Buying second hand clothes: my top tips!


One of the biggest ways I save money is by buying second hand clothes. I absolutely love clothes and trying out different looks and I like to be able to get nice things without spending tons of money. I’ve enjoyed buying things from charity shops for as long as I can remember and when I was a student it became a bit of a hobby to see what I could find as cheaply as possible in the charity shops of York where I was lucky enough to study.

Nowadays it’s second nature to me and a big majority of my clothes are from charity shops and the like – I just prefer to get more for my money and find interesting things that I know loads of people won’t be wearing. Also I’m not a big fan of the disposable nature of fashion today so it makes me happy to give clothes a second chance to be loved!

It’s good to see that unlike when I was a teenager, a lot of people now love buying from charity shops and the like but I still get people saying they’d love to find things like I do but whenever they’ve tried there never seems to be anything good, so I thought I would share my top tips for buying second hand clothes (or thrifting, much quicker to write).

Some people wouldn’t consider buying second hand clothes, which is fair enough if you feel strongly it’s not for you, but I’ve put in a few pics of some of my favourite finds which might make you think again…

Gorgeous leather bag, Zara, bought in great condition for £5

Gorgeous leather bag, Zara, bought in great condition for £5

Think about where to shop
For the best balance of quality items and bargain prices, charity shops are the absolute best places to go in my opinion.

The range of clothes on offer in a dress agency/vintage shops will be of a higher quality with less duds, but the prices will be higher to match.

Conversely, at a car boot sale or similar you will get rock bottom prices but with the exception of kids clothes, most items will be dross – you may get the odd gem but it’s probably only worth it if you’re at one looking for other items.

Websites like ebay, vinted and similar great if you have something pretty specific you are after, but with fees and delivery costs pushing up the price and the inability to see and handle the item first, it’s not my first port of call for general thrifting.

It’s worth thinking about the location of the charity shops you visit. Those in wealthier areas will often have a lot more of the higher end, good quality clothes, at a slight premium to average charity shop prices – or they may be a lot more expensive e.g. in certain parts of London but boy can you find some good stuff!

thrifted dress

Monsoon dress, worn for my brothers wedding a couple of years ago, beautiful silk/cotton mix fabric, cost around a tenner.

Give yourself plenty of time.

Though some charity shops now have everything beautifully organised by size/colour/item type, others are still quite a mish mash. Even in an organised shop, there are still a hell of a lot of different items on sale and they mostly won’t be facing out waiting to catch your eye!
Go on a day when you’re not going to be rushed and can spend the time going through the racks and finding hidden treasures.
Have a wishlist of items you’re after

Even with plenty of time, thrifting can be overwhelming so having a few ideas of what you need/want helps you to focus. I generally have in mind a couple of specific things I’m after right now (like a new work jacket or a top to go with a skirt I want to wear out) and then the ongoing things I’m always on the lookout for – velvet jackets, jeans in short/petite size, green dresses etc etc.

vintage, thrifted

Vintage Jaeger velvet jacket, a bit worn now but I still love it, bought for around £5 a decade or so ago!


Get to know the hallmarks of quality clothing.

Go to the best department store in your area, or nice designer boutiques if you’re lucky enough to have them. Spend some time familiarising yourself with the look and feel of the clothes: the feel of the fabrics under your fingers, the attention to detail with nice linings and buttons, the workmanship evident in the stitching and construction. Try some on if possible and you feel comfortable doing so. This really helps you to identify the best clothes when thrifting.

Use your eyes AND your hands carefully.

I generally run my fingers across all the clothes in a rack (in my size range), and because I’ve practiced recognising the feel of great clothes, end up pulling out the best garment there without even looking. Once you’ve found something you’re interested in, look it over carefully and check for stains, holes, unravelling threads, missing buttons. Check the washing instructions (if there) and think about whether you can really be bothered if special care is needed.

thrifted dress

Unknown label but gorgeous, lovely quality with an inbuilt petticoat. £6.99


Dress with trying on in mind.

Wear something that is quick and easy to slip off/slip things on over as returns policies at charity shops can be restrictive. If they don’t have a changing room or you later decide you’ve made a mistake, you can often sell it on or perhaps get it altered to fit if needed.
Also, it’s worth casting a look at sizes either side of yours – stores vary so much in their sizing that you might be surprised, and if you find something really amazing it might be worth getting it altered!

Have a budget.

This one depends on your circumstances but if you’re doing this to save money, it’s tempting to end up coming home with bagfuls of stuff because it’s all so cheap and when you add it up find you’ve ended up spending a lot more than planned! If you need to save pennies, keep a total in mind (maybe even have a max limit on a per item basis) and when you hit your limit, time to go home. However I would also say….

If you love it, and you can afford it, buy it.

I’ve long forgotten anything I regretted buying but over a decade later I still think of a beautifully tailored cream Dior jacket I passed over because yes, it was pretty expensive compared to your typical second hand jacket but for what it was it was actually a massive massive bargain. And in a charity shop as with sales shopping, if you go back the next day it’s often too late!

Have a minimum standard.

Also optional, but when I’m thrifting, I have a sort of ‘starting level’ of brands in mind below which I’m not interested. For me this starts around the Topshop/Next/Wallis level, though what more for brands such as All Saints/Whistles/Jigsaw. I don’t really see the point in buying something from Primark or a supermarket brand at a charity shop for almost the same money it was new and probably not much wear left in in. There are always exceptions though – one of my fave winter coats ever was originally from George @ Asda though I doubt it will last too much longer!


Have fun!

I find that picking clothes from the random assortment you find in charity shops gets me trying different styles, patterns or colours I might not have thought of before. Enjoy yourself! Anyone got any top tips of their own? Do share!

thrifted dress

My one Euro dress! I’ve always got my eyes open for a bargain and spotted this on a second hand stall in a Spanish market. ONE EURO!!

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