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MoneyAugust 2, 2020

How to op shop – the beginner’s guide to finding a bargain gem

a rack of multicoloured clothing
Huge amounts of clothing come fromsomewhere (Photo: Getty Images)

Buying secondhand clothing is one of the best ways to refresh a wardrobe without spending wads of money or contributing to the wasteful fast fashion industry. But there’s a fine art to finding pieces that are worth your time.

I’ve never been hunting but I imagine, in a lot of ways, it’s similar to shopping for secondhand clothing. Preparation is key because it can get wild out there. Sometimes you leave with nothing to show for a whole day’s worth of shopping, while other days you get lucky, snagging beauties wherever you look. 

Unfortunately, just the mention of a pair of pants that have already been worn-in is enough to freak some people out. The musty smell of a warehouse filled with clothing that may or may not have been washed before being thrown in the clothing bin takes some getting used to. And if you’re impatient and looking for a specific thing, chances are you’re not going to find it on your first visit.

But there’s a particular sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with finding something you’ve been looking for without resorting to buying new.

Two years ago, I almost bought a brand new pair of brown flare corduroy pants because I saw Lily McManus wearing them. I added them to my cart on about four separate occasions and then exited from the website every time, convincing myself that I didn’t need my 70s dream pants. But about a year and a half later – an hour into scouring the racks at Save Mart, New Lynn – I laid my eyes on a pair of forest green flared cord pants in my size, and knew they were mine. 

So for anyone wanting to reduce their carbon footprint, save a bit of money or simply find some unique pieces of clothing, here are some tips to make the journey into the depths of used clothing easier.

Start small

It might be tempting to dive right into one of the large warehouse op shops like Save Mart, but if you’re new to the game, it’s a lot easier to take on a smaller one. Try your local Salvation Army or Red Cross store: these stores are often much better curated without having the price tags that some of the high-end and designer op shops charge.

Take your time

If you really want to find some gems for your wardrobe, the best thing to do is to take your time. Remember: no section is off-limits. Quite often, things get put in the wrong places in an op shop – I once found a pair of unworn women’s gym leggings with tags still attached in the children’s section. So if you can be bothered, don’t be afraid to veer into unknown territory.

Stains aren’t always forever

Often clothing with stains will be heavily discounted because neither the shop workers nor the person who donated in the first place can be bothered sudsing it up with a bit of Sard. So if you find something you like but there’s something smudged on the collar, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to clean it off. 

Be open-minded

If you’re looking for a specific pair of jeans in a specific wash and cut and you need to have them right away, op shopping probably isn’t for you. But if you’re willing to compromise, chances are you’ll be able to find something to fit your needs. Sometimes it just takes a bit of looking around.

Try online

If spending hours in a musty store isn’t really your vibe, there are plenty of websites now specialising in secondhand clothing, from Trade Me to Designer Wardrobe and even Facebook Marketplace. Before you buy new, check these places first – you might find exactly what you’re after for a lot less, and in most cases, you’ll be doing a favour for the planet by not buying new.

One man’s old rugby jersey is another’s vintage staple. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and with fast fashion brands selling products for cheaper than ever before, there’s less motive than ever for people to take care of their clothing. If a $5 tee lasts more than one wear, it’s seen as a bargain despite the horrible conditions suffered by the workers who made it and the environmental toll it has on this planet It’s estimated only 12% of the textiles produced each year are given a second life through donation and secondhand clothing stores, and clothing waste accounts for 4% of all waste in New Zealand landfills.

While finding a secondhand pair of pants that sits exactly where you like on the waist for $5 is truly unique, it’s important to keep in mind that for some, thrifting isn’t a choice but a necessity. Currently, “upcycling” and “thrift-flipping” is all the rage, and it is a good way to re-use old clothing, but there are also some issues with the trend. Buying up a bunch of oversized clothes in good condition just so you can crop, hem and tailor them to fit could be taking away from someone who relies on secondhand clothes. So be mindful of those who may need a new jumper for their size 14 body before you buy all the size 14 jumpers for your size 6 frame.

And if you’re donating clothing, be mindful of the people who have to go through the bins to sort it all out. Wash everything, clean off the dirt that’s caked onto your old work boots and don’t donate things that aren’t usable – that’s not a donation, that’s just extra work for the people on the other end. 

There’s no shame in buying secondhand clothing. Trends are cyclical and many of the ones coming around in fast fashion stores now are still styles that have been sitting unloved on op shop shelves years. 

Op shopping is one of my favourite ways to spend a day and refresh my closet without spending too much money. It also makes me feel better that I’m giving old clothing another go at life and using my money to send a message to companies that supporting fast fashion is a thing of my past.

Keep going!