But how do you know if you’re buying trash or treasure? And should you swap or sell when you’re finished wearing?
We talked to expert shoppers and swappers to learn how they work thrift stores and swapping events. And once you’ve mastered the buy-trade-sell cycle, you may find retail shopping isn’t nearly as much fun.
Buy: Thrift Stores
Cheap doesn’t mean cheap
At thrift stores, designer pieces can be less than $5. But you have to dig for quality purchases amid the mass of low-quality products.“The first thing I look for is quality, and that means making sure there are no rings around collar or weird alterations,” said Lauren A. Rothman, owner of Styleauteur, a Washington-based style consulting firm. “Salvation Army and Goodwill have different standards than a high-end consignment store, so it’s always good to look for brands [in thrift stores]. If you’re in a place where you can find a collector’s brand for $3, look for them.” And while brands don’t always signify quality, they will tell you a lot about where an item is manufactured and how much it is worth.
When shopping retail, there tend to be more than one of what you’re looking for. That’s not the case with consignment or thrift stores. “I recommend to go shopping when others are not shopping,” Rothman said. “Going during the week is always a great recommendation because there’s a lot more turnover than in a regular store.” Also, many thrift stores will call you if you’re a regular and always buy a particular brand. It pays to become a familiar face.
Don’t Just Shop Your Size
You’re not paying enough money for things to fit you perfectly. Assume you’ll be visiting a tailor and shop in a larger size range than you’re used to. If it doesn’t fit or if you change your mind on an item, swap it with a friend or consign the purchase.
Trade: Swapping Events and Online
In the past few years, swapping clothing has become almost as common as consignment, with local and national swap companies organizing swaps among strangers with a similar passion for bargains. Melissa Massello, co-founder of Theswapaholics.com, organizes swaps in cities across the country. The model: Take your gently used clothes to a swap event a few hours before it begins, buy a bag for an entry fee, usually $20, and fill it with other people’s treasures when the swap begins. Swap rules vary, but with many, you can bring home as much as you want. Of course, some swaps are better than others. “When we first started with Swapaholics, it was a subculture, but then it became mainstream. There are so many swapping sites online now. I would say the number of swap organizers has grown by 300 percent,” in the past few years, Massello said. National swaps such as the Swapaholics only show up about once a year in the District, but Web sites such as quarterlife202.com update readers about smaller D.C. swaps.