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Thrifting 101

Thrift and consignment shopping have been around for years, but it’s quickly becoming a trendy budget-helper for families of all income levels - and it’s easy to see why!

Kids grow quickly, new clothing is often expensive, and we’re all becoming more aware of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Calgary is fortunate to have a wide variety of options for second-hand shopping to help everyone in your family look their best (and make your clothing budget go farther)! Have your kids come with you (if possible) to choose pieces that fit their current style and they feel comfortable with, encourage them to love hunting for a great deal, and be honest with them about your budget and environmental beliefs.

Here’s everything you need to know about thrifting before you get started!

Shopping options

There are a few options when second-hand shopping:

1. Thrift stores. Thrift stores are generally (though not always) run by charitable organizations and are stocked through donations from the local community. Some recognizable examples include The Salvation Army, Value Village, GoodWill Thrift Store, Women in Need Society (WINS), and the Mission Thrift Shop. There are lots of smaller thrift stores around town which support various charitable enterprises. Thrift shops generally offer the best pricing but because they operate on donations, the selection can vary - some days you may find a designer suit for under $20, but other days you might come out empty-handed.

Consignment stores. Consignment stores generally either purchase the items outright from sellers and then sell them at a higher price, or they have a contract with the seller to display and sell the item and then the earnings are divided. Consignment stores around town include Once Upon a Child, Sproutz & UTurn, Washed & Worn, and Fresh Kids. Consignment stores offer a more curated experience; the store owners decide which items to sell and display, so the quality tends to be higher. The prices are almost always higher than a thrift store, but you’re also likely to find more expensive products that families are reluctant to donate.

Direct sales. There are a wide variety of reselling options online - especially useful if you’re looking for a specific product or brand name. Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, Poshmark (a massive online second-hand store app, my family loves this one!), eBay, and Etsy are just a few examples of reselling platforms. Generally speaking, you’ll be purchasing directly from another family who has set a price they feel is fair for their item; because there’s no storefront or ‘middle man’ setting prices, haggling is sometimes an option.

In-person direct sales events (such as the Twins, Triplets & More Association sale or various community parent-to-parent sales) where sellers pay for table space are also scheduled occasionally and can be a great option for finding used kids’ items at low prices. Don’t forget to check your local parade of garage sales, too!

If you choose any direct sale option, be aware of safety considerations and social distancing protocols. If something is suspiciously inexpensive, there is a chance it may be stolen goods, a counterfeit or broken item, or a potential scam; never exchange money before you have seen the item in person and had a chance to thoroughly inspect it.

Items to skip

Unhygienic clothing. While you can generally purchase a large part of your wardrobe at any age second-hand (I recommend staying away from items like underwear, socks, hats, and swimwear for hygiene reasons), be cautious with purchasing second-hand footwear unless it’s in extremely good condition and you’re confident it will give proper support and be aware of how often your child tends to go through shoes.

Clothes your child won’t wear. Don’t buy clothes and shoes that are a little too small, even if they’re a great deal. Avoid any item your child will not wear! If your child hates skirts and won’t wear them, for example, these clothing items are a waste of money and space, no matter how inexpensive they are!

Similarly, if your kid hates a certain color or fastener style, it’s not worth purchasing them to hang in the back of the closet. If your child is older and particular about colors, patterns, and styles, take them shopping with you - or make sure to inquire about the exchange/return policy where you are shopping.

Clothes that need work. Be mindful of damage and wear. You can often get deals on items that may need some minor repairs like a new zipper, buttons, or patching a knee. If you’re not comfortable with these repairs, be diligent about checking items before purchase. (My child adores funky patches, so I don’t worry too much about worn knees on pants if they’re in otherwise good shape!)

What to look out for

Fit and quality. Look for brands and styles you are familiar with and are sure your child will feel comfortable wearing. Focus less on trendy or high-end brands and more on the ones that hold up well in the wash and fit properly. My child is tall and slender, so I tend to lean toward brands like Old Navy and The Children’s Place, which have adjustable waists. Look for sturdy fabrics, well-sewn seams, and high-quality fasteners.

Condition and maintenance. Check the condition of all items. Even if you’re comfortable doing some minor repairs, it’s important to note the condition before purchase. This includes being careful about sizing and shrinkage - have a good idea of your child’s size visually so you can assess if the item has shrunk, regardless of the labelled sizing.

Check the laundry instructions on the clothing label before buying. Some clothing, especially for older girls, can shrink or be damaged beyond repair if they are improperly laundered. No matter how cute the item is, make sure you are able and willing to wash the item properly - if that adorable dress is dry clean only and your little one always ends up wearing their food, think twice.

Fair pricing. Just because you’re purchasing second-hand does not mean the item has always been priced appropriately - especially in boutique consignment and ‘vintage’ shops. It’s a good idea to have a general idea of clothing prices from your favorite brands before you make a purchase; try not to spend more than 50 percent of standard retail on a used item. You might make exceptions for a difficult-to-find item, items that are new with the original tag, or outerwear items in excellent repair.

I often browse popular retailers online to keep up with the regular and sale prices of items I am likely to find on second-hand shopping trips. The style of pants my child wears most often regularly go on sale from the original retailer for $10 so when I shop second-hand, I aim to spend $4 to $5 on them (depending on their condition).

Know your store. Get familiar with your closest thrift stores so you know where items will be stored, the types of brands to expect, and when seasonal items will appear and clear out. You should also make sure to inquire about return or exchange programs in case items don’t fit as expected. Many stores have loyalty programs or recurring sales for even bigger savings!

Happy thrifting!

Trista is a stay-at-home mom and loves to share her discoveries about how to make life in Calgary work for families of all kinds.



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