Why I No Longer Shop for Clothes at Thrift Stores

Why I No Longer Shop for Clothes at Thrift Stores

I grew up getting my clothes exclusively from three sources: my older cousin, yard sales, and thrift stores. (Underwear was the one exception.) I didn’t get my first pair of new jeans until I was thirteen. I used my own money and bought them from a trendy store at the mall. I was very proud.

I love thrift stores to this day because they’re very cost-effective and environmentally responsible. Until recently, I’ve always gotten almost all my clothes from second-hand stores.

So before I go on, I want to make one thing clear: I am very pro thrift-stores.

I shop them all the time for things like books and housewares, and particularly my kids’ clothes. In fact, in the absence of hand-me-downs (yay free!), I think thrift stores are the perfect place to get kids’ clothes. Since children outgrow their clothes so quickly, it only makes sense to use items more than once. Most of the clothing on the children’s racks are in excellent condition because they’ve hardly been worn. And they’re so cheap! Even at the nicest consignment shops I rarely pay more than $5 for an item.

I just don’t go to thrift stores for my own clothes anymore. Here’s why:

I realized recently that when I shop for clothes (for myself) at thrift stores, I tend to make poor choices.

Because they’re inexpensive, I’m more impulsive with thrift-store purchases. I end up with pieces that are nice . . . but not perfect. They’re not exactly what I was looking for, or sometimes not what I was looking for at all.

Some common problems with my thrift store purchases:

  • They often don’t fit that great. In the moment I love the piece so much that I figure it’s no big deal that it’s a large size, but then I never end up wearing it.
  • They often don’t go with the rest of my wardrobe. A cool skirt doesn’t do me much good if I don’t have any tops that match.
  • They aren’t a great fit for my lifestyle. For example, as a stay-at-home mom I need very few dressy items. And hoodies don’t work for me since I’m always running from one thing to the next — I need easy-to-remove layers.

So they just hang in my closet for years at a time.

When I shop at thrift stores, I end up with way too many items in my wardrobe that never get worn. This contributes to clutter and is a waste of space and money. Sure, I only spent $3 on that top; but $3 is too much money to spend on something that will just take up room in my closet.

I’ve discovered that I’m much better off when I’m very intentional about my purchases — if I decided ahead of time exactly what I want, and then go out and find it in my exact size. That is a very unlikely scenario heading into a thrift store.

Turns out, being intentional about my wardrobe usually means going out and buying things new. Even if I end up paying much more for each item, I save money (and time and closet space) in the long run for a few killer items that get worn over and over again rather than a closet full of duds.

So my new approach to clothes shopping? I strive for a minimalist wardrobe made up of intentional, quality pieces.

closet(Image courtesy of Emily May via Flickr.)

My Intentional, Minimalist Wardrobe

Despite their popularity and allure, I don’t have an official “capsule wardrobe.” I’m overwhelmed at the prospect of creating an elaborately pre-planned mix-and-match wardrobe. And honestly, thirty-three items seems kind of extravagant. Do most people have a lot more than that?!

Instead, my wardrobe has built up more organically. Here’s how it looks:

After purging my closets every so often, I’ll notice some gaps in my wardrobe (i.e. “I have, like, no nice skirts.”). So I’ll spend some time thinking about what kinds of skirts I would like. I’ll go on Pinterest to get some ideas, keeping in mind what kinds of tops/shoes I already have.

In a few weeks I’ll go shopping for nice skirts and buy one, maybe two. Then I’m good for skirts for the next few years.

Benefits of a Minimalist Wardrobe

Benefits of a Minimalist Wardrobe((I bought this shirt in 2007 — i.e. eight years ago — and have been wearing it steadily since then.)

  • Less decision fatigue. I know that when I go out, I have three or so nice tops and three pairs of jeans to choose from. (I always wear jeans on weekdays. Even in summer. Makes things easier.) Makes getting ready quick and brainless.
  • Less clutter in my closets. Less clutter = a calmer brain.
  • Easier to organize. (Basic categories: at-home clothes vs going-out clothes.)
  • Getting dressed is more enjoyable, because everything in my closet fits me, goes with my other clothes, is decent quality, and suits my taste. (If not, it gets removed during my annual purge.)
  • Less waste. I don’t waste money or closet space on clothes I never wear.
  • I can get a few really trendy pieces and just wear them to death. I can be eco-conscious without having to stick to classics that will last eight years. For example, three years ago, I got a pair of kelly-green skinny jeans. I wore them virtually every time I went out, year-round (and still wear them frequently). If I had six pairs of jeans, that likely wouldn’t have happened, and I would have had to decide what to do with them in five years when they were no longer stylish. This way, they’ll likely be holey and worn out before I have to worry about that.

Benefits of a Minimalist Wardrobe 2


(I’ve written about Minimalism from a Christian perspective before.)


  • Thrift-store clothes shopping might be realistic for me if I had plenty of time to make lots of trips to search the racks. But with two little munchkins in the house, I just don’t. Maybe you do, in which case I applaud your thrifty efforts!
  • This doesn’t mean I’ll never browse through the women’s section at the local thrift shop. It just means I no longer go to St. Vincent’s or Value Village for the bulk of my clothing needs.
  • I’ll probably continue to go to thrift stores for things like t-shirts and yoga pants for at home. I’ll still buy nice ones — I don’t like feeling like a bum — but they don’t have to be perfect. So second-hand is fine.

How about you? Do you still find thrift stores a worthwhile place to get your clothes? Do tell!

Thrift store image courtesy of Laura Billings via Flickr.
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  1. Yep, I’ve come to this conclusion too. One of the reasons I’ve started sewing more of my own – there are still things I shop for there for myself. Shoes and pants being the biggest – but I usually go in looking for a very particular style or brand and begrudgingly – yep, if I spend a little more on my wardrobe I make better choices and wear things longer. But oh how I still love them for kids clothes – I left mine today with 2 pairs of pants, 3 shorts and a t-shirt for the kiddo for the cost of one pair of cheap, basic shorts from Walmart.

  2. I have never been a fashion sort of gal, so I only find one or two items of clothing for myself used. I agree it could be tempting to shop too much with all the items. I basically live in open bottom men’s sweats that cost fifteen dollars and last for years, and tshirts. Simple living. Thrift stores are fun for everything else. So many times I saw something new I admired, and in a year I could buy it in the thrift shops as people get tired of the item, furniture, shelf unit. But since I do not drive, and my husband has been diagnosed with a terrible cancer, I think my thrift store days are limited now.

  3. Coriander says

    I have come to the same conclusions about clothing for myself. Twice a year I go to two big consignment sales held in schools, not as cheap as thrift, but great stuff for the next two seasons for three kids, a sort of one-stop shopping for inxpensive nice things without all the trips to and fro.

    Karen, I’m very sorry.

  4. Intentionality in clothing shopping, I like that. I need more of that!
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  5. This is really interesting. I like the part about wearing trendy items to death vs. feeling mandated to wear classics. I have a mix of cheaper, trendier stuff and then some more expensive “investment” items collected from my corporate days. I’ll also say I’m sure I have 33+ items, but it reflects where I’ve been the past 5+ years: corporate attire (skirts, dresses, shirts, blazers, pants); workout clothes (tank tops, shorts, crop pants); weekend/evening lounge clothes (yoga pants, t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts); sleep clothes (a couple pairs of shorts, tanks, and flannel PJs); business casual, for seeing clients and going out, winter and summer (dresses, shirts, jeans); my catering uniform (white shirt, black shirt, black pants, tie, vest, etc). Plus a couple pairs of denim shorts for summer lounging that I recently added. It’s a lot and I’m looking to pair down, esp. the dress clothes that I no longer make good use of, but it’s difficult because I really do wear everything.

  6. I’ve been using the Project 333 method, which means using 33 items of clothing for 3-month chunks of time (so essentially the four seasons) somewhat-loosely for several years, and I really love it. It helped me discover that I have a sense of style/personal preferences for clothing (navy and horizontal stripes…soooo many stripes), and as a person who has struggled with an eating disorder and low self-esteem, it is a relief to have less decision fatigue, and to only wear clothing I feel (relatively) comfortable in. It also makes packing for trips quite simple. My regular wardrobe is about what someone would pack in a suitcase, so when I travel, I just pack most of my regular pieces, and I know I’ll have clothing that works for me the whole time.

  7. meredith says

    I totally agree. I love thrift stores for many things, but often find myself tempted by the low prices. Keeping fewer items in my home and my closet helps my anxiety and keeps me from falling into that cycle of consumerism that is so tempting.

  8. I find the act of browsing thrift stores extremely therapeutic. I almost prefer the women’s section isn’t divided by size or clothing type. I just loooove looking. I’ve gotten a lot better at buying only what I would actually wear out of the store and that’s helped me cut down on poor choices.
    I totally get what you are saying. The problem for me is that I really like clothes and like to have a fluid wardrobe. It’s a small wardrobe but I do cycle things through. A lot of my clothes are hand me downs as well. And also I’ve had three babies in four years and has gained and lost 60 pounds so I’ve changed sizes quite a bit. Maybe when I get to a stable weight planning to wear the same jeans for five years would be an option??
    Especially in Australia it’s very expensive to find ethically made clothes that aren’t pretty expensive. We have a low income so thrifting and hand me downs works for 95% of the needs of me and our kids. And if I buy something that heads back to the thrift store soon after I tell myself I made a donation to whatever charity runs the shop. :)
    Also: I’m hoping my husband never sees your post because he feels the same way. ;)

  9. I feel the same way, Kathleen! I used to thrift much more, but it’s so hard with kids. I do love finding steals on kids clothes: handmade sweaters, designer brands, but for myself I’ve gotten a lot pickier. It’s just no fun having clothes that don’t fit. I have found it fun to buy a few “transition” items I didn’t plan to keep long term (summer clothes post-baby) or event dresses that don’t have to match to anything or ever be worn again (not that I go to that many events, but I’ve found some *fantastic* vintage dresses and coats over the years). I’m not so good at keeping things simple in the wardrobe department or any department these days. But I’m confident it would help me.

  10. I definitely have this problem…but I have some serious trigger anxiety about buying brand new clothes. It is really awful–I buy too-big clothes from the $1 rack telling myself I’ll alter them to fit…and then they pile up in my craft room.

    On another note, my spouse and I are thoroughly enjoying Brooklyn 99 at your recent post’s recommendation. Thanks for the tip!

  11. I hear you Kathleen. You’re points are spot on. Never thought of it this way before.

    I’ve had a roller coaster of sizes over the last 8 years, birthing 5 babies in that time. Thrift stores were great for an outfit here and there to fill in the gap of whatever size I was during pregnancy or right after. Now that the kiddos are getting bigger, I shop with a purpose-no casual browsing for us. And thrift store shopping has become do-able again with no toddlers in tow. Once we know what everyone needs, myself included, to “top-up” wardrobes for the season, we’re off. And we start with the thrift store-sticking to the list. Then we will work our way to new. It’s a big day but we get it all done-most times-and don’t have to waste more time shopping until the next season. Even for special occasions I will “shop” in all the closets first, then thrift stores, then new.

    Thanks for the ideas. I might just go straight to new next time;)

  12. I buy 90% thrift but from a similar perspective as you. I only buy what I really like, will wear because it fits well, and is good quality. When I first started wearing thrifted clothes, I bought way too much and poorly fitting clothes but I realized that it was just crazy and not really saving me money. I’ve gotten much better about being really choosy in the same way that I would if I purchase new. I often find that I love my thrifted purchases way more than I do a new item.
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  13. I can count on one hand how many items in my closet are thrifted. It just doesn’t work for me because I am tall and have a long torso. I am very intentional and choosy about my clothing purchases because they almost always cost a lot. It’s expensive being tall!

    I hate jeans and I’m jealous of those of you who can wear them.

    My kiddos’ clothes though…I can’t get enough of vintage children’s clothing I find at the thrift stores.

  14. I definitely agree that it makes great sense to only buy things that fit into some basic rules about what you like for your wardrobe. Thankfully, we have a few great thrift stores in our area (Minneapolis) and I’ve found a few items that are basically the same thing that I would buy in a store, but for thrift prices. But I have to work really hard to not reach for the other types of items and stick to my rules about what to bring home. My favorite thing to shop for at thrift stores though are men’s button up shirts. My husband wears them every day for work but unfortunately they wear out quickly (he bikes to and from work in them as well – year round – so even high quality ones seem to last only a few years). I can’t believe how many high quality men’s shirts you can find at thrift stores for a quarter of the price that they are sold new in stores. Plus, then when he winds up getting a hole or grease stain on them, it’s less of a big deal :)

  15. I agree about being selective about adding to your closet. I have a rule that applies at thrift stores just as much as any other store, and that’s the item has to rate at least a 7 out of 10 for me to purchase it. That means no mending needed, in good shape, good fit, good style for my shape, and right color. I use Dressing Your Truth for palate so I can breeze through a rack and go right to my colors very quickly, and my whole closet mixes and matches. Using a palate has helped me really transformed my thrift store shopping. One of my favorite, hardest working wardrobe pieces is a Tommy Hilfiger, dark brown, corduroy, jean style jacket I thrifted in like new condition for $5.

  16. I personally do a lot of my clothes shopping at thrift stores. However, I can see how thrift stores may not be the best option for everyone. Like you said, there’s no point in buying something if you’ll never wear it. For some some, consciously deciding what to buy beforehand is the best bet for clothes shopping. Thanks for the article.

  17. Instead of having so many cheap clothes that just stay in my closet, a few expensive clothes that I wear will be better for me. What do you say?

  18. I actually only buy on clearance or thrifted. I love that, most times, anything I buy is not mass produced or commonly available. It’s not this seasons trends (commonly) so it allows me a creativeity with my style I otherwise would have to shop vintage or high fashion to achieve. I think I probably have a much larger wardrobe than many of the women here. 30 times wouldn’t cover my dresses alone. I’d estimate that in just fabric items and not including accessories or shoes I have 500 items or so. However, none of my thrifted clothing is cheap, over the years I’ve pretty much perfected an eye for spotting quality (today I bought a $110 shirt (with tags) for $0.75, a $400 dress for $10 and a $280 dress for $2). Sometimes I do get caught up in the “this is nice and cheap” spree and later find that it just isn’t me but I don’t find it a problem with younger family who are still developing their styles to take the things I decide I don’t want (I don’t consider the money wasted if the clothing goes to a good use). I love that when thrifting if I later decide I don’t love it I don’t have the guilt of having spent a large amount on one item that I can’t recoup the cost on. Shortly I think I’ll go through my closet and sale of the items that just aren’t me anymore, the more worn ones in a yard sale and the more expensive ones online. With any luck I’ll likely come out ahead, something that would be impossible buying retail.

  19. Hey Kathleen.

    I do shopping in a thrift store due to lack of money if have money then I prefer to shop in malls or in street. In my view, there is no chance to return clothes which we buy from thrift store because the don’t take it back. Many times I haven’t got my perfect size from thrift store, they are looking in good and best but when I come to my home and wear it then I get the real problem that is size which is not taken back by the thrift store.

    I feel poor shopping from thrift store, you know. Here, you have shared the best choices to go for a shopping from other places instead of thrift store. Thanks a lot sharing. Have a good day.

    – Ravi.

  20. Owen Omoruyi says

    I find really durable shoes and clothes at the thrift store at a low cost. When I moved to the United states I came with 3pairs of clothes. Now I have a lot of cute outfits and accessories all of good quality. I don’t buy trendy clothes, I buy forever designs like a black pointy toe pump, a black gym shoe, 2 scandals, a red shoe, a brown wedge, a yellow strap shoe, 4 black work pants and 10 regular blouses in different colors and 5 dresses. Recently I got my first riding boot for 69cents, it a Stuart Weltzmans design. I do thrift shopping cautiously and mostly on sale days.

  21. I go into thift stores all the time but i never looked at the clothing section twice until i accidentally walked by a several hundred dollar jacket and pant suit for $13.95. I know it was several hundred dollars because that is what i paid for the exact same size and color 6 months earlier. It was in perfect, pristine condition. Once i got done staring at it in disbelief, thinking someone was playing a joke on me, i brought it with me home and now have two sitting in my closet. I can’t tell them apart. That purchase changed my view of thrift store clothes. Mind you, I am still terrified I will run into a co worker while I am holding a bunch of thrift store clothes -but I only buy quality and its SO worth it. The item needs to be something at the top of my price point, or more, if purchased from a regular store (banana republic, ann taylor etc). It needs to be my exact size, classy and i need to LOVE it. . I cannot tell you how many great pieces I have gotten since, and the compliments keeps pouring in at work – if they only knew..

    • Me … I proudly tell the people at work that I purchased the item they compliment me on from a thrift store and will even share the price. I am proud of recycling and looking fantastic at a fraction of the cost of retail. Why do items have to be expensive to gain the (false?) respect of your co-workers?

  22. Wow, this definitely makes a lot of sense. I feel like I used to be this way but at regular clothing stores. I would buy something for the incredible price but once it was in my closet it was so easy realizing that what I truly loved was the price and I would just end up with something in my closet that wasn’t really what I was going for. Great Post! Thanks so much for sharing. I love your minimalist attitude.

  23. I love thrift stores, im a guy and I find all of my dressier clothing for cheap there. For example, my local Mega Thrift store just had a 75% off end of Summer sale. I just got eight dress shirts for eight bucks. I’d be stupid to go to JC Penney’s and pay twenty bucks (or more) for a shirt. I love saving money, and yes I have a closet full of clothes but I make sure I wear the majority of it.

  24. I love the thrift store. I grew up with limited clothing due to the fact that I was plus size and have five siblings. Lived many years with the so-called minimalist wardrobe and I absolutely hated it. I don’t enjoy wearing the same thing over and over. I promised myself that one day I would have many clothes and many options. Of course, I don’t wear all of my clothes but they are there when I need them. These clothes are here if I run into obstacles and need money for other things, then I have my clothes and will not have to worry about it for about a year or maybe more. It is a blessing for me and I do like the other ladies and shop on the clearance racks as well but the thrift store helps free up money for bigger household purchases and also for fun money to do some spur of the moment things. Minimalism works for some people but it can be very difficult if you are plus sized because of the fit of clothing changes with added weight. I have turned into a thrift store snob as of late because I love the feel of expensive fabrics and they do last longer. Constantly I asked myself “if I come into a windfall would I continue to shop at thrift stores and the answer is yes.” I would buy new clothes from some of the higher quality stores but I would still thrift and shop at consignment stores because it is just a smart thing to do. I would also provide for school-aged children who need clothing for school so they will feel better about themselves.

  25. artamoss says

    Add in wanting less toxic, more natural fibers and the thrift store choices dwindle even further! I resisted the notion that synthetics were unheathy but the information hit me all at once and it became important. When I go to any store I look for my colors and then read the labels. Linen, silk, cotton, wool…even though there are still a ton of pesticides and other nasties that can stay on fabric even after hundreds of washes! For now I’m investing in mostly non organics because I need money to eat, etc. Plus I find some organic items to be unattractive for one reason or another. But thrift store shopping for natural fibers, the right colors and fit…wow. What a time consumer!

  26. I LOVE this post. I decided when I started thrifting that I’d only buy the best quality, flawless garments that I absolutely LOVE and have a use for. I’m determined not to end up with a bunch of junk in my closet just because it’s low cost. I’m very particular about the fabric and construction, and I’m sticking with that.

  27. I like the idea of thrifting; it just doesn’t work out for me. Searching through racks of unorganized “stuff” for the chance of finding something in my size/color/style is exhausting and not an efficient use of my time. Even with online sites (e.g., ThredUp) I haven’t found anything I like well enough to order, even at the severely discounted prices.

    My version of “thrifting” is trolling a list of websites that carry the styles I prefer, which are also durable and come in sizes and cuts that I know will fit. Depending on the site I will either make a mental note when I find something I like, or go ahead and put it in my shopping cart and wait for it to go on sale. Sometimes it sells out before that happens, but if so – oh well! I’ve learned that no one piece is going to make-or-break my wardrobe, and in the meantime I’ve put together a substantial collection of classic pieces that either coordinate with what I already have or challenge me to evolve my style. I definitely have more than 33 pieces (I’ve actually never heard of this “standard”), but spanning the 4 seasons and being prepared for different weather within each and different occasions necessitates options. No more “saving” an item for an event because it’s one of the few nice pieces I have; I pull out whatever I want and wear it! And having options means that no one piece will get worn out quickly. I’ve never been trendy so most of my pieces will never go out of style.

  28. Lisa Hoffmann says

    How to shop in a thrift store: I you pick up a skirt go and find a shirt or blouse that matches. Go with a plan. I am looking for a work wardrobe so I’m just going to look for those items. Try everything on, thrift stores have dressing rooms. Also if you buy something new, It costs a lot and if later you don’t like it, you’ve spent a lot of money. In a thrift store if you buy something it doesn’t cost much and the thrift store will let me exchange it for something else if I don’t like it.

  29. I love thrift shopping and totally agree if you are not careful you can end up with a wardrobe of ill fitting, mismatched clothes that you just don’t wear. What I tell myself when I’m shopping is, “Would I pay full retail for this item?” If the answer is yes, then I buy it. If not, then back it goes. Don’t get caught up in the it’s only $3 hype because $3 can add up. Plus, would you just go over to a trash can and throw in $3? Make every purchase matter, and only buy what you absolutely need, want, and LOVE!

  30. you probably bought those used clothes cause you enjoy shopping.It was enjoyable.

  31. You write absolute reason for not buying from thrift shops the same problem arise with me also after this I always avoid thrift shopping.
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  32. This is really an interesting post. Well recently I came across this shopping store online, TSHOPSTYLE. They have got a huge collection of dresses and accessories for girls for every occasion and that too at rasonable price. Highly recommended!


  1. […] While hand making clothes might be a procedure that requires dedication and effort, it allows you to develop your unique fashions designs and clothing that suits your apparel needs. Buying clothes at the thrift shop might be a convenient and affordable solution for acquiring clothing, but it does not provide the same benefits as handmade clothes. […]

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