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The Upcycler: It’s National Thrift Shop Day. Here are 7 tips for scoring high-end clothes and more

An average American throws out 60-80 pounds of used clothing in a lifetime. Add up all the people tossing the items they’re tired of and we’re talking many lifetimes of polluting degradation in a landfill. The U.S. alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year.

Now, as younger generations in particular rethink consumption, the thrift or secondhand store is attracting shoppers who are not just mindful of what they’re spending, but of the waste their closets generate.

It’s this review of apparel and accessory consumption, not to mention furniture and household goods, and the typical 50% savings that secondhand buying can net, that has shoppers warming to less waste.

For Wednesday’s National Thrift Shop Day, a calendar event that’s meant to turn attention on the often charitable linkages of thrift stores, we’re reminded that well-planned expeditions to local thrift or secondhand stores are an economical, creative way to approach fashion and home goods.

Of course that’s true of any shopping day of the year. And if brick-and-mortar sellers don’t give you enough inventory, online platforms ThredUp
LetGo, or high-end secondhand outlet The RealReal

are just a few of the popular names in the expanding market that’s making a business of giving our posessesions a longer life.

Is the dig always worth it? It’s a pretty simple argument: You’ll save money, help divert items from the waste stream, reduce your demand of new items, and sometimes support a local business or charity. You an also consider the shops that will buy your clothes, or put them up for sale on consignment.

Most especially for younger generations the score of a landfill-friendly, self-styled thrifted outfit is a badge of honor. In fact, the generation born between the years 1997 and 2012, called Gen Z, shops the most at thrift stores, the online resale platform Thredup says in a report.

The report shows more than 40% of Gen Z consumers, and just above them, millennials, have shopped for secondhand apparel, shoes or accessories in the year before the survey.

“Thrifting feels emblematic of the way Gen Z strays from the beaten path,” Refinery29 Fashion Market Writer Eliza Huber has said.

“They want to be independent. They want to save the planet. They want to save money — and make money. And they want to do it all in a cute outfit that costs less than $10,” she adds.

What’s more, younger generations are less likely to hold onto clothes for a long time. Gen Z is 165% more likely to consider the resale value of the clothes they are buying before actually purchasing them compared to boomers. Gen Z is 83% more likely to “strongly agree” owning clothes is only temporary and 33% more likely to resell their clothes.

ThredUp also sees a chance with a new support “hotline” to sway would-be fast fashion buyers, those trend followers who consume regularly each season, to balance an obsession with quick, social media-influenced purchases with secondhand buying, more tailoring and repair, and creating a foundational wardrobe with longlasting staples.

For sure, making the most of a thrift store search in order to cut down on frustration and avoid buying more than what you set out for is an acquired practice. On this National Thrift Shop Day, here’s what the pros share:

Consider consignment and selling down your own inventory. It’s always wise to edit before you add new. Some thrift and secondhand stores will buy your goods at a quoted price or sell them on consignment. Why not start out your new hunt with some cash in hand? At the least, make a donation, clear some space, and then shop “new.”

Make a list, just like grocery shopping. The pitfalls of thrifting can mean that an abundance of lower-cost choice means snapping up garments, purses and more just because they’re in front of you. Think ahead about what you need and create a list, and a budget. In fact, you might carry cash to avoid charging above your budget. Sharing the list, and the budget, are also an easy way to get the store staff to help you in your search, which can be key to navigating the many racks and sometimes jumbled mix of a secondhand store.

Dress to try clothes on — anywhere in the store. Several thrifting experts, including the folks at The Good Trade, insist that secondhand shopping should never mean you don’t try on before you buy. Many secondhand shops don’t allow returns. But some thrift stores have limited to no fitting rooms. Just in case, wear a form-fitting tank top and biker shorts or leggings to make trying things on as easy as possible, even if it means changing in the middle of the store, Good Trade advises. For the thrift stores that do have fitting rooms, this also makes changing quickly and efficiently.

Mastering the scan. Good Trade has some more great advice on avoiding bargain burnout. Finding gems in the piles and racks of clothes is actually an acquired skill, and it can take some time and practice, so don’t give up. Depending on the size of the thrift store, taking the time to look at every single piece will take forever. To avoid wasting time without missing out on potential scores, you must master the art of the scan, the shopping site advises. Based on what you are looking for and your preferred color palette and aesthetics, walk slowly through the store and scan each rack for pieces that simply jump out at you. Trust your instincts. And then take a careful second look at size, quality, etc. This takes focus and is a skill you will develop over time.

Make fashion friends. Shoppers can benefit from befriending the thrift store staff, especially those making buying decisions or who merchandise or stock the displays. Staff can help you while shopping and also provide insights into new items they’re looking at buying for the store, if they have anything in the back, and what’s on trend, says site Choose to Reuse.

Get yourself a tailor and a cobber. Even the website The MasterClass has, you guessed it, a master class in thrifting, and a tutorial in altering and mending your clothes. If you want to leave it to the professionals, finding a dry cleaner that does alterations, or specifically, a tailor for clothes, and a cobbler for mending and cleaning up shoes, can mean leveraging secondhand shops for high-quality, long-lasting, discounted high-end apparel, even if it doesn’t fit perfectly.

Navigation from home of seemingly endless options. Some sites have specific inventory, favoring baby clothes or Halloween costume ideas, for instance. Knowing what a store is all about before shopping can save you aggravation. And the convenience of online secondhand shopping often can’t be surpassed. Just make sure you understand return rules. Environmental consumer site GreenMatters shares its top secondhand sites for buying and selling apparel and goods.

More The Upcycler:

Try a home swap. You’ll skip Airbnb and hotel costs and vacation like you’re a local.

Think twice before you trade in your old smartphone or tablet — you could make more money ‘upcycling’ on resale sites

Editor’s noteThe Upcycler column aims to help you make more with less, save or earn extra money, expand your creative side and shrink your carbon footprint.

Upcycling and the Buy Nothing movement involve reusing objects for practical or aesthetic purposes, or prolonging their usefulness and diverting them from a landfill. Our column also explores the benefits of repairing or upgrading more of what we already own; tapping potentially life-changing free or deeply discounted goods and services; and traveling in less expensive, intrusive and consumptive ways.

For certain, if we can “upcycle” more of our time, earnings and peace of mind, everything might feel brand new. 

Have your own upcycling ideas or dilemmas? Reach out on Twitter @RachelKBeals or by email to

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