As More Embrace Resale, a Beginner’s Guide to Thrifting

The observance of National Thrift Shop Day may have had more celebrants this go-round if resale’s traction is any indicator.

“National Thrift Shop Day is an opportunity to celebrate the joy of thrifting and the thrill of the hunt,” said Onney Crawley, chief marketing officer at Goodwill Industries International. And more than just benefiting from the thrill of the hunt, Crawley said Goodwill shoppers play a vital role in communities by bolstering job-training opportunities and for the environment by “[preventing items] from ending up in landfills.”

Consistent in its messaging, thrifting (or secondhand shopping) meets economic, style, social and environmental needs and is quickly outpacing other modes of fashion. Across the U.S., thrifters and vintage enthusiasts are sharing favorite thrift finds, thrifting tips and favorite boutiques on social platforms like TikTok and Instagram — all while advocating for the superiority of secondhand.

But where does a beginner thrifter infiltrate a space amid the moral high ground?

Flea markets, for one, are as old as civilization and offer beginners the chance to see it all.

Going Full Flea

Amid a heatwave in New York City last weekend, a vintage flea market in Brooklyn is brimming with outfit inspiration — and opportunity for beginner thrifter immersion.

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Sky-high platforms, barely there slips, trucker hats, cropped tops, biker shorts, rainbow tie-dye and more send the message that anything goes, and moreover, that all are welcome. The venue is ​​Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School (a popular location for fleas over the years), playing host to a first-of-its-kind flea market from online vintage platform Thrilling.

Some 75 vintage retailers across women’s, men’s, plus-size clothing and accessories set up shop in tents, with a DJ booth, makeshift roller rink, art and food trucks nearby.

Lindsey Brown, owner of Baltimore-based concept shop A Day N June, said she was one of the first to join Thrilling’s platform when it launched in 2018. She found the sense of community infectious at the flea, which is a major draw for newcomers to the world of secondhand clothing, and unsurprising given she received a welcome call from Thrilling founder Shilla Kim-Parker, soon after becoming a vendor.

Newcomers like Thrilling are among the resale destinations putting in-person community events and inclusivity above the fold (with many plus-size options), perhaps in an effort to acquire more vintage converts.

Timeless Thrift Tricks

Since 2013, sustainable fashion stylist Brownie Brown has been styling thrifted clothes.

“For beginner thrifters, I would suggest always going for quality and timeless pieces rather than quantity or labels,” she said. “After years of thrifting, I’ve found that most of the quality pieces I find are typically vintage or from high-end designers. Buying quality timeless pieces is important because, as fashion changes continuously, you will always stay in style.”

For beginners, Brown recommends shoppers hit up multiple thrift and vintage stores near them (her all-time favorite shop is Nostalgia Boutique in Purcellville, Va.) or find dealers online, then only frequent the “[shops] that best fit your aesthetic.” Style, she believes, is innate and her constant encouragement is to “wear what you want.”

Brown advises thrifters to wear comfortable clothes and shoes when on the hunt and “to read the clothing tags to get a better idea of the history, quality and value of the clothes you are buying.”

“The age, fiber content and garment care are the three things I look for,” she said. “These tags are typically located at the top or bottom side of the garment. If you are into brands and someone removed the label, go to any RN database online and search the provided RN number.”

The Size Factor

Properly fitting clothes can be hard to come by, given the advent of vanity sizing (or size inflation) and competing size variances across retailers and brands. It’s especially challenging for shoppers to ascertain sizing where a vintage size 8 is not the size 8 of today.

A shopping search for “plus-size vintage clothing” alone drums up 60 pages of results, or around 5,000 Etsy listings. At first glance, that seems to be an abundance of options — except when compared to searches for “vintage clothing,” which returns a remarkable 2 million Etsy results.

Consumer complaints around a lack of size inclusivity in vintage has proven valid.

When hunting for size-inclusive pieces, online resale shop Swap is known for its robust offering with nearly 55,000 items under its “plus” category. Vendors like “Two Big Blondes” specialize in plus-size pre-loved goods — with selections up to 34W for current and vintage pieces in dedicated shops on Thrilling as well as eBay.

More and more online resale marketplaces are carving out a competitive edge by offering extensive selections and inclusive-size runs, complete with detailed size filtering options to ease shopping.

Open to Modification

Thrifters can take a page from an upcycler’s playbook and revamp purchased pieces, opting to reconstruct, modify, embellish or tailor as they see fit.

“I love saying that I have a 100 percent sustainable brand, and how it’s 100 percent sustainable is I reconstruct, deconstruct and revamp older clothes, primarily vintage but some are thrifted or donated items. I am creating new pieces from old pieces so nothing new is actually being made,” said Bridgett Artise, owner, designer and author of Born Again Vintage, the embodiment of decades in upcycling with a book and storefront of the same name.

A self-proclaimed “Bloomies girl” before stepping into the light of thrift, Artise discovered her creative zeal after putting on a volunteer fashion show with thrift garments. From there, Born Again Vintage — was born. Artise is also the founder of Sustainable Fashion Week and a professor (instructing courses on sustainability) at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

“Textures” and “prints” guide her sourcing eye, but now Artise is able to let the goods come to her — fueling her clothing transformations solely from donations, a surprising benefit of the pandemic where people shed clothing from their closets as idle time at home piled up.

If there’s one golden rule in upcycling, Artise may have narrowly walked the line. “I found a Chanel suit in a North Carolina thrift shop for $14 dollars, and I immediately chopped it up not really realizing ‘do not cut Chanel’.…It wasn’t until the book came out that I got some blowback from vintage enthusiasts. I learned after that it’s best to restore things that really don’t need cutting — and chop up everything else.”

Lasting Advice

Brown was honest in saying the hunting part of thrifting may not be for everyone (which is a stance companies like Rent the Runway are actively opposing in touting their resale verticals).

“The last thing I want to do is make people feel bad for not hopping on the secondhand train,” Brown said. “What I will say is that it’s important to educate ourselves on the wastefulness and environmental impact of the fashion industry. Through this knowledge, we can hopefully make smarter decisions when shopping, and find ways to wear what we already have.”

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