Psst. Want to know a secret? Everything I’m wearing in the pictures within this post was thrifted. Every. Single. Thing. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything in your wardrobe needs to be acquired secondhand. There are plenty of great, reputable and even charitable retail brands that I like to support when I can. Yet, I honestly can’t afford to do so with every outfit or accessory purchase I undertake. Still, do I want to look like I paid full-price for my clothes every time I step out of the front door? You bet.
In an era where hippie-chick is uber cool and I wish so badly I could pull it off, I still want to look polished and put together. I believe this yearning started within me after I had my children. I spent so many months in oversized shirts and yoga pants with absolutely no intention of doing yoga. I prized comfort over everything else. If I was going to wear it, it had to have stretch in it and I needed to be able to bend down, play Barbies for approximately five hours, then get back up without fear of ripping my pants or popping a button.
As such, I sunk into a bit of a rut. While I used to love fashion and I especially adored shopping at my local thrift store, I had zero interest in it. Looking back, I’m totally cool with that. I’m glad I took that time to bond with my babies, give myself a little grace, and really ease into this new mothering season of life that I’m still very much in.
Yet, that said, I’m excited and eager to ease my toes back into the waters of dressing in a way that doesn’t look like I just rolled out of bed in my pajamas. To that end, I need clothes that are structured with just the right amount of give, necklines that aren’t stretched out beyond recognition (like the one in this hilarious commercial), and pants that are anything but black leggings. I need dresses. I need skirts. I need blouses.
However, I also need money.
That means that while I still love a great online flash sale, I can’t afford to shop at boutiques every time an itch hits. That’s where my local thrift store is golden. I can hop in, find what I need relatively quickly, and have a new, sharp-looking piece for just a few dollars. Here are a few tips I use to make sure I come away with purchases I love and can feel good about wearing.
1. Permanent stains are out.
Maybe it’s the mom in me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve done, oh I don’t know, about 1.67 million loads of laundry covered in everything from spit-up milk to mud. Regardless, I can just look at a stain and know pretty quickly whether or not that bad boy is going to come out or not. For instance, if it looks like deep red stain (think lipstick or wine) that has been laundered to a faded pink, I doubt I can get it totally out unless I’m bleaching the item, which I only do when I want to really fade it.
If I see a stain like that, I keep browsing. There has to be something else I can grab that doesn’t require hours of time standing at the laundry room sink.
2. It has to fit my day.
When I worked full-time as a proposal manager, I loved to walk into the office wearing my stilettos, pressed slacks and button-down white blouse. I also had a blunt, short bob with bangs that skimmed right above my eyes.
Now? If I wore that outfit, first of all I would have nowhere to go where that ensemble makes sense. Secondly, that crisp white shirt would have oatmeal, plums, baby food pouches and green beans splattered on it within hours and those stilettos aren’t exactly playground-friendly. My hair is longer now, though it’s usually in a mom bun and I just got it balayaged because I was told it was one of the most popular summer hair trends. I have to say, I’m loving the new change and I’m ready to bring my wardrobe up to speed.
I need clothes that fit my lifestyle but still allow me to look and feel my best. For now, that means loose-fitting (and forgiving) skirts and dresses. It means pairing them with smart denim jackerts for a little touch of polish, or a pretty silver bracelet for a little bit of sparkle.
3. To look like I paid full-price, it can’t be well-loved.
It almost breaks my heart to type this, because one of my favorite things about the thrift store is that the pieces are well-loved. They all tell a story and a background. The higher-priced (often white-tag), brand-new pieces with tags still attached aside, most have been lived in and loved in and I adore that fact.
Yet, when I’m searching for items that will be on regular, constant rotation in my closet, I can’t settle for a shirt that’s been washed so much it’s soft as butter, with cotton pilling all over. Nor can I wear bathing suit bottoms that have been picked to the core or a pair of pants that have lost their elastic. I need the pieces to be highest-quality so I can wear them with other items I already have in my wardrobe.
To conclude, there are plenty of ways to get that look that screams “Oh yes, I totally paid full-price for this!” without shelling out the cash at the mall. With a little creativity and flexibility, the thrift store can be a great place to find these pieces. The key to looking polished and put-together, not like a mismatch of someone else’s throwaways? Be intentional and selective with your shopping and only buy items that actually look new. If there are obvious and irrevocable aesthetic flaws, it’s best to pass. Or, you can always wear these items on your more casual days or even as pajamas depending on the style. After all, I’m not one to knock prioritizing comfort!