8 Tricks for Second Hand Clothes Shopping

It is no secret that I love second hand shopping.

While I have always been passionate about finding cool stuff in an op-shop or on Trademe, this whole thrift shop thing solidified into a belief system for me in my second year of Uni.

I had taken this paper on Mercy and Social Justice – because I had to fulfill the credits in that vein of my degree – and at the time thought nothing of it, but it was probably the paper that most changed my life.

On a whim I did a research project for his course on child labour and basically scared myself. My eyes were opened to the extent that a lot of what we buy and wear is based on this economy which essentially is built on having work completed by people who can be underpaid and taken advantage of.

I think when I first became away of this I literally couldn’t bring myself to buy anything in a clothing store for ages because I felt like my ‘oh that looks pretty’ was basically directly associated with poor working conditions and families living on barely a few dollars a day.

The thing was I realised that this is actually a really difficult problem to remove yourself from. Mostly because even if a product is ‘made in New Zealand’ or whatever, the fabric could be from a sweatshop. I am pretty bad at sewing so the prospect of making my own clothes went quickly out the window.

After a lot of research I discovered the best way to level this conviction out for me was to take advantage of second hand shopping (that and to have what I do buy repaired, rather than constantly throwing it out or buying stuff I wear once or twice)

In buying second hand, I could extent the life span of a garment.

This was also super handy because I lover vintage clothing.

As a result of this empowered delight in second hand shopping, I have learnt a few tricks to purchasing well second hand. Often I hear people lament about how they never seem to be able to buy well second hand, so I figured I would share my tricks of the trade.

So here we go.

Number One:

Know your size and stick to it.

It can be super tempting when you see something that is either really cool, or a super flash designer and you think, ‘Oh I’m sure it will be fine.’ I have learnt the hard way (aka: buying heaps of super cool dresses and tops only to find that no… they don’t fit me as I hoped they would and then having to give these way.)

I learnt this lesson most valuably when I purchased the most epic 80s dress and coat set which was a size 10. Because it was stunning, I decided I would buy the set, and take it to be altered.

one hundred and ninety dollars later (I nearly died when I found out the price) it fit me.

The reality is this, don’t buy something that is super big and requires large alterations. A hem or sleeve is all good, but you need to be realistic about your size requirements otherwise it seriously is a waste of cash.

Number Two:

Know what items to buy.

I am usually a size 6 on top but an 8 on my hips. As a result of this, I can buy a XS or S dress, but with any kind of bottoms it really is best I try them on.

Same with my shoes actually, I have VERY big feet for someone my size (162cms!) not to mention one foot is a 39 and the other a 40, as an added dilemma my feet are really, really slim!

It is hard to buy shoes at the best of times, let along blind on Trademe – also I kind of think shoes second hand is a little gross, you might not feel the same way I do.

I have now discerned a mental list of things I can actually buy on second hand websites. These being:

-Coats (I have gorilla arms… meaning they are really long and so open my size in jackets comes short of my wrists, so I can buy up to like a 10)
-Skirts (if I consult my measurements.)

In addition to this point about knowing what items you can buy without trying them on, it is also important to consult fabrics… I have had total nightmares when I buy something that arrives only to discover it is made out of wool…

I am allergic to wool, so this means that if I wear it, I am itchy all.day.long. Then I spend like the rest of the day lamenting how sad I am that I will never be able to wear my awesome second hand buy.

Number Three:

Know what colours you’re looking for.

When I go to a physical opshop, I don’t waste time looking in the yellow sections.

Most opshops these days are organised according to colours (I know Savemart and a lot of the hospice stores are) and because I don’t want to waste time, I don’t look at anything in colours that don’t suit me aka: yellow, salmon, most greens, etc.

It is probably also worth noting that you need to be careful about anything black or white and just check for any marks under the sleeves (sweat or deodorant) and even the browning that can come from over washing a black garment.

In the whim of shopping you can think you’ll live with something, but often once the piece is taken home you will seriously never wear it.

Number Four:

Avoid impulse costume buys.

Oh gosh. Because I was involved in a church youth ministry I often had opportunities for costumes. The issue was that this influenced a lot of my second hand shopping. I would see something completely outrageous and buy it at once because I figured one day I would have an opportunity to wear it as a costume.

As a result, I ended up with a wardrobe packed with weird costume items, and no actual clothes for my day to day wearing.

Exhibit A:

70s timesThis was absolutely a matching denim vest and trouser set with floral design and ombre shading.

Number Five:

Take advantage of ‘search’ words.

By this I mean, if you know your style, then use that as a key search word. I love most things vintage, retro, nautical, or striped. So I will use these when shopping on Trademe all of the time.

What is also helpful to do is if there is a designer or brand that you like, and you are pretty confident of your size, then search that brand and see what comes up. Recently I managed to get a brand new Review dress which would have retailed at $350, for $30. BOOM!

I am also currently wearing a Miss Selfridge dress I scored for 1$ reserve that is nearly mint and I get complements on every time I wear it.

Make a short list, have a go and see what you can find.

Number Six:

Think about the Price.

If you want the bargain, don’t always click the buy now.

I have often seen something and thought, ‘Oh my goodness I want that!’ and rather than seeing my luck with the auction. It has been when I have taken the risk with the auction that I have scored my best deals.

It is also really important to go into an auction with an amount you’re willing to spend in your head so you don’t go absolutely crazy and end up spending silly amounts on something you could have brought brand new a little cheaper.

The best part of second hand shopping is getting excellent value and sharing news of your scores – don’t ruin it for yourself without being attentive to the price.

Number Seven:

The little things will bother you.

It is seriously no use having a wardrobe packed with second hand finds that you never wear. That is why it is important to remind yourself – and this applies to any kind of shopping really… – that the little things will bug you.

If you’re not sure. Don’t get it.

I have tried things on at a local Hospice store and maybe…

the fabric crinkled easily – I’ll just iron it and wear it to places where I don’t sit down, I told myself. Spend the rest of my life not wearing it because I hate ironing and end up looking like a pile of crepe paper by the end of the day!

There is a small mark on it – I won’t even notice… then it becomes the only thing I do notice.

It has a slip that doesn’t sit evenly – ever time I wear it I spend my life adjusting it.

The list goes on.

If you’re not sure, don’t buy it. That’s the general rule of thumb.

Lastly Number Eight:

If you do find you’ve brought something and for whatever reason it isn’t right, or it is the wrong colour, or the wrong size, then it is important to have someone you can on gift to!

Bonus of second hand shopping, cheap clothes that if wrong you can bless someone else with!

When you buy something and for whatever reason it hasn’t worked out, don’t hide it in your closet or throw it away, think who might suit it. It is seriously nice to be able to pass something on to someone else if it really is awesome but doesn’t fit.


So those are my eight rules – there are  a few others but I totally cannot remember them right now! – I totally encourage you to consider second hand shopping, as it really is an excellent way to extend the life span of a garment and in my mind that treasures and adds value to the work that was performed by the hands that made it.

Especially when we live in a society which so quickly throws away things for the next fad, it is good to remove yourself from that mindset and value things for what they are, and for the lives that worked to create it.

As mentioned above, another thing that I do that I feel values the workers is buying something and having it repaired when it gets any damage – shoes, things with little holes, etc. This will save you money, and if you buy good quality, and have things fixed, your items will last you a long, long time.


Also, FYI I totally brought my wedding dress second hand – on http://www.StillWhite.co.nz

Several thousands of dollars worth of a hand made, vintage lace dress which I paid very little for but is the most beautiful dress of all time.

There are bargains out there if you are prepared to look for them!



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