What a college student can tell you about thrift store fashions

20-Something Thrift Store Fashion Shopping

by Katherine Lewis


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I am a poor college student who wants to stay fashionable, and have more than a limited wardrobe to choose from. Many of my peers have the same problem, yet they are unwilling to utilize the same solution I do because of the stigma attached. I believe that everyone should be shopping at thrift stores to save money, to potentially give money to a charitable organization, and to save the planet by reusing garments that would otherwise go to landfills. Fashionable young women have an advantage on other thrift shoppers, though, in being able to recognize what pieces are likely to be designer or otherwise high-quality.

Some people shop at thrift stores solely to find the designer gems and re-sell the ones that don't fit on internet auction sites, such as eBay. This may be a way to make some extra money, but a college student typically doesn't have the time (and extra space) this endeavor requires. I do recommend looking for designer pieces. In my time thrifting, I have found a gorgeous Oscar de la Renta trench coat, a Max Mara dress, and Fluevog boots. However, it is important to remember that many items are going to be fakes, even good fakes, and that quality is often independent of brand.

Because of this, when thrift store shopping, the most important skill to have is an ability to recognize raw quality. I have a simple test for this that applies to purses, shoes, and outerwear and can be applied to clothing as well. Ask yourself, "How much does it weigh?"

A well-constructed item will always have some heft to it. Even a top that flows should feel substantial in your hands, even if you can hardly feel it when you're wearing it. You will also want to look at the seams. If you can't find any, that's a particular sign of quality, but as long as they seem neat and small and are not torn, the garment is likely well-constructed. You should, of course, also check for any damage. Do not waste your time with stained or torn garments. The time and money spent repairing the clothing will almost certainly negate the money you saved.

That is not to say, though, that you should never take risks when thrift store shopping. On the contrary, it is an excellent time to take fashion risks to both try on and purchase garments you never would at full-price. Don't go home with anything that looks truly hideous on you, but try on things you might be dubious about. When trying on one of my favorite thrifted items, I was certain it wasn't going to work. It was a 50's-style polka dot dress, and I was sure that the waistline was all wrong for my curves. Also, I thought the orange dots would clash with my hair. I tried it on, though, and nearly gasped at myself in the mirror. Now it's my favorite dress!

What if you make yourself take that risk, but you end up not wearing those shoes? The beauty of thrift store shopping is that you get to take those fashion risks and try those new ideas at a minimal financial risk to you. Yes, most thrift stores will not allow returns, but you didn't spend that much money in the first place, and you don't have to worry about what you did with the tags! Try giving away items that don't work for you to friends or just donate them back to a charity!

Great clothing and accessories can be found at a thrift store near you. You just have to go out and find them. Try bringing along a friend who has been complaining about lack of money and encourage each other to take fashion risks. Thrift store shopping is a fun and frugal habit that benefits everyone.

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