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My Love Affair with Second Hand Clothing

Since I have been able to afford it, I have been a lover of shopping and clothes.

I grew up wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs from Sears and I hated it. I can remember only a handful of times as a young child that I got new clothes. It was a big production when I did. We would get on the bus—since we didn’t own a car—and head downtown to the Sears store or the Montgomery Wards store. These were the only places that we shopped.

When I went to school, I was jealous of most of the girls because they had new clothes and were stylish, but me on the other hand, spent my time in Toughskins, and used ones for that matter. I swore that I would never ever wear someone’s hand-me-downs again.

After college and marriage and a good job, I came into my love affair with shopping. A day with the “girls” always included shopping and lunch, or shopping and dinner or just plain shopping. We were always up on the latest fashion and were always trendy looking. We subscribed to all the magazines that kept us up on the fashion industry. Sometimes we would just jump in the car and head to Chicago and Michigan Ave. where we knew that we would see and be able to purchase the latest and greatest in fashion.

But then the days of kids came—no more trips to Chicago, girls day out turned into a couple of hours with our kids together at each other’s homes. Life changed and children became more important.

My subscriptions to Glamour and Vogue became subscriptions to Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens. My closet started to fill with “comfortable clothing” instead of beautiful cutting-edge styles. My favorite store became Wal-Mart instead of Bergners. My body just didn’t seem to fit anymore into those size fives after two c-sections and no time to workout. Two babies in two years and me a stay-at-home mom had changed everything.

But I knew that it was only a matter of time when the babies would no longer be babies, I would have time to work out and I would go back to work.

Well that time has come, the babies are teenagers, I have a membership at a local gym, and I have my dream job.

A girlfriend who moved to Mississippi, invited me down for a week of relaxation, some golf, and some shopping. Going to another state without the teens, with some potential privacy and some money for shopping sounded very appealing—I was in.

So, I left everyone in Illinois and headed south. The trip was uneventful, which is what I needed, except for one thing … My girlfriend had found several used clothing stores that she wanted to drag me to—I was not interested in the least. However, it was her car and her town, so I went along for the ride.

The first shop was a local Goodwill store … Goodwill? I would not be caught dead in a place like that—but I was a few states from home, so I figured I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.

My girlfriend was really into this, so I decided to give it a try. As I started to search through the racks and racks of clothing, I came upon a pair of Liz Claiborne shorts—they were brand new with the tags and my size. I decided to give them a try—to this day, those shorts are still my favorites.

The rest of the day went by like a breeze. We spent several hours combing through the racks of clothing at every used store in her town. I spent $40 and had more clothing than I ever dreamed I could own for that price—usually $40 bought one top or a pair of shorts. I had found a new love.

When I got home, I decided to give my local Goodwill’s a shot. I started out slowly, only a couple of times a month, but as I started to add clothing pieces like Liz, Polo, Jones New York, Nautica, and others, I realized that I was wearing nicer clothing at a fraction of the cost of new. I started to haunt these places.

That was two years ago, and since that time, I hardly step foot in a new store, I buy all my clothing now from Goodwill or a shop with a word like “consignment” in it. I am wearing nicer clothing than I ever could have afforded brand new. And I buy clothing for all my friends who have given me their sizes. My son and daughters are wearing American Eagle, Hollister, Nike, and other brands. They are still very stylish and fit right in with their friends. But of course, I have to do the shopping for them because as teens they would never be caught dead in “those types of places.”

If you decide to give second-hand clothing a try, I would keep in mind the following:

  • Always check the item over thoroughly—check for holes or stains on every part of the fabric—inside and out;
  • Look for those higher end brands, sometimes you have to dig, but it can most definitely be worth it—last week I purchased a Ralph Lauren jacket for 50 cents. It looked brand new and is beautiful—I got tons of compliments on it;
  • You would be amazed at what people donate to these places. You can get, in some cases, brand new or gently used merchandise in everything from clothing to dishes to shoes to picture frames;
  • Keep in mind that there are sale days at most of these places. In my area, Monday and Tuesday are 50 cent days and there is always a color tag that is 1/2 price;
  • Bring a friend or two along and as you search the racks, you can cover much more territory, if you both are looking for certain sizes, it also is a great time to bond with those close to you;
  • Keep your cell phone at hand to make calls to friends, if you find something in their size. Sometimes it is better to call and verify before you purchase;
  • Get to know the staff, sometimes if something comes in that you might be interested in, they will call you or hold it;
  • Be aware that there are a ton of people that go to these stores on a regular basis, strike up a conversation with these people and trade stories. I was turned on to a Louis Vuitton purse at one store that I got for my daughter and the cost was unbelievably cheap; and
  • Always clean everything before you wear it, you never know if it was washed or dry cleaned prior to donation


I now spend a couple of evenings a week at my local Goodwill. I enjoy the nature of the hunt, I enjoy having a closet full of clothing that cost next to nothing, and I enjoy the compliments I get on the clothing I wear. Plus the money you save on clothing purchases can really add up. I highly recommend giving it a shot, I don’t think you will be disappointed!

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