Thrifting Wisely for Designer Items

How to find designer items while thrifting.

I found that neon yellow cardigan thrifting in 2008. It was Theory brand, in great condition, and only $9.99. And I hung onto it and wore it for years – through 2012 if memory serves – even though it was always a bit too snug and washed out my complexion. Such is the perilous allure of thrifting designer items. I’ve definitely succumbed to it myself quite a few times, but I’m trying to be more mindful now.

Most of what you’ll find at your local secondhand stores will be clothing and accessories from bargain and mall brands, since those are the most commonly worn and purchased families of brands. But occasionally you’ll turn up a pair of Joe’s Jeans or a vintage Armani blazer, and they’ll generally be incredibly affordable. Well within your budget. And you’ll be tempted to snap them up just because of that fancy label, which is only natural. But here are some questions you should ask yourself first:

Does this fit me well?

Not just does this fit me, but does this fit me WELL. Buying clothes that almost fit is unwise under any circumstances, and you may be tempted to fudge a bit due to that recognizable brand name. But don’t. Everything you purchase should fit you well, and that includes designer items, thrifted or otherwise.

Where will I wear this?

I once found three pristine Donna Karan suits at a Chicago thrift store. I don’t wear suits. Ever. So even though they were going for $26 apiece, I passed. A designer piece that never gets worn is a waste of closet space, so be certain you’re purchasing something that will work for your life and lifestyle.

Is this a current cut? Or striking enough to be recognizably vintage?

I’ve seen several Dior items turn up here in the Twin Cities – mostly suits and blazers, but a few dresses, too – and they’re extremely 80s. Those big shoulder pads and long torso lines aren’t aligned with current cuts and fits, and although 80s-influenced styles are trending now many actual 80s garments will look dated instead of retro. Older designer items can be fabulous finds, but be certain they’ll either look very vintage or pass for current.

After running through these questions, remind yourself that a bargain isn’t really a bargain if the item in question never gets used. That Michael Kors sweater may be $9.99, but if it’s three sizes too big for you then that is $9.99 that you’ve wasted. Save your money for something that will be truly useful to you, and leave that sweater for someone else.

I don’t mean to be all gloom and doom. In fact, here’s a designer thrifting story that ends well. See this red polka-dotted blouse?


That’s a $100+ silk blouse from Equipment that I thrifted for a whopping $0.99. It’s current, in great shape, it fits me, and it works with my life and lifestyle. If you dig big names, definitely keep your eyes peeled for them as you cruise the thrift racks; They’ll turn up more often than you might expect! Just make sure you’re using your money wisely and thrifting garments that look fabulous on you instead of succumbing to the siren song of designer labels.

Originally posted 2015-01-05 06:16:47.

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6 Responses to “Thrifting Wisely for Designer Items”

  1. livi

    My mother works at a thrift store and sees a lot of fabulous items before they even hit the floor. For Christmas she gave me a leather Fossil bag that originally sold for $190 and a designer wallet (Anuscha? I hadn’t heard of it before) that retailed for about $80. I’m certain she only paid 10-20‰ of the original price for both.

    I don’t pay a lot of attention to higher end designers generally, but I sure do love this bag!

  2. Suzanne Carillo

    I am a huge fan of thrifting and I have succumbed to the siren of the designer brand more than once. Normally though, if it doesn’t fit with my lifestyle I’m able to take it into my local consignment store and make a little profit on the item (since I paid so little for it), or at the very least, break even.

    I do find that if I’m buying something for $10 that normally would be $200 I have some extra cash to spend on getting it tailored to fit me, depending on what the item is. You can also remove shoulder pads, replace belts or shorten dresses to make them fit better with your current wardrobe.

    I agree… that blouse is fabulous!


  3. what not

    Years ago I bought a Givenchy shirt at a thrift store, but it was just too goofy for me–brown and shiny–and I only wore it a couple times before giving it away. So more recently, when I spied an amazing Hugo Boss dress that didn’t fit at all, I passed it by. Ah well, the joys and sorrows of thrifting.

  4. Lisa

    I don’t have much luck thrifting clothing at my local thrift stores. Occasionally I’ll run across a great buy in new shoes or a handbag but the clothes seem to be junky stuff. I did buy a Dooney&Bourke handbag for $8! I knew why it was at the thrift store after the 1st use…it weighed a ton without my stuff in it and the leather was stiff as a board. I just couldn’t deal with it and sold it at a yard sale after it languished in my closet for a year or so.

  5. stephanieJ

    I have a lot of luck with buying good quality, designer labels, from
    places such as, Amazon and NordstromRack and paying little
    more than you would at thrift stores. You do pay a little more generally
    but the items are new, and returnable (should you realise you made a
    huge mistake). I have bought Joie, Eileen Fisher, Trina Turk, Rebecca
    Minkoff and James Perse clothing online and for 70% off or more within
    the last two weeks and have been very happy with all my purchases. Heres
    an example, I bought this shirt (I bought the last one it seems) a few
    days ago for $16 down from $138. It arrived in perfect condition, never
    worn, or pawed over in thrift shops. You just need to spend a little
    time looking!