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Sifting Thru Thrift: The Skinny on 2nd Hand Jeans

Part of our family’s savings strategy to allow me to stay home with the kids as a Save-At-Home-Mom is to buy second hand clothing – mostly for the kids, but more and more for myself as well.  Consignment stores in particular do an excellent job of weeding out stained, torn, smelly, or simply outdated items and I often find top brand stuff in excellent condition – sometimes new with tags on!   The sorting staff have to be paid though, and the price of consignment store clothing reflects this.  In fact, now that I’m shopping for size 6 girl and size 5 boy clothing, I’m finding that because there’s less stock (turns out bigger kids are harder on their clothes!) consignment prices are not always lower than retail if there’s a good sale price which I can combine with a coupon or perk.

Shopping for clothing at Value Village and garage sales is almost always a better deal, but takes a little more time in terms of inspecting for tears, stains, broken zippers, and missing buttons.  Thrift stores are a different shopping experience entirely, and many people are turned off by the broader range in the quality of the items that make it to the rack.  I always seem to have luck in finding high quality brand name items at my favourite haunts (props to the families who have donated them to charity), but it takes a lot more time and patience, namely because of the way these stores are often organized.

even I don’t like to take the time to touch every hanger in search of pieces that will fit

Thrift stores operate on a very different budget than consignment stores and Value Village, and their sorting and shelving is often done by volunteers.  Unfortunately the most time efficient method of sorting and shelving/hanging isn’t necesarily the most effective method from a shoppers perspective.  Thrift stores look like a rainbow when you go in … there’s a red section, and an orange section (odd that North American culture has deemed these two colours to clash despite their natural proximity in the rainbow!), and a yellow … and while adult sections are categorized into tops and bottoms and separated by gender, this is not always the case with children’s clothes.   That’s a huge age spectrum (think infant to teen), so even I, who profess to have all the time in the world to devote to saving for our family, don’t like to take the time to touch every hanger in search of pieces that will fit, not to mention suit the needs and tastes of my kids.

There’s one item that is über easy to sift through at thrift stores though: kids jeans!  They’re all blue or black, and are so easy to gauge the size by simply looking at the bottom of the hems instead of peeking inside the waistband for tags.  I found 10 pairs for the kids yesterday in a matter of minutes and they’re all in excellent condition with the all-important invisible belt button elastic thingy inside the waist band.  They include brands like The Children’s Place, Old Navy, Romeo & Juliette, Mini Ungava and Nevada, and along with a few other items that I spotted (including a brand new Gymboree dress), I paid just $28.93.

The Gymboree dress is currently for sale onE-bay for $13-$26 CDN – and comparable dresses are $36.95 on the Gymboree website.  I paid $2 for mine and I think it has never been warn.  Even if the Thrift Store hadn’t had all children’s clothing on for 50% off yesterday (a nice surprise when I went in!) I think I likely would have still bought it at $3.99.  It’s adorable!  And yes, those Children’s Place jeans, in mint condition, were only $1.50 after the discount.

Here are my quick tips for thrift store shopping:

  • have tunnel vision – be able to look past the furniture and vases and stick to what you’re looking for (unless, of course, that’s what’s on your list that day!)
  • look at the window and store displays – often the most recent styles are on display and are, of course, for sale
  • check the signs or ask the staff about which, if any, categories are on sale – there’s usually at least one or two

I realize that we won’t always be able to find good quality and brand name clothing second hand for the kids as they grow older, but for the time being, shopping at consignment, Value Village and thrift stores is savings us a tonne of money and I firmly believe that they’re better dressed because of it!  There’s no way we’d be able to afford full retail price for some of the brands that I’ve found second hand, and I actually like the fact that some of the clothes have been previously warn and laundered: no surprises about the way a ruffle will look, or how many sparkles will be missing after the first wash!