What you need to know about consignment and thrift stores

Recycled Clothing 101

by Jill McCoy


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Frugality is in my genes. Well, actually, it's in my jeans since they were bought at a thrift shop, as is most of my wardrobe. Long before the economy turned sour, some 35 years ago, I started shopping at thrift stores. At the time, my husband was bringing in a good income, but saving money is not a poverty issue. It's a spending smart concept that can be part of any lifestyle. I don't think of it as buying used clothing, but rather as purchasing recycled goods to help keep the earth clean. And save money at the same time!

My first thrift store was discovered in the basement of a Methodist church in my neighborhood. I saw the sign, stopped out of curiosity, and thought I'd discovered the mother lode! Checking out consignment shops came shortly after. It turned out to be good preparation for later years when I truly needed the savings. I'm happy that we can now speak of this without embarrassment and that budgeting and living below your means has become more acceptable in our society.

Thrift stores are most often non-profit. I like to shop at Goodwill or Salvation Army because I feel I'm not only getting a good deal but helping others as well. If for some reason I wish I hadn't made a non-returnable purchase, I just write it off as a charitable contribution. The American Cancer Society has smaller stores as do many hospitals and churches. The larger stores often get irregulars donated to them from clothing manufacturers, such as Land's End. When I shop, I look at the labels to see if they look new and unwashed, indicating the garment has been worn not at all or very little. Many people get gifts they never wear or that are the wrong size and donate them. The really inexpensive items may be perfect for workout wear, camping, or yard work. These need to be checked by the light of the storefront window before purchase to be sure there are no permanent stains or tears. Fitting rooms are generally available. There are daily sales, typically a percentage off marked items, and these are the best buys. Allow extra time for looking through the merchandise. And it will be a happier experience if you come in with a clear idea of your needs.

Thrift stores carry many household and decorative items as well, perfect for college dorms or temporary fixes when you're cash strapped. Many times children, who don't know the difference, are happy to find toys to play with at an affordable price. I buy my granddaughter's toys there because she outgrows them so quickly. I bring them home, clean them with bleach and detergent, and then put them in a basket. She only sees them as new toys.

Consignment or resale stores are the best place to shop if you need clothing of a better quality. At these stores, women bring in clothes too nice to donate, getting a percentage of the sale price. They're set up to mimic boutiques and also sell accessories. Owners are picky about the clothing they take in so most are in very good shape, but the prices are higher than thrifts. Once in Palm Springs, I shopped at 14 different resale shops selling $800 sweaters for $300 and dresses marked down from $2000 to $600. A bargain for some no doubt!

Consigning your own clothes can be a money-maker. The shop I use charges a $10 annual fee and I get 45% of the sale.

Consignment stores are a great place to find garments for babies and toddlers. There are stores that specialize in gently-worn clothing since again the children outgrow them so quickly. We found a nice place when my daughter delivered prematurely and we needed tiny clothes that would be useless in a very short time.

If you are still uneasy about wearing recycled clothes, I urge you to check out your area for clean, well-run thrift stores or resale shops. I promise that you might be surprised, but I warn you the prices can be addictive!

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