Guide to Second Hand Shopping

Shopping for second hand clothing can be really rewarding, but it can also seem daunting. I remember living in NYC, working long hours in the fashion industry and just trying to get by. I didn't have a lot of disposable income (hello NYC rent!) to buy new designer clothes, but I didn't have a lot of time to be sifting through huge bins at thrift stores for the perfect vintage stuff either. I felt like I either needed money or time to get the wardrobe that I wanted, and I didn't have either! Over the years, I've been making a lot of mental notes about how to save money by shopping second hand, without it being time consuming or overwhelming. Read on for some of my tips!


There are a number of different ways to buy second hand, and the experience (and price tag) can be vastly different. Some thrift stores are a heap of smelly clothes, while other high-end vintage stores can be highly curated but cost more than new designer clothing! It's important to know what you're getting into, and figure out the best options for you.

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores (like Goodwill and Salvation Army) will usually have the best prices, but you're going to have to do more digging. There's a Goodwill thrift store near my house where everything is marked at one price - all skirts are $5, all shirts are $4, etc. - and it's an amazing place to find real steals, if you're willing to take the time to go through it.

Here's what I do. If it's organized by color, I go to the black and white sections (because that's usually what I buy), and quickly see if there's any fabric or print that catches my eye. Then I go to the dress section, to see if there are any vintage dresses or anything that sticks out to me. Lastly, I go to the accessories section, to see if there are any handbags, belts, or hats that I like. I can usually walk out with a few things for under $20, which is the best feeling ever! But it's still important to only buy things that you love, that fit you, and not just because it's a great deal.

For people who don't like digging through other people's clothes, or don't have the time, I would recommend just shopping for accessories at thrift stores - you can quickly and easily see everything, and can usually find some great items for less than $10 (and don't have to worry about them fitting)!

Consignment Stores

Modern consignment stores (like Second Time Around or Wasteland) are great, because they provide are a more curated assortment of quality and stylish clothing and accessories. They are easier to shop, since they have been hand-selected, but they are usually more expensive than thrift stores. Consignment stores select clothing from individuals who are selling it, and then give them a percentage of the sales. Usually you can find brand names, and more modern clothing. For example, you might find a one year old dress from Madewell for $40 (vs $120 new). This is a great option for people who are looking to save money, but don't have time to sift through hundreds of items at a thrift store.

Vintage Stores

Other stores are dedicated to vintage clothing, rather than current clothing. Here you might find a shift dress from the 60s, or a kitten heels from the 50s. These stores can range in price, from high-end designer vintage that can cost hundreds of dollars to the more affordable vintage shops that range from $20-50 for a piece. If you can find one of the more affordable stores in your city, it's so fun to be able to buy vintage pieces that are unique and no one else will have.

Online Stores

More and more, great vintage is being offered online in a variety of formats. There are online consignment stores like Threadflip and Tradesy, where people sell their used clothes and accessories. It's great because you can sort by color, price, brand, etc - so you can very quickly find what you're looking for. To me, the thrift store of online shopping is ebay, only because it's this vast collection of anything and everything - and you have to be willing to dig. I wouldn't necessarily go to ebay to browse, but if you're looking for something specific, like a Gap 1969 denim jacket, Ebay is still a great resource. There are also online vintage stores that are more curated, like some of the Etsy vendors I mentioned here. Online second hand shopping could be a whole other post in itself, so I'll save the specifics for another day, but you can see that there are the same options as brick-and-mortar stores (curated vs broad, expensive vs affordable, current vs vintage) - but with online you can browse from your computer! I have been doing this more in recent years because it's so convenient.


I reccomend finding your go-to vintage stores in your city, so that you can narrow down the options and don't feel overwhelmed. I would look on Yelp or other local resources for the top rated thrift stores, consignment stores, and vintage stores where you live and making a list of the top 10 or 12. Then, I would visit each one over a couple months, and decide which ones work for you. You can also do this with online stores, and bookmark them in your computer favorites! By doing the work upfront, and having a handful of stores that you know you like, the next time you want to buy something you will know where to go.


Lastly, I would make a habit of visiting your favorite stores every month or so. With second hand shopping, it can be difficult when you're looking for something really specific, so I like to go regularly to see if I happen upon something that I need. I always have a running list of things that I'm looking for (a summer dress, vintage denim shorts, brown boots, etc), so that I can narrow in on those things and not get distracted. I always find it helpful to have a shopping list that's not too broad or too specific (like I am only looking for red glitter heels). That way you don't feel overwhelmed and leave empty handed, and you also don't buy a million things you don't need.

Second hand shopping can be a ton of fun, help you find unique pieces that no one else has, save you money, and help the environment by repurposing clothing that already exists. If you can figure out what type of stores you like, and have a list of go-to favorties, you will be on your way to second-hand shopping success!

outfit details:

dress // vintage // from oona's vintage in boston

shoes // swedish hasbeens // handmade in sweden with respect for people and the environment