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5 Things to Check Before You Buy Secondhand Clothing

Two women examining blouses at a store.

If you’re trying to live a greener lifestyle, save money, or dress uniquely, you might want to buy your clothes secondhand. However, not all used clothes are actually usable. Before you purchase someone’s closet castoffs, there are a few things you should check.

Always Try Before You Buy

This tip is especially for women since a garment in the same size from two manufacturers can fit completely differently. Also, sizes a few decades ago were different from those used today—and that includes menswear. Even if the tag on that pair of jeans was true when the previous owner bought them, 34 x 32 might be a lot tighter now, after years of washing. If you try them on before you walk out of the store, though, you’ll have fewer returns or new donations later.

When you try on clothing at a thrift store, always check out every angle in the mirror. You want to walk out with clothing that fits you perfectly, from front to back or top to bottom. Check under the arms too! Sometimes, clothes get saggy as they wear out.

If you grab clothes at garage sales, you might not have the option of trying them on. To avoid dropping cash on stuff that doesn’t fit, take your own measurements, and then carry a cloth measuring tape with you.

To measure a pair of pants or a skirt, lay it on a flat surface, measure the waist, and then double the number to determine whether it will fit your waist. For a top or blouse, measure from armpit to armpit, and again, double it to see if it will fit your chest or bust measurement.

Look for Stains, Holes, and Defects

How much life does that used garment still have in it? People donate both brand-new and well-loved items. Make sure you look over each piece of clothing intently. Look for stains, rips, holes, loose threads, or pilling (mats or little balls).

You can fix some defects with a stitch or two, but do you really want to? Stains are sometimes easy to remove if you know what they are and how long they’ve been there. However, those are things you won’t know when you shop secondhand.

Pay particular attention to the armpits on tops and the crotch area on pants, as this is where you often find stains and rips. Also, check the hems on everything and make sure they’re intact.

You can examine most of this when a piece of clothing is still on the hanger, but take a second look when you’re wearing it in the dressing room.

Check the Labels

A woman's hands holding the care label on a garment.

There are several reasons you should check labels on used clothing. The first is you can find cool brand-name clothing used. Sometimes, you can even find something with the original store tags still on it. If you like mall clothes, try thrifting them to save money.

Another reason to check tags is to see what kind of fabric the garment is made of and the washing instructions. If you don’t want to dry-clean your clothing, check the tags before you buy (you should do this whenever you buy new clothes, too).

If you’re hunting for vintage items, the label will be the key to whether it’s really vintage or just a reproduction. Vintage looks often come back in style, and clothing manufacturers bank on that.

Check the Price

Not all thrift stores offer good deals. They usually have set prices for tops, bottoms, dresses, and other clothing categories. So, you might find a used Walmart tank top for the same price you could have bought it new. If you want to be an expert at thrifting, you have to know brand names and their going prices.

When it comes to the base pricing, not all thrift stores are created equal, either. Stores that have “boutique” in their name generally carry more name-brand clothing and higher price tags.

Watch for sales, too. You can usually get good deals at the end of a season when stores are getting ready to change over their clothing stock. You might even find half-off deals or event clothing for under $1.

Know the Return Policy 

If you don’t have time to try anything on, or you’re buying for someone who isn’t with you, protect your investment. Ask a store associate what the return policy is.

You can also take measurements of anyone you might shop for and keep them in a small notebook. This way, you can use your cloth measuring tape and always ensure a proper fit.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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