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All About Secondhand Clothing

Used Clothing Gives Your Wardrobe Unique Vibe

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Vintage shopper at The National Trust's Killerton House.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Secondhand clothing is still hot.

The reasons for the surge in popularity in recent years are varied -- from the bargain aspect to the thrill of the hunt -- but according to Secondhand Chic author Christa Weil, one reason is that vintage goods are distinctive.

"One of my favorite buys ever was this vintage Chinese embroidered silk jacket, bright red, with a fake-fur lining.," she said. "How I look from the neck up doesn't matter when I have that one on -- it does all the work for me!"

While some of the pieces for serious connoisseurs, such as red-line selvage Levis (around $3000) or a Charles James evening gown (est. $10,000 to $15,000)  can set you back a bundle, many resale items are a bargain.

Types of Secondhand Clothing

 

It may sound chic to call your new secondhand find vintage, but here's how it really breaks down:

  • Vintage - Apparel from past eras -- everything from Victorian looks in the 1800s to disco in the 1970s.
  • Consignment - Usually recent (1-2 years old) apparel in good condition -- owners sell clothing through a store, which keeps a percentage of the sale.
  • Thrift - Term includes storefronts like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, as well as cheap "anything goes" venues such as flea markets.
  • Resale, Secondhand, Used - Encompasses all of the above.

You can buy used clothing many different ways, including physical stores, online stores, online auctions, expos or high-end auctions. But whatever method you choose, there are general guidelines you should follow.

 

Buying vintage

 

Weil, a resale connoisseur and author of the excellent Secondhand Chic, a guide to resale shopping, offered these tips for beginning resale shoppers:

  • Find a good store - Use the yellow pages. For consignment goods look for: Consignment; Women's Clothing, Used; Secondhand Clothing Stores. For thrift items: Thrift; Clothing, Used; Charity stores. For vintage: Vintage or Retro stores. Other ways to find a good store include using a directory (call your library to see if they have one), using a search engine on the Internet, or  find one good store and ask a fellow customer if she knows of any more -- people are usually happy to share info.
  • Spot a great deal - If you're new to vintage shopping, look at the price, the style level and quality of workmanship. The last two should be MUCH BETTER than what you could get in a garment at the same price at an ordinary retail store. Once you become an experienced vintage shopper, you'll get even better at finding fantastic, way underpriced clothes. The key thing, though, is not to buy because it's a great deal--buy because you absolutely love how it looks on you.
  • Find your size - To get a quick reading on an unsized garment, hold it against your body and see how it hangs relative to arms, legs, bust and waistline. But you MUST try it on to be sure. Don't EVER buy a piece, even as simple as a tank top, without trying it on. Finally, with vintage clothes, put them on gently at half speed--it's sad to have to buy something just because you ripped it a new neckline.
  • Recognize quality garments - Great buttons, beautiful interior seams, unusual details (like cuffs of a peculiar shape), welted buttonholes (the kind that look like mail slots). . any detail that looks like it took some thought and effort rather than run-of-the-mill.
  • More tips - The more experience you get shopping at secondhand stores, the better and wiser you get. Also, try not to blow a couple dollars here and there constantly buying stuff -- it's much smarter to save up for a really great, high-quality piece that you'll wear and wear for years.

 

Buying consignment goods

If you're looking to pump up your wardrobe with designer clothes, consignment may be a great, cost-effective way to do it.

 

Irene Mylan, owner of consignment mecca Clothes Circuit in Dallas, Texas shared these insider tips:

  • Find a good consignment store by searching in an affluent, fashion forward neighborhood.
  • Expect to save about 70% off retail.
  • The best time to buy current merchandise is halfway through a season; you can find items brought in by style mavens who are already through with them.
  • The best bargains are usually the most expensive -- it's difficult to get 30-40% off retail for an Armani.
  • Look for core pieces, such as a Calvin Klein pantsuit, which can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. You can build from there and accessorize.
  • Shop by feel -- you'll appreciate the better fabrics.
  • Once you start wearing better cut clothing it's hard to go back.
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