I cleaned out and decluttered my clothes closet and now I had big holes in my wardrobe.

I needed to fill in with pieces that were my style, looked great on me and related to what I already owned. I had a pretty long list of what I needed and didn’t have the resources to spend a couple of thousand dollars and get everything on my list nor would I be satisfied with only buying a couple of things brand new on my small budget.

Two racks of my reorganized and colorized closet. A couple of pairs of shoes that fit and I love. And a pretty ugly jacket that I had to try on during the shopping trip. I initially passed on this. A 30ish, hipster gal, also shopping in the store, said the blazer was awesome, along with my friend. I couldn’t seem to forget about it. I called up my pal and said, if you have time, go back and get me that jacket – it has some cool potential. Stay tuned to see how restructuring it turns out (or not)!

The Solution

The solution (and challenge) was to see if I could really build a great wardrobe by buying clothing at thrift and consignment stores. I wanted to source the very best quality I could get my hands on. And I thought, let me see if I could fill my wardrobe with better to high end quality pieces from thrift and consignment stores. This would also be a great story to share with others that may have wondered the same. Conclusion: YES! You can find awesome clothing at thrift and consignment stores. No need to feel that a good wardrobe is only available to those that have large budgets that afford them great clothing and accessories!

I had occasionally bought clothing at thrift stores and consignment. And by that I mean practically never. There was something about being pre-owned that just didn’t sit right with me. Who wore that? Sweated in it? Slopped food on it, etc. And yet I’d consistently hear people say that the cool _______ (fill in the blank with some awesome, gorgeous, designer clothing item) that they were wearing was thrifted. Or I’d be out at the thrift stores hunting for my usual home decor or jewelry and someone in front of my would be buying the most amazing, spectacular coat/blouse/dress/skirt. Green with envy I’d wonder where on earth did she find that? I started thinking more about bloggers and influencers I followed  and how they would often share a fantastic vintage garment in their OOTD (that’s outfit of the day, by the way).

I decided with my own closet declutter, clean out and edit to see if it was possible to really find good stuff at the thrift and consignment stores. I had high hopes but did not expect or count on anything. This was going to be an experiment. And if nothing else a good tale to tell at my next cocktail party.

Here’s what was on my list:

  1. Blazers, jackets and toppers – also known as the third piece.
  2. Sweaters
  3. Blouses
  4. Dressy underpinnings
  5. Couple of black skirts
  6. Cream casual pants
  7. Faded, causal denim jeans
  8. White/ cream casual denim jeans
  9. Spectacular high end pieces in classic fabrics, cuts, that fit right now.
  10. Navy blazer – season less
  11. Cream – summery, lightweight blazer
  12. Outwear: Lightweight, coats – all seasons

In addition, I worked up a personal style board to help me identify what I wanted to feel like including colors, fashion icons, and styles that I liked. This gave me a starting point including a couple of seasonal color palettes and style, silhouettes and details that I liked and flattered me.

I flew off to Bellingham, Washington to visit and work on my wardrobe with my good friend, Maria. In 4 days we hit several thrift stores, a fundraising rummage sale and one consignment store. It was a lot of work but part of the thrill is in the hunt. And it’s great fun to hang out with a good friend who likes thrifting, fashion, home decor and DIY projects as much as I do. Some stores took us hours to shop. I must have tried on about 200 items over the course of 4 days.

Here’s what I bought:

  • Black jackets
  • Italian plaid coat
  • Lilli Ann vintage purple mohair coat – super 1980s in a good way!
  • Blouses and underpinnings
  • Skirts
  • Sweaters. I had bought several Vince sweaters in the past couple of years and the bottom line is that brand is just not for me. Those big, over-sized sweaters made me look heavy, and like I was wearing a long, saggy potato sack. Instead I knew I need sweaters that were cut more to skim the body and not extend too far below my natural waist. Cashmere was my top pick because it provides a lot of warmth without a lot of pile.

Second hand blouses. All 100% cotton. Clockwise from the top left: Facconable red and white checked – I know it looks very Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, but it’s really cute on. And right after I bought it I saw some blogger do a round up of gingham check blouses paired back to black leather pants and skirts. Pink shirt by Jones NY. Black and white striped shirt by Chaps ( A Ralph Lauren brand). Hot pink and brown lattice by Foxcroft. Seafoam green blouse by Cold Water Creek. $4 to $7 each.

Very excited about these 2 blouses! They each have a high end, French couture. The deeper pink one is silk, which means dry clean, but it’s a great color. The paler of the two is an unknown brand to me, and has the chicest bow detail piped with black contrasting trim. And it’s polyester which means machine wash! Prices were about $5 to $7 each.

Nice sweaters in my summer palette of colors. Some are 100% cotton and others are 100% cashmere. Prices were $5 to $8 each.

Short sleeved sweaters. From the left: Black, Italian merino wool cable texture by Banana Republic – very luxurious quality and seems barely worn, $7. Zara black and blue turtleneck, $8. Black cotton turtleneck, like new, by Nordstrom, $6. I almost passed on the Zara navy and black sweater because the clerk wanted more than the Banana Republic sweater, but I really liked it so, I said fine, I’ll take it! Sometimes the prices don’t always make sense, be sure and use your discretion.

Long black skirts. One is a luxurious wool with a Neiman Marcus label. It has 2 kick pleats in the front and the back. It is stunning and in pristine condition, $6. The other long skirt is a synthetic blend and lighter weight, perfect for California weather. It had just a bit of pilling on the hip, but I was able to remedy that, $5. The black skirt on the far right is midi length and by Gianfranco Ferre! New with tag it is just fantastic, $14. I am certain that this skirt was at least $495ish new.

Skirts: Clockwise from top left – Burgundy and black textured pencil skirt, $7. Talbot’s plush wool blend in leopard print, $7. Bone leather pleat skirt, $15.

J Crew “Collection” new with tag skirt in pink brocade. This skirt was at least $135 new. I paid $5.

Vintage Adolph Schuman for Lilli Ann! This label is highly coveted in world of vintage and I have never found it before! It’s a fabulous, 1980s, buffalo check, swing coat in mohair. It’s in excellent condition. $10.

Black jackets and blazers. After my clean out I only had 1 black blazer. So, I went a little cray-cray and bought “several” black jackets. They are all fabulous and no duplication in my book! From top left clockwise: Military style black jacket, $8, Cynthia Rowley fashion black jacket, $9, Charter Club tuxedo inspired jacket, $7, Cache’ Chanel inspired tweet jacket with leather trim, $12, H by Halston cap cut out jacket (so chic!), $28. Talbot’s bolero jacket in black satin, $9 – so cute!

J Crew jacket. Been wanting one of these for a couple of years. And it was my size and my price! Marked at $17 and on the 50% off rack at a thrift store. At first I wasn’t sure of the colors, but I realized these colors are all in my wheelhouse; blue, cream and coral. This would be great back to denim too! $8.50.

When things say made in Italy, I always take a good look. This coat is like new and fit perfectly. $15

Black wool and cashmere coat with fun fur (mink?) collar and cuffs. Love the hand, and 3/4 length sleeves. This vintage coat was is like new condition. A big splurge for $100. Gap cotton knit poncho, $7.

Everything is second hand except the sunglasses and shoes. The scarves were $4 each, black hat (very runway Chanel!) $12, Aubergine pony hair handbag is by Cole Haan, $25, and the green leather handbag is by Steve Madden for $4. Jewelry was thrifted too! Gray pearl necklace $10, bracelet just below it is Kenneth Jay Lane rhinestone for $20 and the gold bangle is vintage Joan Rivers, $5.

Here’s what I learned: Yes! You can find great clothes at the thrift stores. Shop with these strategies in mind:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that are non-tie and easy to get on and off.
  • Allow plenty of time to shop.
  • Many shops such as Goodwill will have a promotion such as 50% off all items that have a particular colored tag. Another store I frequent often has a buy to 2 get one free promotion. If you are not sure if there is any promotion at your local thrift store simply ask the employees if there are any specials today or this week.
  • Bring a friend to help you. It’s more fun and great to get a second opinion and have someone else looking through racks of clothing to you help you find the good stuff.
  • Wear a fitted thin top and fitted leggings. This way you can easily try on blouses, sweaters and coats without going to the fitting room.
  • Immediately grab a cart to carry all your first round picks.
  • Try on anything that strikes your fancy. You never know as sizes vary greatly by designer as to what will fit.
  • Check the garment thoroughly for any stains, damage, moth holes etc. Most thrift stores process a lot of clothes. You cannot expect them to catch every garment that may have an issue. If there is an issue, be realistic about solving that issue. If something has a stain, most likely the previous owner tried to get it out and failed. If the dry cleaner couldn’t get it out, use caution thinking that you can. On the other hand, missing buttons, a seam line tear, or even a snag can usually be easily repaired.
  • As you try things on make notes or take photos on your cell phone of top looks, cuts, styles, colors, fabrics, textures, brands.etc. that really work for you. The thrift store is an excellent venue to try a lot of items on because they are not merchandising to specific clientele. They carry everything for almost every age.
  • A plus and minus is that there are not commission based sales people working in most thrift and consignment stores. The pros are that they will not push styles and looks on you just to make a sale. The cons are that there isn’t someone to wait on you and check the rack for something else. You need to be self sufficient and put in the time to find the good stuff.
  • Wash machine wash garments when you get home. The only ones I don’t wash are those that still have the tag on it.
  • Take any items that need dry cleaning to the dry cleaner.
  • Get a pilling device and comb out any “pills” on sweaters that you may have purchased.

Once you feel like you have a good amount of “first round picks”, try on each garment again and really scrutinize each item.

  • Try each garment on again and ask yourself:
  • Does it fit?
  • Does it flatter me?
  • Is the color in my palette?
  • How will I wear it?
  • When will I wear it?
  • Do I love it?
  • Can I commit to the care of this garment?
  • If you can confidently answer yes or positively to these questions, keep it in the cart. Put all the all the rejects on the go back rack. Go through one last round of deciding YES I WANT THIS, and then go to the checkout line.

With the popularity of decluttering and the whole Mari Kundo thing, I believe people are disposing of things like never before. This is good news for anyone who is willing to take the time to shop clothing and accessories occasionally a thrift of consignment store.
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My big take away:

YES! You can find awesome clothing in thrift and consignment stores. You must be willing to put in the time to look, and try things on. It’s also going to be much easier if you know your brands. You will also need to train your eye to look for worn edges, stains, or any other garment issues that may be the reason the item was donated. So if you’re okay with the time to look through racks of clothing, it’s very possible to add fantastic pieces to your wardrobe sources from 2nd hand stores.

What is your big take away from this post? Or do you have any good thrift store shopping tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.

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