A Thrift Shop Addict’s Guide To Second-Hand Shopping

Over the last few years, Megan Roantree has been converted into a pre-loved clothing addict. Here are her tips to make charity, vintage and second-hand shopping less daunting…

I hate to admit it, but I was a huge charity shop snob as a teenager. My bargain-hunter mother would often come home with coats, bags and dresses, and proudly exclaim that they were from a charity shop in town. ‘Don’t tell my friends – if they ask you just say you got it in Penneys’ I’d beg her. ‘Someone could have died in that’ I’d add. (I was a dramatic kid). But perhaps a combination of having little money in college, truly loving a bargain like my mom and hating when everyone wore the same dress from River Island on a night out, completely and utterly converted me.

In 2012, Macklemore sang about the merits of thrift shopping: “I wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible, I’m in this big ass coat from that thrift shop down the road.” We should have listened sooner.

My name is Megan and I’m a thrift shop addict. Can I say thrift shop queen? That sounds a little better…

Over the last five or so years that I’ve fallen in love with second-hand shops, I’ve found amazing one-off pieces like a navy sequin jacket and formal event outfits like a blue Banana Republic dress [pictured above] for €10, in perfect condition and 10 times less than the original price. I’ve also found gorgeous staples like a black mini skirt from Brown Thomas-stocked brand The Kooples for €8, and countless blouses and ‘dressy tops’ for work.

If judgmental little Megan can be converted so can you, because there are countless reasons why thrift shopping is fabulous.

We all love to see an ‘it dress’ of the season. You know that dress – usually from one of the high street stores, usually very flattering – meaning that every fashionable gal runs out and buys it. The only problem is that it every fashionable gal then owns it, and wears it, you’ll quickly find yourself walking past someone in the exact same outfit as you cross the street. Now, we’re old enough and mature enough to get over someone wearing the same outfit as us, and it’s not exactly the end of the world, but one of the most satisfying things about thrift shopping is that it would be highly unlikely that you’ll end up looking the same as anyone else. That said, this doesn’t mean that every piece you buy will be totally one-off or be too ‘out there’, There can be a real misconception that you have a ‘fun’ style or need to be a hipster to thrift shop, you might only picture luminous bomber jackets and tacky paisley shirts (which I adore, for the record) but it doesn’t have to be anything obscure. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. In terms of what’s ‘in’ fashion, the biggest trends are almost always inspired by other decades – whether that’s 90s mini dresses, 80s shoulder pads, or 70s tassel jackets, why bother copying them when you can literally get your hands on some actual vintage pieces.

Betty Bojangles, The Liberties, Dublin

Your bank account will also benefit from giving second-hand shopping a go. If you absolutely love shopping, but every spree leaves you too anxious to check your bank app, try a thrift shop. Often barely worn, designer and high street pieces are on sale for at least a quarter of the price, if not more.

There’s been a shift lately in the way people shop as everyone is trying to be more conscious of fast fashion, opting instead for sustainable fashion. But for many people sustainable clothing can be pricey and hard to justify for every piece you buy, which is all the more reason to head to second-hand shops. You’re not only giving these clothes a new lease of life, you’re contributing to sustainability and being environmentally friendly with your shopping.

Speaking of doing good, many of the best thrift and vintage stores are charity shops – dedicating the proceeds to causes and organisations which make a difference to people’s lives, which means you’re doing good for charity by simply shopping, so it’s a win/win.

There are countless pros to thrift shopping, but still many people find the idea of sifting through rails and shelves for clothes very stressful.

If you’ve been to Penneys on a Saturday scrambling for the last dress in your size, you’re more than capable of browsing through a thrift shop.

They’re rarely busy, mostly have a good system in place, and it can feel much more rewarding.

So if I’ve managed to persuade you enough to head to a second-hand shop, allow me to provide some tips to make it the best experience it can be so you’ll go back again and again.

Start by knowing what you want. If you’re a thrift shop newbie, it’s a good idea to go in with this in mind. Looking for an oversized denim jacket? Most shops will have them all on a rail that you can go right to, without getting stressed out. Or start with something as simple as accessories so there’s no stress of wondering about sizes or trying them on. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Move onto the next one.

Once you get used to the order and layout of each shop you’re more likely to enjoy just going in for a browse and finding a hidden gem.

Also, you should disregard everything you think about sizing. Remember that the clothes could be decades old, and sizing has changed over time. Keep in mind that the clothes could come from anywhere in the world so an ‘M’ could really mean anything. Instead, be open to everything and anything you see that you love, and roughly looks like it might fit – no matter what the size, try it on. If something isn’t quite right, but you adore it, you can get it taken up, taken in, or made into something else entirely, and it will still be affordable. If a dress is a fiver in a charity shop, it’s worth spending a tenner to make it look even better, if it means you wear it again and again.

It’s a good idea to dress appropriately for your thrift shop (as I think you should for all shopping ventures). Wear what’s comfortable and easy to slip on and off as there is often only one or two changing rooms and they’re usually pretty small. If you can, wear something that you can try clothes on over, so you can just do it in front of a mirror if you have to. I’ve tried a midi skirt on over my own shorter skirt/dress in a mirror on at least three occasions and bought them all. If it’s something baggy like a jacket or top, don’t be afraid to just go for it and save yourself some time.

Don’t focus too much on brand. While I’ve gotten some incredible designer finds in these shops, it doesn’t mean that you should buy it just for the label. This week, I tried on a stunning COS dress but it just didn’t look right on me even if it was only a tenner. I’ve picked up things that I adore with labels I don’t recognise only to later find out at home with a quick google that they’re high end, and likewise I’ve picked up pieces that were from H&M, Zara and even Penneys, often with tags still on for at least half of what I would have paid.

I’ve worn my favourite charity shop pieces to weddings, to work and on nights out. At this stage, I would say my wardrobe is probably about 50/50 new pieces and thrifty finds. There are days when my entire look, head to toe, is second-hand, and others where nothing I’m wearing is, and my only regret is that I spent so long not embracing embracing thrift shopping, and the many benefits that go with it.

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