Baby Steps to Ethical Fashion: Shop Secondhand

I remember a year ago or so when I first started hearing about ethical fashion, Andrea (from Seasons & Salt) posted her baby steps toward having a more ethical closet, I was so thrilled to read that secondhand shopping was considered ethical! That was the first time I thought maybe, just maybe, I could be a more conscious consumer. I had been thrifting for years and hadn’t realized that by wearing preloved items I was extending the life of the garm
ent and saving items from the landfill, which is a step in the right direction.

To me, secondhand shopping is the easiest transition to make because it’s budget-friendly (probably even better for your budget than fast fashion). One of my biggest concerns with committing to ethical fashion is the higher cost of items, so secondhand shopping is a great way to balance out the more expensive investment purchases in my budget.

secondhand shopping
AG Jeans gray denim and faux leather jacket from Thred Up. Leopard flats from Poshmark.

That being said, secondhand shopping can be tricky when you’re working with a capsule wardrobe because it make take more time and effort to find that one perfect item. I have added a lot of secondhand items from online shops during the past few seasons as I navigated my postpartum figure and needed different sizes than I had, but I have allowed myself plenty of time to find just what I need to complete my capsules rather than settling for something I don’t love because it’s inexpensive.

Here are a few tips to make secondhand shopping work for you:
  • Be patient. Secondhand shopping can be hit or miss, so if you don’t have any luck finding what you’re looking for, try again. I know a lot of people give up on thrifting because they feel they never have any luck, but it usually takes more than a trip or two to hit the jackpot. Thrifting isn’t ideal if you need an item immediately, but if you have some time to shop around, give the secondhand shop a few tries. And give yourself time in the store to really browse, gather items, and make decisions. Thrift stores aren’t typically in and out in a matter of minutes, so be patient and make regular trips until you find what you are looking for.
  • Scan the aisles first for colors and prints that catch your eye. When I go to a thrift store I always start this way to make it less overwhelming. This especially works well if you know you’re looking for a particular style of item, but aren’t set on a particular color or cut. For example, if I’m shopping for a pullover sweater, and I know I want a neutral, I can quickly scan the sweater aisle for items that jump out at me. Then I can take a closer look at the particular style and size. This can be harder if you’re looking for a very specific item to fill a hole in your wardrobe where you may need to more thoroughly comb the racks for the perfect piece.
  • Don’t overbuy because of the low prices. I haven’t done a lot of thrift store shopping recently because I know I’m tempted by all of the deals and I start buying things I don’t need or love (similar to clearance rack, fast-fashion shopping). If maintaining a smaller, simplified wardrobe is a goal of yours, go in knowing what you need and don’t buy unless you find something you love.
  • Look for high quality pieces. Since these items have likely been worn and washed before, look for higher quality items that are in good condition. These items will have a lot more life left in them. I love using secondhand shopping to add more expensive brands that I typically wouldn’t be able to afford into my wardrobe.
  • Shop secondhand online. Use the internet to help you search for the specific brand and style name you’re looking for – between eBay, Poshmark, and Thred Up you’ve got pretty good chances at finding it – especially if it’s a year or more old. I’ve done much more online secondhand shopping in the past year because I can do it on my schedule and have more luck finding specific items. Here is a link to some secondhand finds I like at Thred Up.
  • Try consignment and vintage shops. If the typical thrift store is too overwhelming try a smaller consignment or vintage shops in your area. The prices aren’t usually as low as a thrift store, but they’re still far below retail. These shops are also pickier about items they re-sell, so you find higher quality pieces in better condition without having to dig as much.
  • Check store policies. The shops I regularly go to have various policies about what types of payments they accept and returns. One of my favorites also doesn’t have a dressing room, so I always make sure to wear leggings and a tank top so I can try on over those items.
thrifted look
H&M blazer and Old Navy booties from Poshmark. J Brand jeans from Thred Up.
Secondhand shops I love:
  • Local thrift and consignment shops are a great place to search for high quality pre-loved items. Beyond Goodwill or other donation thrift stores, look for locally owned consignment or vintage shops in your area.
  • Thred Up: I have purchased a lot of my capsule items, especially jeans, on Thred Up. I have been able to add high quality brands to my wardrobe (think J. Brand, AG Jeans, 7 For All Mankind for around $30-$40). I love that they have a 14 day return window if the items don’t work for you, which makes it easier to try new brands and styles. I also know that Thred Up checks over each item before they accept it to resell, so you don’t have to be as concerned about the condition of the items as much as if you’re buying from an individual. They also carry kids’ clothes on Thred Up, so I recently bought summer items for my girls.   Here is a link to get $10 toward you first purchase.
  • Poshmark: Poshmark is a site where individuals list and sell their own items. One downfall of Poshmark is there are no returns unless the item has been misrepresented and even then, you have to go through the steps to prove it. Be sure to ask a lot of questions regarding condition and measurements of items. Find a few items you own that fit well and measure those to compare to the items listed since sizing can vary so much. I usually like to confirm underarm to underarm measurement on tops and width across the hip and inseam on bottoms. You can also make an offer on items to try to negotiate a lower price with the seller.
Are you a secondhand shopper? What is your favorite trick/tip to have success finding great items?



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    1. Awesome post! Thank you, I just emailed you today asking about Poshmark. This post cleared up a lot for me.

      1. B,
        My next to-do was to respond! I have sold on Poshmark and sent items off to Thred Up, so I can share my experiences.

        I’ll email you more details now! 🙂

    1. I used to buy and sell and a lot on ThredUp, or take/buy items from my local consignment store. The good news is that charity shops in London are awesome. Awesome. (just bears repeating!) It is NOT the Goodwill experience of America by any means. There are about 5 charity shops just in my one mile stretch of High Street outside my front door. Items are grouped by color which makes presentation very nice and everything is on a wooden hanger, which also helps to make the clothes feel ‘new’. It feels more like boutique shopping. I’m a frequent visitor, but I have fallen into the trap of buying things I don’t need (and in the case of the Diesel Black Label blazer that still had the original tags, items that I still have never worn and probably never will). The prices are definitely not exactly bargain (depends on store branch – British Red Cross tends to be pricier but items are also nicer/newer; also shops in Sloane Square are more designer based – Jimmy Choo’s anyone? – so obviously you aren’t walking out with anything under 50 quid.)
      Some of the items I reach for over and over are from thrifting. Now if I could just find that perfect lightweight spring coat….

      1. Andrea,
        That is so interesting that London has such great secondhand shopping. Is that common all across Europe, do you know? I have avoided the thrift stores because I know I’m too tempted by the low, low prices. I have a little more restraint online where the deals are quite a significant. I hope to get back into it though now that I’m committed to a smaller wardrobe and I find it easier to resist temptation.

        On another note…what is it about the black blazer that makes you not wear it?

    1. Is it considered ethical shopping if I sell on Poshmark?!? Lol! I am obsessed with selling old clothes on Poshmark and old books on Amazon but I have never purchased used clothing online. It’s just so easy! When something sells in the middle of the night I always think “well that was a productive sleep”. Thanks for a great post!

      1. Chelsea,
        Hey…you’re contributing to someone else’s secondhand shopping success, so that’s got to be good for something, right?! LOL! I do love the feeling of making a sale on poshmark, especially if it makes your sleep productive :)!

        Why do you not buy online? It seems that most sellers are usually buyers?

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