Got $20 in my pocket…getting organized for thrift or consignment shopping.


Liz Jenkins


Recently I attended the NAPO National Conference which was pretty awesome. But one thing threw me off: business casual clothing. It’s not really my thing. But being on the Conference Committee, I kind of needed to up my wardrobe game in that department. I love clothes and shoes but didn’t really have enough to pull off a week at a conference. So I did my favorite thing: hit the consignment sales, consignment stores and the thrift shop down the road.

Our Thrift Store
Our Thrift Store

Interestingly, considering 80% of my wardrobe comes from these places, I get a ton of compliments on my apparel. I had a conversation with a friend at the conference about this which led to this post. She had complimented me on my Paige denim, my funky embroidered blazer, wrap silk top and Cole Haan pumps. Retail on all this? About $750 not including tax. What I paid at consignment? $118 plus $10 to hem the pants. All the pieces were in mint or near mint condition (the shoes looked like they’d been worn once and the pants still had tags), were in style and worked with other things I had in my closet.

Now I grew up in a thrifting/flea market/rummage sale household. Some of my favorite memories with my mom are us shopping this way together. We can wander forever, and still do whenever I visit. So I come by this honestly…thanks, Mom!

Shopping thrift and consignment can be a ton of fun if you know what you are doing, plus it’s great for those among us that love to repurpose/re-use/recycle. Not to mention the savings!

So forthwith (great word, hmm?), here are my consignment/thrift shop ‘rules’:

1. Know your closet. If you don’t know what you have, don’t go shopping. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work with your current wardrobe or repeats things you already own. Like black tops. Before you embark on a shopping trip (of any kind), clear out and organize your closet. (Yes, I can help with this).

2. Know your style. Have a sense of what you like and what works with your lifestyle. Personally I have a few ‘looks’ I wear regularly. Work clothes, workout/lounging/gardening clothes, and my ‘suburban mom’ apparel. Plus some fun outfits for dinners out with the hubby or the girls. Knowing this, I can pinpoint what I actually need, not a spur of the moment ‘deal’. Though sometimes those are the most fun (see rule #4).

3. Know your brands. I know that certain brands not only look good on me, but have the quality to hold up over time. J. Crew and Banana Republic tops are store brands that I personally look for because I know how they fit. I know the labels of jeans and jackets that I like and that fit well. If I don’t recognize a brand and I love the look…this is what your smart phone is for.

IMG_00234. Bring your smartphone! A few months back, I was at the local thrift store and I saw the cutest purse ever. It was a dark eggplant with fringes and a cool striped lining. Soft leather. I didn’t really need a purse but for some reason it called to me. Didn’t recognize the brand (Hogan) so I whipped out my iphone and found it. Woah. These bags retail in the $300-500 range. Thrift store price: $40. Yes, I got it. Use it all the time. And get compliments every time. Plus it is adorable. Using your phone can help you decide if something is a great deal or if you are better off passing.

5. Know your level of tolerance. By this I mean, what condition of items are you willing to accept? If a seam is ripped or a button missing, will you really and truly fix it or will it sit in the ‘repair bin’? If it has a small snag in the fabric, will that annoy you and you will never wear it, or can you let that slide? Be honest with yourself. If you only want perfection, only buy perfection. Don’t settle and then end up with unworn clutter. Also, know what you are willing or not willing to wear used. My level of tolerance is higher at consignment than thrift, usually due to condition but I personally am not comfortable with undergarments or swimsuits anywhere, nor do I usually generally buy shoes at thrift stores since I usually don’t wear socks and it just feels icky to put my feet in someone else’s shoes if they don’t seem nearly new. These are just my quirks – you’ll figure out your own as you shop!

6. Know your shops and sales. I have certain shops and sales I love around my town. I’ve visited them numerous times, I use facebook and email to keep up with the seasonal sales, and I know the staff (mostly because I drop off so many client items!). I pay attention to when they put out new merchandise, try to hit the first day and the last/half price day of the seasonal sales, and am mindful about what kinds of things certain shops/sales specialize in. If you get to know the staff at consignment stores and have a particular item you are dying to get, often they have waiting lists you can get on to get first dibs. If you work at a consignment sale, you get first shot at the merchandise. But also, if you are traveling, check out shops in other towns. Whenever I visit my sister-in-law in the DC area, we always hit the consignment shops she knows and I’ve had so much fun there seeing different kinds of merchandise.

7. Know the retail. By knowing the general retail value of the items you are looking for, you’ll have a sense of whether something is a good deal or not. I recently picked up a lightweight J. Crew cardigan for spring at Plato’s Closet (was there getting shorts for my daughter). Knowing J. Crew the way I do, I figure the retail was somewhere around $65-80. Consignment price? $12.99. Good deal? Yes. Especially because I actually needed a lightweight neutral drapey cardigan.

8. Know that you need to try everything on if you can. Many places do not offer returns so if it doesn’t fit, you are out of luck. When I shop these kinds of stores or sales, I wear slip on shoes, lightweight layered clothes and things that are easy to get on and off. Sometimes you need to try on things in the aisle of the sale because no dressing rooms are available.

*bonus tip: If, after you try things on, they are marvelous except for something like a pair of pants being too long or sleeves that need to be shortened…know a good tailor. I use Lee’s Alterations here in Franklin. A good tailor can make something all your own – and may be the reason someone got rid of something lovely – it just didn’t fit them. Their loss is your gain.

9. Know that you should inspect everything carefully. As in #8, often no returns. I check the seams, the buttons, and the hems. I bring things over to the light near a window and look for staining especially at the armpits, the neck and the front chest area where spaghetti sauce often lands. With shoes, check the soles, heels and toes. Look for snags, pilling or stretching. Stick a little flashlight in your bag. This is more important at thrift stores because most reputable consignment stores won’t take merchandise that has these issues but even the best can sometimes let things slip through.

10. Know that it should be fun! I love shopping consignment and thrift because you just never know what you will find. If you go with clear ideas of what you are looking for but are open to the possibilities of a great find, it can be a blast. Going with a like minded friend can make it even more enjoyable. But if this sounds like your idea of torture…don’t do it! You don’t need to stress yourself out trying to shop this way if you don’t like it.

I am forever amazed at what I find at thrift and consignment stores. And the seasonal sales can be pretty amazing as well. Some of the stores I shop in our area include:

  • Our Thrift Store 
  • Graceworks
  • My Sisters Closet
  • Designer Renaissance
  • Repeat Boutique
  • Plato’s Closet (great for teens and young adults though I’ve found some pretty nice stuff for me when taking my daughter shopping)

Some of my favorite sales:

  • Claire’s Closet (small, high end – I usually find really nice things here like those Paige jeans I got)
  • Encores and More (this one has become so huge and crazy that I usually don’t go at the beginning-and no place to try on)

There are a ton more, especially for kids. I’ll post my top ten list for shopping kids consignment sales soon but check out my post on how to consign at these sales HERE!.

I’d love to hear your tips and fave places as well!