10 tips when shopping for second-hand fashion

second-hand fashion

Shopping for secondhand clothes can be daunting. When you first step over the threshold into a charity shop or a vintage store you’re presented with a kaleidoscope of colours.

There are racks of one-of-a-kind items from all sorts of different brands. 

For preloved fashion converts, this is heaven. It breaks the monotony of those shiny floored shopping centres. 
But for those new to second-hand fashion, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Shop with a purpose

Go in with a mission. Think about what kind of garments you are missing from your wardrobe.

You might focus on textures or colours. It can be super distracting to walk into any kind of shop because there is often so much choice.

Some secondhand clothes shops sort their rails by colour since there may be only one of each item.

So that might be really handy if you’re looking for a red top. But you might have to search through a sea of red to find it.

Stay on track by reminding yourself why you came into the shop in the first place.

If you already have far too many tops, then don’t get distracted and focus on the gaps in the wardrobe that you want to address. 

Keep an open mind

Sounds counterintuitive right? As much as you need to come into a second-hand shop with a purpose, you still need to keep an open mind. 

Even if you know you absolutely need to find a new-to-you coat for winter, you still need to be open to trying styles, labels or cuts you might not usually go for.

Part of the joy of rummaging through preloved clothing racks is that you have the chance to try lots of different styles from brands you may have never heard of. 

Take your time with this. Keeping an open mind also means having to think about your wardrobe at home. You have to imagine it hanging there in your wardrobe.

How will this new-to-you item fit in? Can it work with your favourite outfit? 

things to keep in mind when shopping for second-hand fashion

Try clothes on, if you can – or use these trouser tricks 

One of the best ways to ‘get it right’ when it comes to clothes shopping is to be able to try it on in-store.

Sometimes this is not always possible in smaller charity shops.

And if you’re shopping online you can’t do this till you’ve bought the item (virtual try-on technology hasn’t expanded to preloved, yet!).

So a huge tip when shopping online is to make sure that you can return the item. 

Can’t try it on in person? You could try a few tricks if there’s no changing room. 

One way to test if a pair of jeans fit is to use your forearm. You put your arm inside the waistband.

Now, how does it fit? If there’s a big gap between your elbow, hand and the end of the jeans, they’re too big. Can’t fit your arm in at all? The jeans are likely too small. 

Another way is to wrap the waist of a pair of trousers around your neck. If it fits snugly around your neck then the trousers will likely fit. 

With things like tops or jackets it is much easier to actually try the item on.

Otherwise for longer dresses or boiler suits you may need to hold them up to your body at key points like your hips, chest and bust to see if they would fit.

Not all secondhand clothes are equal

It is worth shopping around to see what different shops offer. There are different levels to preloved fashion.

Usually, when you think of secondhand clothes you imagine clothes that have already been well-loved and lived in. 

But in reality, preloved clothes include things like returns, samples and items used for photography that can no longer be listed as ‘new’.

They are still brand new, but may be missing tags or original packaging. In this case, you’re getting a bargain which no one has actually worn for any length of time. 

Sometimes you can find this kind of nearly new stock direct from brands at their outlets. But often you’ll stumble upon them being sold in charity shops. 

Buying secondhand clothes & footwear

Be prepared to embrace small imperfections

When clothes have multiple owners, they are bound to develop some minor imperfections. So don’t be alarmed if you find a garment with a few flaws in a secondhand clothes shop.

For items like heavy-duty jackets, jeans or boots this only adds more character. 

The small imperfections could be why the original owner gave up the garment. But you may be able to fix, repair or restore the item yourself.

A pair of scratched boots might need a deep polish with a specialist product. A seam might have come open on a dress. Buttons may have fallen off or zips could have broken. 

Your confidence, skills and budget will determine how far you go to save and repair an item.

Enquire at your local tailor or laundrette to find someone that is able to alter or repair clothes.

Their price list might surprise you! So don’t be afraid to rescue that designer coat if you know someone that could fix it up for you.

Or even have a go yourself at these straightforward fashion fixes.

Shop in your size

The temptation with second-hand clothing is to buy it all up even if it is a few sizes too big.

You might fall in love with a pair of snazzy trousers or a gorgeous dress which you could bring in or get someone to alter. 

But it is worth considering who else may be using the shop. Some people find it ‘impossible’ to find clothes that fit them in charity shops. 

Buying items that are radically too big will result in far more costly alterations. If the dress is falling off you, then it’s best to hang it back up and look for something else. 

Try shopping preloved clothes out of season

We’re not talking end-of-season sales. Let’s shop totally out of season. This is where you are likely to find some real bargains, especially online via Depop, Vinted, eBay or Preloved.

During the spring and summer, people are often having a big clearout, usually just before they go on holiday! And then people tend to have another

Marie Kondo style decluttering after Christmas (think unwanted gifts).

Shop at weird times online, too. Sometimes people list items on an auction that ends when everyone else is at work or asleep.

Let this be the moment to set up your search alerts. Most platforms have them and they will save you a lot of time. 

Consider setting up different search alerts on multiple platforms using different keywords.

When it comes to individual people selling their unwanted clothes online, they can often make mistakes or typos meaning the item isn’t listed where it is meant to be.

These search alerts will instantly let you know when an item matching your description goes live. 

Shop for pre-worn clothing

It’s okay to change your mind when shopping second hand

Second-hand shoppers are more likely to be stylish, according to a study by the University of Tasmania. But as you begin to embrace shopping preloved you might find that your style changes. 

The key here is to keep your clothes moving. There are many ports of call when it comes to rehoming your clothes. 

Firstly, returns. Even with secondhand clothes shopping you might bring an item home to realise that you don’t like it as much as you did at the shop.

Most of the time you should be able to return used clothes. But take care if you bought something that still had tags on.

The shop may not be able to resell an item as ‘nearly new’ or ‘with tags’ if these tags have been hastily cut off! 

Can’t return? The next step really depends on you. If you’ve realised a garment needs a little tweak then you could get it altered. 

But if you’ve really fallen out of love with something you bought, it’s time to move it on.

Many charities can make use of high-quality clothing especially for keeping people warm in the winter. However, charities are often inundated with donations to the point where they sell stock on.

This still raises money for their missions, except the clothes you once wore need a whole new step to find a new owner. 

If the item was a bigger investment you may need to recoup the costs. It may be as simple as filling out a quick eBay listing.

But you should consider all the options on the resale market. Each will have its own selling fees. Depop was found to be most expensive platform, according to a recent study. eBay was the cheapest. 

As you move on from fast fashion you might find yourself less swayed by trends. Instead, you could be moving towards a timeless wardrobe that brings you joy regardless of how often you wear the same outfit.

A fashion experiment called Project 333 calculated that with just 33 items of clothing you can realistically make around 25,176 outfits.  

Bring a friend

Sometimes you’ll try something on and you’ll look and feel amazing. Other times you just aren’t so sure, so you put it back.

Then you get home and you’re still thinking about that item. A fun way to explore your local second-hand shops is to bring a friend. Make it a social occasion and at the same time you can get their opinion on how you look.

No need to second guess!

Use all of your senses

Like we said earlier, secondhand clothes come in all shapes, sizes and conditions. True vintage clothing can come with a sizeable price tag.

So you’ll really want to make sure what you are buying is good quality. 

There are usually tell-tale signs when trying to work out whether an item is genuine or not.

You can check the care labels, logos, the way the garment is stitched together, and where it was made which all can help steer you in the right direction. 

But authenticity aside, you’ll still want to make sure the garment is in top condition. The easiest way to is to give it a good-looking over.

Grubby marks do not necessarily spell doom, check the care label to see if you could perhaps wash them out. 

Sometimes you might be able to feel just how worn an item is. Think about the high-impact areas in the garment. Are the materials wearing thin anywhere?

It might save you from a wardrobe malfunction or having to fork out to get an expensive item repaired. 

Clothes shouldn’t smell bad. Most shops would have already filtered any smelly garments out. But double check!

Even if that biker jacket looks really cool, are you cool with the smoke that might never leave its lining? It’s your call.

shopping for second-hand clothing & footwear in charity shops

Bonus Tip: Good things come to those who wait

Unlike companies that sell fast fashion, second-hand fashion is slow fashion.

But it really can be snail-paced in the way that you buy new items for your wardrobe.

This is because you might not find what you are looking for immediately. It can be hard to find your size or the right colour to match your outfits.

This can feel frustrating but the payoff is worth it. 


The patient shopper can build the wardrobe of their dreams by taking their time to find some top-quality fashion in their local second-hand shops.


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