Second Hand Queen, Part 2

By: Cassie Goodwin

This Part Two of Goodwin’s series on how to shop at second hand/thrift stores. Did you miss the two great pieces of advice in Part One? Check it out here.

The Hard Yards

People always express amazement at my second hand finds, but don’t seem to believe me when I tell them they could find stuff just as good, if they just put in the time. I think perhaps they just don’t actually want to take the time to do it. And man, have I put in the time.

There are six second hand stores in a straight line by bus from my house – I know all their opening hours, and what order I should hit them in order to maximise results. I know these things because I visit them SO OFTEN. I’m not talking every day – well, not since I got a full time job anyway. But I drop in at least once a fortnight, otherwise I feel like I’m missing out;  there might bargains just lurking there in the dust crying for my cash.

When I hit each of these stores, I don’t just walk in and walk out either. You have to make it a whole day excursion. Give yourself the time to properly look through every rack, and have the patience to actually do it. Thrift stores are NEVER organised in any meaningful way. Even if they start that way, people take stuff and put it back wherever they feel like all the time. So you have to comb through carefully, patiently, and thoroughly to find the good stuff. It is just the most frustrating thing for me when I take people thrifting with me and they run a hand lazily across the rack once and sniff that there’s nothing there. There might be, there might not be- but  you have to hunt for it. You have to dig between the taffeta and the 80’s power shoulders and reach for the treasure. Or maybe the taffeta and the 80’s power shoulders ARE the treasure you’re looking for – I’ve seen ladies rock that look.

Regardless, the point remains that if you don’t put in the time, you’re not going to get anything decent, because if the great things were easy to find, someone would have found them already and bought them.

Pick your Target

Thrift shopping is a scavenger hunt, and as with any other kind of hunt, you have to know where your game is likely to be found. Not all thrift stores are equal – ones in suburbs with a high population of people who drink half caf soy lattes and ride fixies are likely to be picked clean. But if you venture out into suburbs where the more well-to-do congregate, you can find some real gold. See, the suburban yuppies like to donate clothes, because it’s an easy, convenient way to be charitable. But they would never be caught dead wearing second hand clothes, and they also tend to be pretty keen on keeping the poorer people who WOULD wear second hand clothes away as much as possible. Which leaves their second hand stores chock full of barely worn goodies, free for the taking.


So those are my thrift-store shopping secrets. Go forth, my padouin, and send me pictures of the wonderful things you find!

Cassie is a thirty something Australian with an enormously chequered past, who can be found spouting her endless opinions all over the internet. Her opinions are largely confined to The Reluctant Femme at present, but if you feel like you need a constant stream of it, she can also be found on Twitter (@anwyn) and Google Plus.

Second Hand Queen

By: Cassie Goodwin

Among my friends, I am known as the Thrift Queen. Whenever I get compliments on my outfit, there is a 95% certainty that what I’m wearing is second hand. My wardrobe cost virtually nothing, and I’m proud of that. Frankly, I would be more ashamed of spending $400 on a dress that was made with $5 worth of materials, than spending $5 on a second hand frock. There is so much money poured into the fashion industry, and so few people actually get a decent amount of it, that I’m pretty uncomfortable taking part in that whole cycle.

Another reason I like shopping second hand is because clothes shopping when you’re fat is shit, which I’ve talked about previously. Interestingly, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in the way women deal with unwanted clothes – pants that are too small they will hold on to like they’re the Holy Grail, but if pants are even the slightest bit too big, they toss them away in delight. This is where I come in, and gleefully gather up their discarded pants!

There has already been an article here about WHERE to go second hand clothes shopping, so today I’d like to talk about HOW to go second hand clothes shopping. There is an art to it, make no mistake – so let me share my secrets with you.

Know What You Want

Unfortunately, if what you want is the latest fashions for bargain prices, I have no advice for you. I don’t tend to follow fashion, and have developed a wardrobe of things that look good on me, and will always look good on me. In order to get this stable of staples, I did a lot of trying things on, and made a lot of mistakes. But now, I can pick up any article of clothing and be able to more or less visualise how it will look on me. Figure out what looks good on you, so you can spot it in a crowded rack bursting with beaded Christmas sweaters. The sequins can be very distracting! And that’s before we get to the pushy little old ladies…
The other part of this step is knowing your brands. As I said, I don’t really follow fashion, however, it is a good habit to keep track of different brands. I’ve noticed that certain brands have a reputation for being particularly well made and well fitting – something that is extra important if you’re looking for decent plus size clothing, as the pool of options is always going to be smaller. Find out what the decent brands are in your area, and how their sizes run. Don’t be afraid to go into stores you could never afford to shop in, and spend as much time as you like trying things on. I mean, don’t be a jerk about it and hog a change room for hours at a time. But trying on a few things and putting it back neatly hurts no one and gives you a MUCH better chance of scoring big when thrifting. For example, I know that City Chic is a plus sized brand carried by a quite swanky chain of department stores in Australia. I know that despite their outrageous prices, I really like the way their clothes are cut. I know their sizes run pleasantly large, because I’ve gone into said swanky store and tried stuff on with no intention of buying it. Because I put the research time in, if I spot a pair of City Chic pants on the shelf in a Size 16 of some thrift store somewhere, I can swoop in and nab them with no hesitation.

As well as finding out the brands cut well, make sure you know which brands are poorly cut and structured . For example, I have noticed that Target tends to cut their plus size ladies wear for apparent Amazons with enormous shoulders, so I know if I buy something of that brand I will need to alter it, which will affect whether I decide if it’s worth it or not.

Speaking of alterations.. Learn to Sew

Now, I’m not talking about learning how to put together an entire 50’s style summer frock from scratch. Just basic things – how to take up pants, how to take in/let out waists, how to shorten dresses and adjust straps. If you can afford a sewing machine, I highly recommend it. I got mine for about $150, and it’s given me countless fantastic outfits that would have been unwearable without it. If you can’t however, don’t fret. A needle, thread, and a butt load of patience is almost as good. A good place to look for sewing guides is thrift stores themselves, coincidentally enough. There are a TON of 70’s era sewing guides around from when it was apparently quite groovy to crochet yourself a vest, and the techniques don’t date (unlike crochet vests).

If you can’t get your hands on a book, I can strongly recommend ( – it’s a veritable treasure trove of advice and how-to’s. Once you know what looks good on you, and how to make things that maybe aren’t quite right look good on you, you’re ready for step three.

BONUS: Hey Vancouverites! If you have no room for a sewing machine or don’t feel like in investing in one, definitely check out the Spool of Thread Sewing Lounge–they have the space complete with eight sewing machines which you can use to your heart’s content for $8/hour!

This has been Part 1 of Second Hand Queen-stay tuned for Part 2, which will be up tomorrow, Friday Feb. 15th!

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