I love thrifting.
I never thought I would. I did not like the idea of buying things other potentially creepy strange people had worn before me. Until I moved to London – there are so many charity and secondhand shops here!
After strolling through some of them I soon noticed that not everything in there was smelly and old-fashioned and that you can find pretty cool things hidden between many not-so-cool things if only you look hard enough.
I also really started to love the idea of supporting charities by buying secondhand AND reusing clothes and fabrics at the same time. I don’t live on a big budget, so the price is a big factor when buying clothes and fabrics. But nothing comes without a price. Somewhere someone in that huge exploiting textile supply chain probably had to suffer, so that I can buy a skirt for 7 pounds on the high street.
Of course I still buy
and hoard fabric, although it is often impossible to get information on where that fabric is from and under which circumstances it was produced. At least the whole process of picking fabric, planning out and sewing a garment together makes me appreciate all the work and time it costs to make something beautiful. And then I often hang the 7 pound skirt back on the rack and go home and make my own.
And when buying secondhand I have the feeling that I can make a difference, even if it’s just a small one. I buy most of my stuff at TRAID, a charity working against exploitative and child labour and abusive working conditions in the textile industry.
Back to the topic. Here are some helpful tips for buying secondhand clothing for refashion projects:
1. Do not only look for the pretty stuff.
It doesn’t matter if the garment is your style. Refashioning means restyling. If you don’t like the cut, cut it apart and make it better. If the colour is horrible for a jumper – maybe it would look awesome when made into a skirt? Shoulder-pads, granny skirt? Chop-chop!
The best refashion project are those where you make something absolutely fabulous from something absolutely horrid.
2. Look for quality.
People often have reasons why they give away their unwanted clothing. Maybe it was ill-fitting, too boring, they had it for too long, they have too many clothes or it is simply ugly. You have to forget about these things and scan through the racks looking for quality fabrics and good brands.
You might not want to buy an oversized, floor-length pink leather coat for wearing it, but it could come in handy when you’ve always wanted to make your own leather handbag and didn’t dare spending so much money on expensive fabrics without knowing how to handle them. 2m/4yds of real leather for 5 pounds is quite a bargain. Even if you screw up, there’s enough left to try again.
That granny twin-set might actually be made from high-quality bouclé perfect for that Chanel-style jacket you’re planning to sew.
When looking at the fabric’s quality, also check labels, washing instructions and whether the fabric looks well-worn or not. Especially when buying knit fabrics, it is important that a) they’re good quality and b) they don’t look shabby. Knits are quite tricky so sew with. When they’re old and have been washed too often, the yarn might brake when you stitch over.
3. Look for quantity.
When buying clothes for refashion projects, it doesn’t matter if the garment is your size. Especially when you want to unpick and re-sew the whole thing, clothes often get smaller during the process as you will mostly cut away things or cut new pattern pieces out of over-sized clothes. So the more fabric, the better! I’m a size 10, but I most often buy XXL sizes if the fabric is really good quality. (I found that plus-size brands quite often use high-quality fabrics.)
Look where the seams are. Many seams might make it difficult to cut out a new garment from your secondhand fabric.
Is the garment fully lined? Great! That will save you one more trip to your fabric store.
So a old-fashioned looking floor-length skirt might not be the obvious choice, but you will have much more options for your project. Running out of fabric is not fun. (Ask me how I know this!).
4. Look for notions.
Notions are expensive. Sometimes I find myself paying more for buttons and fastenings than for the actual fabric.
Even if something is so ugly you wouldn’t be able to make it something better, have a look at the fastenings, zippers, buttons, belt buckles etc. Sometimes secondhand clothing (especially the ugly stuff) can be so cheap that just reusing the buttons of a shirt, or the zipper of a skirt will make it a bargain.
Go an have a look in the 0.50p or 1 pound sections for old shirts and blouses. You might not like the fabrics, but sometimes you can find aweseome buttons etc. there. A shirt will have about 7-9 matching buttons – find some special or even vintage ones and you have found the perfect bargain. Buttons can be quite expensive in haberdashery shops these days!
The shirt’s fabric can also be cut into strips and used as bias binding for your next project!
5. Look for brands and fit.
When buying clothes you don’t want to alter too much and just use for simple embellishent projects, look for good brands and good fit.
If you have a really quick refashion in mind and just want to add some trim or buttons to make it an individual piece, then I’d advise you to look for good fit. If you find something that fits really well, you don’t have to trouble yourself with unpicking seams and annoying alterations.
Especially when you spend hours and hours on something, you want it to fit well in the end. Otherwise you will be disappointed with the result and won’t wear it no matter how many hours of work went into the garment.
Look for good brands – for a pretty obvious reason. When you go thrifting you probably look for bargains. Of course you can buy a Primark shirt or H&M skirt for less at a charity shop, but it is really a bargain? If it costs 4 instead of 7 pounds now, but has been worn and washed quite often, it’s not really a good bargain.
Find out what the good brands are.Well-known quality brands are often still quite expensive in secondhand shops (sometimes you’re lucky!). Often the good brands are no-name brands you have never heard of (and the shop owner might not know them, too). I always take my smartphone and google the brand’s name. This way you can find high quality or local labels for a really good price.
6. Look at the price tag.
Considering the previous points, make a rough estimate of what you would get for that price at your go-to fabric store. Is it a good deal? Would you really get that fabric, lining and all these buttons and zipper for the same price or less at the fabric store?
Also, go when sales are on! Charity shops have new piles of clothes coming in regularly and have to make room for them. There are often huge end-of-season sales. At TRAID they sell everything for 1-2pounds in the end. So sometimes it is worth waiting!
Hope that helped! Have fun thrifting and feel free to leave me a link to your latest refashion projects!!