Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Clothes Shopping on a Grad Student Budget

The bottom of my wallet has been taunting me this summer, my first without a Microsoft internship. Determined not to let the halving of my income degrade my quality of life, I have been investigating lower-cost alternatives to my usual indulgences. Initially skeptical of buying used goods, I have made significant spending reductions in the clothing category by turning to thrift and consignment stores.

The main reason to buy used clothing is to acquire interesting accent pieces (either vintage or design) that are higher quality and interesting than comparably-priced alternatives at department or chain stores. My prized vintage purchases (both under $20) include a purple dolman-sleeved button-down dress and a black dice print dress with dice buttons on the back. My favorite gently-worn designer purchases (both under $30) include a khaki Marc Jacobs jacket and a gold-sequin Trina Turk shirt. I have compiled the following tips for picking out interesting/appropriate/timeless pieces among used clothes.

First of all, thrift and consignment stores can be quite confusing to navigate due to the large amount of and variety in the clothing. Here are some tips for approaching the shopping experience:
  • Figure out how the store is organized. Racks may be organized by color, by size, or by some other criteria. Figuring out the organization of the store can help you find what you want much more quickly.
  • Browse methodically. It's can be overwhelming to browse at random when there is only one garment per look/size/color, so it can be good to pick a category (for instance, summer t-shirts) and look only in that category until you are finished.
  • Have an idea of what cut, colors, fabrics you are looking for. This goes for clothes shopping in general, but being able to quickly rule out items of clothing will make your shopping experience much more efficient. Knowing what size you are in different brands will also help.

Once you have found an article of clothing that you like, you should make sure it is a worthwhile purchase. Here are things I have learned:
  • Check the quality of the clothing. Carefully inspect the garment for stains and tears. Make sure the garment will not fall apart after one washing.
  • Don't go for trendy pieces. If someone else has already given away a piece of trendy clothing, you may not be able to get much more wear out of it.
  • Recognize good brands and watch out for fakes. Having a good sense of which brands make clothing that will last through a few washing and wearings will help you pick out worthwhile purchases. Knowing which brands tend to make poor-quality trendy pieces will also help you avoid bad purchases. It is also important to watch out for fakes.

I recommend buying the following things used:
  • Statement pieces. It may be a combination of the fact that people tire of statement pieces quickly and that they don't get reworn too much, but I come across quite a few interesting shirts in good condition.
  • Cardigans and layering pieces. It's nice to have many of them, they usually aren't what make an outfit interesting, and it does not matter that they look brand new. Also, I have found more than one nice cardigan for $10.
  • Leather belts. A tip from my friend Rachel, who finds belts on eBay: these seem to hold up pretty well and cost much less used.
  • Vintage-style clothing. Vintage pieces look cooler if they look more authentic and you could potentially find something nice for a fraction of the designer vintage-chic price.
  • Formal dresses. Formal dresses often do not get much wear: I have seen very nice dresses at consignment stores for very low prices. (I have seen a Vera Wang silk evening gown for something like $38 at the Garment District.)
I would advise acquiring button-down shirts caution: I've had to resew the buttonholes on a couple of shirts.

Here are some thrift and consignment stores around Boston:
  • The Garment District: this place has everything: a dollar-a-pound section for random lucky finds, a costume section, gently-worn designer, and gently-worn other used clothing.
  • Poor Little Rich Girl: a chain of well-curated gently-worn designer.
  • Second Time Around: another chain of well-curated gently-worn designer.
  • Raspberry Beret: "consignment, vintage, and unique items."
I have a friend who also likes Boomerang's, but more for furniture and home items. Have fun!


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Eton said...

Hello Jean,

I really liked your way of shopping. There are people who take at least an hour to like a garment for himself/herself. If you have decided in advance what category of clothes you would buy, you could save several minutes which would have otherwise wasted in mere searching them.

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