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Thrift guide: How to get the best bang for your buck

Thrifting and sustainable fashion has been a rising trend in the last few years. If you’ve wanted to get into thrifting but have no idea where to start, the Talisman is here to help. This is a guide to help you decide what’s worth buying secondhand, and what you’re better off buying new. 


Note: It’s important to remember that while thrifting is fun, there are people who can only afford to shop at thrift stores and nowhere else. Keep that in mind while you find the best for your buck. 

Shirts, sweaters and blouses 

These are almost always safe bets. Secondhand stores are great places to find funky and unique tops that you can’t find anywhere else. But if you’re in need of some wardrobe staples such as plain T-shirts, tank tops or long-sleeved shirts, it may be easier to skip the thrift and head to a place like Target or Walmart. There, you can find an abundance of basics for lower prices than at vintage stores like Vette City Vintage or Painted Lady Trading — perhaps save a trip to those stores for when you’re looking for something special. 


Jeans and pants

Finding the perfect pair of jeans secondhand requires patience and effort. It’s not impossible, but be prepared to visit multiple stores, and don’t get discouraged if you leave empty handed. The perfect pair of jeans is hard enough to come by, and the random nature of secondhand stores means that there’s no guarantee that a store will carry your preferred size and style. Not to mention that trying on clothes right now isn’t a preferred option for a lot of people. 

Make sure to check that all the belt loops are intact and that the buttons and zipper are still sturdy to ensure the jeans will last you awhile. If you’re willing to go the distance for that perfect denim, buying secondhand jeans is an adventure worth taking. 

Skirts and dresses

There are practically no downsides to buying skirts and dresses secondhand. But depending on the style and fabric of certain dresses, you may have to try them on before deciding to buy, which can turn some people away. While examining skirts and dresses, check to make sure any elastic isn’t overstretched to the point of no return and that there aren’t any snags or holes in the fabric. 


Athletic wear

It may seem tempting to grab those Lululemon leggings you saw at Plato’s Closet, but tight, synthetic workout clothes like leggings, bicycle shorts and sports bras are best if they can be bought new. Used leggings can also be thin and worn out around the butt and thigh area, so while it’s mostly unnoticeable, keep that in mind for when you’re doing squats at the gym. Keep an eye out for barely-worn sports bras, especially if they’re a designer brand like Calvin Klein — you can probably count on those being in decent condition.  

To ensure thrifted athletic wear is clean, mix ½ cup of vinegar in with your detergent when washing — that should do the trick.


Jackets and coats

Jackets and coats are great items to buy secondhand. You can clean them easily, and there are a ton of unique styles and options. There is one item, however, that you should think twice about buying. Quality winter coats (the ones built for function, not style) can be really expensive, and oftentimes lower-income families or individuals can’t afford them. If you already have a winter coat or can afford to buy one new, you should. Or consider shopping for coats at a luxury consignment or vintage stores like Vette City Vintage and Painted Lady Trading instead of places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Make sure every jacket and coat you find has all its buttons and zippers intact to keep you warm!



The rules for shoes are very simple and very important. Avoid athletic shoes and sneakers unless they look new or gently used, and especially check whether the tread is worn out. We don’t want you working out in shoes that aren’t supportive — that’s dangerous! 

Avoid soft leather and foam insoles, since they absorb the most sweat and usually will have formed to the previous wearers feet. So those Birkenstocks you saw for $20? Don’t buy ’em. They won’t be comfortable unless you have the exact same foot dimensions as the person who bought them originally. 

Boots are OK, but check the insoles. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can switch out the insoles of thrifted shoes with new ones that you can buy in the shoe section of places like Target. Don’t buy cheap sandals secondhand, because if they aren’t already falling apart, you’ll be the one to break them. 


Accessories such as belts, jewelry, sunglasses and scarves are great things to buy secondhand since they are easy to clean and durable. Lice can’t live off a human head for more than 24 hours, so when you buy that hat secondhand, make sure not to wear it for a few days to be safe. 


Intimates and swimsuits

This may seem obvious, but it still needs to be said: do not buy underwear secondhand. The same goes for swimsuits and padded bras, as they’re a breeding ground for bacteria. There are many cheaper options for new underwear, like Walmart and Target, but if you still want to stick in the realm of sustainability, check out Pact

Getting the best bang for your buck at thrift and vintage stores can be tricky, but with some practice, you’ll get the hang of it. Good luck out there, and happy hunting.