Stop, Drop, Shop & Swap: A full beginners guide to thrifting!
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
I cannot believe that we’re already three full days into August of 2020. This year has just flown by with all of the twists and turns we’ve encountered. Despite all that we’ve been through, we are just on the cusp of Back to School season with fall just around the corner, and many of us are moving into our new post-COVID-19 routines. Whether you’re physically going back to school/work or attending virtually, there's something about this time of year that screams wardrobe re-fresh. But with all of the hype comes a lot of waste and often unknown ripples resulting from our choices - that's why today we’re going to be focusing on refreshing your wardrobe in a sustainable way!
Let's get into talking about thrifting!
WHAT IS THRIFTING!?
In a nutshell, thrifting is shopping for items that were previously owned. Often gently worn and at a fraction of the cost. Thrifting encourages thoughtful choice-making, resourcefulness, and often a lot of creativity.
In recent years, thrifting has certainly picked up in popularity as vintage and 90’s styles have come back into popularity. Yet many people are still intimidated by it - understandably so. There are so many options, limited sizing, and sometimes imperfections. One needs to learn how to go with the flow when thrifting. It can be frustrating and hard to get the hang of, but once you know-how, you won't be able to stop!
WHY DO I THRIFT!?
It’s important to consider the follow-through of our actions when we do everything - including shop for clothing. The environment is a huge reason why we need to rethink our textile consumption habits. In fact, North America landfills 95 MILLION TONNES of textiles EVERY YEAR that could either be reused or recycled. Additionally, it takes many resources such as water and energy to produce these items. Yet, we as consumers get into the habit of buying into trends and buying into cheap clothing. This results in many items getting discarded once they’re no longer trendy, damaged, or when something better comes along.
We need to also consider the working environment of the factories that produce these garments that end up in landfills so quickly. Often these factories are outsourced in places where workers are overworked and underpaid, with working environments that can be unsafe or unfit. We need to be sure we know where our money is going, and what brands and ethics we want to support.
But what about donating? Though local shelters need donations, donating clothing is not the answer to softening the blow of our consumption habits. Just because you chose to donate your unwanted items instead of discarding them into a trash bin, does not mean those items won’t ultimately find their way into unethical situations, or ultimately a landfill. T-shirt Travels is a great documentary on the life of a donated item and I encourage you to check it out! In order to curb our consumption habits, curated capsule wardrobes have been a great trend as of late, that encourages carefully chosen pieces. Definitely worth looking into!
I don’t want to harp on this too much as nobody likes to feel a sense of guilt when making their choices - BUT it is important to have some knowledge of what your dollar is supporting and what a wardrobe refresh can mean in the long run.
WHO CAN THRIFT!?
I want to say everyone can thrift - because if the stars aligned, everyone should be able to!!! Thrifting can be a fun and sustainable option for shopping - BUT it's important to understand that it may not be accessible for everyone. Thrifting isn't as inexpensive as it used to be - the scene has been gentrified as older styles move into current trends. This means that those who thrift out of financial necessity may not be able to as freely anymore as prices ascend. We also need to acknowledge that there are size limitations - oftentimes lacking options for those who are plus-sized. And finally, many small consignment and thrift shops are cluttered and may not be accessible for everyone.
We’re all out here doing our best - so it’s important not to shame others for not participating. Though I personally thrift most of my clothing, there are basics that I needed to shop for brand new. Undergarments, basic tees, and even jeans that actually fit my bigger thighs and butt. As much as we know things need to change, we need to be gentle with ourselves and with others. And ultimately HAVE FUN.
HOW DO I THRIFT!?
Now that we’ve talked about some of the heavier subjects around clothing, let's get into the fun stuff.
I’ve been thrifting ever since I was a kid. I used to love combing through the giant bins of clothes with my mom at the local Frenchy’s. I’d come out with unique pieces and even designer wear for less than 5$. Thrifting requires a keen eye for potential and the ability to look being the label - if something looks good, it doesn't matter if it's designer, vintage or a Walmart brand.
One needs to be patient as they comb through dozens of items before stumbling upon one perfect gem. And oftentimes you may not be able to find anything at all - but that’s the beauty of thrifting. Move onto another shop, or come back in a few days and you’ll have new inventory to pick through.
A few key tips for thrifting are:
Patience: You won't always find gems, but when you do, you will have to dig for them.
Keep an open mind: Be open to new styles and fits. You never know what you could be missing out on.
When in doubt, try it on: Thrifting often has us moving outside of our regular racks - look through differing sizes (tag sizes change over time, clothing stretches out and shrinks). Look through both the men and women's sections - clothing has no gender!
Look beyond the label: Finding a gem doesn’t mean finding a designer item, it means finding an item that fits you perfectly and makes you feel confident - no matter what the brand or size is!
Have an idea of gaps your wardrobe needs to have filled: Oftentimes I’ll go thrifting knowing that I’m looking for a few new shirts - I’ll narrow it down to t-shirts, in a certain colour scheme and go from there. It makes browsing that much easier when you’re able to eyeball instead of combing through each item.
Have fun: Don't stress - it takes practice to fall into your own rhythm.
WHERE DO I THRIFT!?
There are many ways to second-hand shop today; so let's take a look at all of our options:
Thrifting in-store is the best way to get a feel for what type of options are out there. In my opinion, this way is the best way as you can get a feel for textures, sizing, and are able to try all your potentials on. Although this may not be the most comfortable way of shopping with COVID-19 restrictions on our minds - it can give you the best lessons on how to thrift.
There are a few options for in-person thrifting:
Big box thrift shops: this includes places like Value Village and Salvation Army. These places have HUGE selections. It can be overwhelming to the untrained eye, but just start combing through the racks and start pulling items - you’ve got to start somewhere. Try and try again - you’ll quickly find your groove and find it comforting. *It should be noted that the practices of some of these big box thrift shops have been questioned recently, so as it should be with any big company, be sure to do your own research on them!
Local thrift shops: These places may have smaller selections and maybe less organized, but that shouldn't stop a thrifter from combing through and finding that perfect item! These are often considered hole-in-the-wall places that you need to ask around to find, or if you’re on the east coast, you know that Guy’s Frenchy's is another local holy grail.
Mission Shops: Now if I'm being honest, I’ve never been to a mission shop, BUT I’ve heard of some amazing deals coming from their clothing racks. Same as the big box shops, comb through, ignore the label and try and try again!
Consignment stores: Consignment stores are wonderful for holding curated pieces. If you know your style, there may be a consignment store out there hand choosing options perfect for you. These are curated items therefore you should expect a higher price point than regular thrift shops. If you’re in Halifax too, a few examples would include Elsie’s, The Hasbin, and Lost & Found.
Online thrifting has really moved into the spotlight over the past few years. We’ve seen a surge in Facebook groups selling curated clothing, Instagram virtual thrift shops, and apps showcasing secondhand items from across the country. Instead of physically combing through piles or racks of clothing, you are able to scroll through options from the comfort of your own home.
Instagram: Instagram thrift shops have surged in popularity over the past few years. These are curated closets so they may be found at higher price points - however, it is very easy to scroll through your favourite shop, and turn their post-notifications on to be sure not to miss out on anything! I’ve also seen some wonderful size-inclusive shops pop up on Instagram - such as Fat Chance Vintage. Someone has already put the work in and picked out trendy pieces that are more likely to sell, so be aware that there may be shipping or local delivery charges.
Facebook marketplace: This is another really great resource. I tend it find facebook marketplace to have some decent clothing for sale - oftentimes with the tags still on because someone doesn't want to bother returning their item. You can search by keyword, and easily scroll through at chat with sellers!
Apps: Thrifting apps like ThreadUp, Depop, and Poshmark have been making waves for the past few years too. They allow you to narrow your search to size, colour, theme, and brand. Thrifting has never been easier with these options - however, you will likely pay more as these are curated items, with shipping and service charges that will be applied. Also, ordering from apps often comes with a lot of packaging so if you’re thrifting for the environment, be aware that these apps encourage sellers to include personal touches that may mean glitter, cards, stickers, or excess packaging.
Yard sales and flea markets: If you’re driving around on a sunny Saturday, stop into your local flea market and any yard sales you may see on the way! I’ve found some wonderful items for cheap cheap cheap! You can often haggle the price down and have a great chat with the seller!
Clothing swaps: Clothing swaps are a wonderful way to clear out your unwanted items and find something new! This past holiday season I hosted my first ever clothing swap with my friends. I served drinks and snacks and encouraged everyone to bring their unwanted items. It was a HUGE success. Everyone went home with some wonderful options and the remaining clothing was donated to a local women's shelter - Adsum House. I’ll be making this an annual thing, for sure!
Well, THERE YOU HAVE IT!
I know this was a lot of information, but it’s the most condensed, yet comprehensive guide to thrifting I could manage. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a kid, and I love passing on my knowledge to others. I hope that moving forward you consider the ripple effects of your choices and make sustainable decisions surrounding your wardrobe for years to come - But most of all, I hope you have fun. Thrifting can be really fun and exciting, just go with the flow! Next thing you know, you’ll start to carefully put together a one of a kind wardrobe, curated just for you.
Enjoy the rest of August - try thrifting this month and you’ll be ready with a sustainable wardrobe refresh by the time Back-To-School/fall rolls around.
Drew is a creative person who is passionate about the environment, inclusivity/accessibility, family and art! Through their education at Saint Mary’s University and personal growth, Drew has turned life around and strives for a low-waste and low-impact lifestyle. Drew is currently completing a Master’s of Resource & Environmental Management and wishes to eventually pursue a career in environmental management and would be happy work within waste management, active transportation, urban planning and environmental education. When Drew's not at school or busy waitressing, you’ll find them cuddled up with her cat Marshmallow, painting, thrifting or making vegan cooking videos for fun on Youtube!