Secondhand Savvy

By Holly E. Thomas and Michelle Thomas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Unless you've been buried under a mountain of summer clothes, you know that the economic forecast is not sunny these days. And no matter how you spin it, a half-off designer dress isn't really a bargain if it's not in your budget. Intrepid shoppers that we are, we decided to apply our skills to the world of thrift shopping.

But be warned: Neither of us are experienced thrifters, able to spot a vintage Dior dress amid a rack of musty polyester blouses. We're at opposite ends of the enthusiasm spectrum, too. Holly is drawn to the challenge of digging for sartorial treasure; Michelle cops to being "too prissy" to comb through castoffs. Still, we'd heard heaps of praise for secondhand shopping: You'll often find more high-quality, long-lasting items than at H&M et al., and it's easy on the wallet and even easier on the Earth.

"Making something new takes a lot of resources, creates a lot of waste and has serious environmental impacts," says Maria Fyodorova, who writes the local blog Righteous (re)Style, which promotes eco-friendly shopping. "You will get many more style points from wearing unique, often one-of-a-kind pieces than you would get from buying everything at a mass-market chain store."

These points have not been lost on frugal fashionistas. The National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops says most of its stores have seen a boost in the number of shoppers from 2007 to 2008. Even better news: Seventy-five percent of the stores reported a jump in new consignors, sellers and donors, which means more bargains for browsers.

Could we be budget-conscious and eco-friendly and find something fabulous? It sounded too good (and too easy) to be true. So we trekked from Alexandria to Annandale, then from Wheaton to Hyattsville, and finally made our way back to the District, hunting on-trend fashion finds, useful home goodies and quirky gifts. Nine hours and just under $100 later, we were entirely exhausted. But our shopping bags were laden with great finds, and we had a new appreciation for the frugal and fashionable types who make thrifting look easy.

On Pages 2 and 3, see our best buys and read a few tips we wish we'd had at the start.

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