Thrift shopping is something I have been doing since high school when grunge was in and old cords and grandpa cardigans were The Look. I carried this habit through university and the (sometimes very) lean years between then and now to save money. These days, I still look for secondhand first for so many other reasons.
Anything you could ever want or need has probably already been made, and chances are you can find it with a little patience and resourcefulness. We live in a throw away society and thrift stores often receive far more goods than they can reasonably sell. Choosing a used item keeps perfectly good materials in use and out of the landfill, without contributing to exploitative labour practices and overconsumption. When it comes to clothing, especially children’s clothing, I have had folks say to to me that “…it isn’t that much cheaper than Fast Fashion Retailer X” but that isn’t entirely the point. The true cost of a garment goes far beyond the price tag. It is important to me to teach my kids mindful consumption habits, and how we shop for their clothing is part of this.
We have two kids and employ a hand-me-down system for everything but underwear and exploded socks, but inevitably the older one does need bigger clothes. To the thrift store we go! I highly suggest taking your kids with you to teach them the benefits of shopping secondhand, how to manage their expectations, and getting them hooked on the thrill of the find! When they are old enough, you can also teach them budgeting by having them bring some of their own money to spend on whatever they want. Thrift stores are also great for toys , games, puzzles, books, craft supplies, etc.
- Get to know the thrift and consignment stores in your area – what each specializes in, average pricing, sale days, etc. I find the quality better overall at consignment shops with the pricing comparable to charity shops.
- Don’t focus on brands (other than which ones tend to fit better) but focus on the quality of each item.
- Keep a “too small” bin in their closet with clothes to donate, swap, or sell.
- Honour what colours and styles your kids actually like and wear.
- Keep a master list in your phone including:
- upcoming needs
- wanted items (i.e. my sons love soccer jerseys)
- current sizes in pants, shirts, coats, and shoes
- current inseam, waist, and sleeve measurements
- Prepare your items to donate or sell to bring with you.
- Go often. Sometimes you strike out, sometimes you strike gold.
- Beware of sizes! As with women’s clothing, fit specs are not universal. Also keep in mind that used clothes have been washed and dried many times, altering their size and fit.
- Bring a tape measure with you to compare with the measurements in your list.
- Consider the versatility of piece. Can it be layered? Does it look like other items they prefer?
- Only buy what is needed! Six pairs of jeans isn’t a deal if they only need two.
- Look for off season (especially winter) items right at the end of season, when folks are clearing out their “too small” bins.
- Inspect items to make sure they are in good shape including zippers, buttons, seams, front and back for stains, and the biggest problem – worn out knees!
Places to Shop or Source Secondhand Kids Clothing
- Friends and family
- FB Marketplace, Buy Nothing, or Mom2Mom groups
- Speciality chains such as Once Upon a Child and Boomerangs Kids
- Charity/thrift shops
- Online retailers such as ThredUp or Kidizen
- Consider hosting a clothing swap for kids at their school as a fundraising initiative!
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of tips and I would love to get your input in the comments! Children’s clothing is a substantial portion of the overall fast fashion market, but I don’t often see it mentioned specifically by sustainable fashion influencers (and please suggest any that you know!). It is something that needs both attention and action. Shopping secondhand first is how our family is currently able to address this issue according to our circumstances.
How do you typically shop for (kids) clothing?
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