How to look great for cheap!
I recently needed an interview outfit for a job I had been chasing for quite some time—and I wanted something nice. So I headed to Goodwill. I know, you’re thinking, Wow, she thought she could get nice clothes at Goodwill? But you can! There are now many secondhand clothing options, both online and in stores, that can help you put together some very nice outfits without breaking the bank—and thrifting is a great way to do that.
I did score that job—then needed an appropriate work wardrobe to boot! So let’s look at some options for building wardrobes without going broke.
Large chain thrift stores
For me, when I think thrifting, I always think of Goodwill stores. Any town I have lived in always had a Goodwill within a 30-minute driving distance. But another major player in the thrift world is the Salvation Army. Both are large and well-organized stores that usually have a daily or a weekly schedule for bonuses and deals. For example, my local Goodwill puts colored dots on the tags of clothing, and on specific weekdays, specific colors are half off. So Tuesday may be “blue dot” day, and all clothing with a blue dot on the tag is half price.
The trouble with these large stores is they can be time consuming to shop there. You may have to look through several racks of pants to find that one perfect pair. Usually the racks are organized by color, not size, which also slows you down. So if you need black pants, you might have to look through all the black pants, checking sizes as you go. Salvation Army stores are very similar. However, the following strategies and tips can make shopping in these stores more manageable:
- Visit regularly. Good clothes don’t stay in the stores very long, so visiting regularly is a great way to keep an eye on revolving inventory.
- Shop during the prime times. Mondays and Tuesdays are great times to shop in the summer, as everyone drops their stuff off after weekend garage sales.
- Check everything. The workers try to do a thorough job of checking clothing for stains and rips before putting it on display, but sometimes things slip by. Make sure all zippers, snaps, and buttons work and there are no stains—particularly on the front of women’s shirts.
- Visit stores near wealthier neighborhoods. This is my favorite tip! I have found Brooks Brothers shirts and Elie Tahari dresses by checking Goodwill stores on the outskirts of wealthy neighborhoods.
- Buy only those items you are excited about. A bargain isn’t a bargain if you won’t wear it! Try everything on, and see if you really like it before buying.
Smaller consignment shops
In addition to the big thrift stores, there are many, many consignment shops and thrift stores owned by local churches and nonprofit organizations. You will be surprised by how many there are in your area. Go to this online thrift store directory to help you find those near you. Although the selection is smaller in these shops, that is part of their appeal. They aren’t as overwhelming, and occasionally you may find a store that specializes in a certain style that you like.
Another great advantage of the smaller, local stores is you may be able to get to know the shop owner, and he or she may start to look for items for you as they come in and set them aside! If you are a regular customer and establish a nice relationship with the owner, let him or her know what you are looking for and in what size. That way, the new inventory is already put aside for you, saving you time on your next visit. I would advise that you check out both the larger thrift stores and the smaller consignment shops in your area and see which ones you prefer.
Online shopping is great for Solo Moms; you can do it after the kids are in bed and from the comfort of your own couch. But are there online options for thrifting? Absolutely!
One of my favorites is ThredUp. The beauty of ThredUp is it has both an app and a mobile site that are simple to understand and use. Also, ThredUp guarantees that all of its clothing will be stain-free and in perfect working order. That is a huge plus, as it can be a bit time-consuming to go through racks and racks of clothes. So to find clothing on ThredUp, you indicate what size you need and what you are looking for, and ThredUp lets you know what it has. As for prices, ThredUp is slightly more expensive than most thrift stores, but that money goes toward convenience! Also, ThredUp carries many designer brands, so although you may be paying $10 for a tunic (which you may be thinking you can get for the same price at Target), it most likely will be superior in quality and style to any shirt you would be purchasing at Target or Walmart.
Swap.com is a site very much like ThredUp and offers a similar service. Again, the beauty of these sites is that you can filter which items you are looking for by size, style, and condition without spending an entire weekend running around to different thrift stores and going through the racks while trying to keep your kids entertained.
Both Goodwill and Salvation Army have online stores, too, but honestly, they weren’t as easy for me to navigate. The interface is clunky, and the experience was just not as pleasant or as intuitive as that of ThredUp or Swap.com. I think that for these big national thrift stores, it may just be better to carve out a few hours and go to the stores.
Through thrifting I have been able to build a functional and affordable work wardrobe—and I look good! Thrifting can be a great way to build or expand a wardrobe. There are many options—even online ones—that work perfectly for busy Solo Moms. So take a few hours, and find yourself some bargains!
Julia Liu is the daughter of a Solo Mom and has a degree in professional communication. She is the mom to two sons. She has worked in early-childhood education and was the director of a nonprofit private preschool for many years. You can follow her on Twitter at @notaDNB1.
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