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How to become a professional thrifter

Thrifting is a great way to make you recognize and understand your own style better; how you actually like to dress, and what type of garments you feel the most comfortable wearing. It can sometimes feel overwhelming to enter the store of any fast-fashion retailer where collections and trends are renewed in a fortnight. It may even make you feel like you’re so out of style, that the only thing that can take your wardrobe back on a trend-track, is a major clothing investment. Entering a second-hand store, on the other hand, might leave you with the opposite experience. For the uninitiated, it might even feel like there’s nothing they like or want when they visit a second-hand store.

But once you get into the habit of flipping through the racks of used garments, you will sooner or later start to notice a pattern. What color section are you browsing first? Do you go for trousers or skirts? Blazers or jumpers? You will probably go through a trial and error phase, but after a while, you will hopefully be able to distinguish a pattern. What are the common denominators for the garments you’ve bought — and loved?

Because, apart from the creative and sustainable aspect of buying and wearing used garments, one of the positive side effects from thrifting is that when you’re not constantly being fed with the latest trends — you are more likely to invest in garments that you actually want or need.

Yet, if you’re not an experienced thrifter and all you can see is endless racks of nippy clothes, thrifting might only be frustrating and time-consuming. You see, thrifting is a kind of art that takes time to master. But don’t despair, this guide is here to help you:

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1. Think long-term (and know your style)

This is my first piece of advice. A lower price, as is often the case with used garments, could make it tempting to purchase a garment that you might not be sure about. Could you see yourself keeping this garment for years? When it comes to all clothing purchases, new as used, I try to use the “one-second rule”. This means that if you try on a garment and you have to ask yourself questions as “Is this my style? Do I like it? Should I buy it?” — put it back. If you like it, you’ll know. If you don’t know instantly, you will ask yourself the same questions when it’s hanging in your wardrobe and you’re considering wearing it in the future too.

The one second rule — If you must think about it, put it back. Follow your instant gut feeling. If you don’t feel great at once as you put on a garment, you won’t feel any better putting it on once it’s in your wardrobe.

2. Investigate materials and invest in quality before quantity.

Following the same principles as above, but this time the question is whether you actually can keep the garment for longer. A quality garment can stay with you, or someone else, throughout a lifetime — so make sure that you screen washing labels, seams, look out for defects, and reflect on how the touch of the material feels on your body.

Also, note that if a lower quality garment actually made it through the sorting and is put out to be resold in a second-hand shop — the quality could be better than you would expect as it made it past its first owner. Read my previous post about garments’ life-expectancy.

3. No fixing or modification needed

Let’s be clear about this. Unless you really are a seamstress or you plan to remake a garment completely; don’t buy stuff that you will need to fix or repair before using them — you just won’t. Is it broken or has other defects; wholes, lost its shape or color, etc. don’t buy it. If the garment already has defects, this might be a sign of poor quality or, that the garment is reaching the end of its lifespan, and you might end up never wearing it.

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4. Know your body’s size

If you do, you’re going to know what to look for. You will not need to look for numbers and sizes as they won’t be consistent between different garments and brands anyway. It saves you a lot of time and effort and you will probably dress better too.

5. Pricing

PPW — Price per wear or Price per use, this bespoken concept also applies to used garments. Just because it might feel ridiculously cheap to purchase, what is the price in the long-run? How many times would you wear it? For all garments, new or used, you should take into consideration how much you would pay per wear as if you were renting the garment. You calculate the PPW by dividing the price of the garment with the number of times it has been or will be used.

Two examples:

A blazer for £15 that you wore twice. The equation will then be:
PPW = £15/2 = £7.5 per wear

A leather jacket in good condition for£150 that you will keep and wear 100 times a year for 10+ years:

PPW: 150/(100x10) =£0.15 per wear

6. Thrifting is also consumption

Lastly, I just wanted to add a short comment on consumption. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you’re buying used garments, you are still consuming and it’s also possible to develop unhealthy habits in second-hand shopping. Remember the “one-second-rule” and that whatever you buy should not be pilled up unused in the back of your wardrobe. Read more about how the second-hand market is contributing to our consumer society here.

Finally, being a professional thrifter is a lifestyle that requires dedication, and interest. It’s a process that takes time and effort to master and it’s not made overnight. Initially, you will make a couple of bad investments but it will also be very rewarding and teach you to be more creative and view garments from a different perspective.

All the best of luck and, most importantly — have fun thrifting!

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