for the 1970s or earlier – but many vintage stores will sell items made as recently as 10 years ago. A little risky if you’re seeking something specific or focused on a conservative work wardrobe, but great for anyone who loves retro aesthetics and creative dressing.

Anything missing from this list? Where do YOU shop for used wearables?

Image courtesy Steve Snodgrass

Originally posted 2015-02-05 10:40:37.

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4 Responses to “Secondhand Shopping in a Nutshell”

  1. crtfly

    I want to comment regarding estate sales and offer a warning to those with a certain kind of sensitvity. I have been to several estate sales. I won’t do it again. I find it extremely uncomfortable to be an unknown person’s home who has recently died. I leave it to others to debate whether there are spirits or not and whether they hang around their former residences for a time. Perhaps what I am sensing is that the person had much physical contact with all the items in the house and has left behind a touch of his/her smell, pheromones, skin cells. Whatever it is, I am acutely aware that the items for sale belonged to a person no longer alive.

    I remember visiting a man’s woodshop. He had a beautiful shop with wonderfully taken care of tools. I was hunting for a wood lathe. But while in his shop, I could picture him, carefully and lovingly making wood items for his family and friends. I was soon in tears and had to leave.

    If you are sensitive to this sort of thing, I suggest that you skip estate sales. It can be quite depressing. If it doesn’t bother you, then you can pick up some wonderful things at great prices.


  2. Elle berman

    This is a well thought out and comprehensive post.

    I buy second hand as often as not. Mostly from consignment shops since they are nearby, and offer such great things. I also shop thrift stores, the prices there are better, but they are a bit out of the way. I love ebay. I did buys some things from Poshmark and that was good, too, but alot of digging through..

    I love flash sales, and the Real Real.

    I go to estate sales in the summer from time to time.

    There is no place that I will not shop, i think

    but fancy stores, whose merchandise I LOVE is annoying with

    very pressured sales people, who makes me feel guilty if I dont buy…

    Great post!

    xx, Elle

  3. Jennifer

    I’m a member of two online “yard sale” groups on Facebook. One has everything and one is specifically plus-size items. You set your own prices, can bargain with sellers, and arrange viewing or pick-up at local sites. I haven’t bought much, but I’ve only had good experiences selling things. Likewise, Fatshionista on LiveJournal used to be a great venue for buying and selling plus-sized items, not so much anymore, but I think some people still post things.

    I’ve also seen clothing and accessories for sale at flea markets. Most of the clothes looked worn or out-dated, but I have found some jewelry there.

    I’ve never been to one, but some people I know found great things at clothing swaps.

    I’m mostly a Goodwill devotee. Well-lit, numerous locations, good prices, current stock. It’s a Friday night tradition for a friend and I to go out to dinner and then hit up Goodwill. it’s just a little weird to see things that I’ve donated on the shelves, though.

    The consignment stores in my area are mostly overpriced Target/Walmart clothes. Not that I won’t wear either, but Goodwill has it for much cheaper.