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How to Find Quality at the Thrift Store

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

When I shop at the thrift store, and anywhere really, I look for high quality made clothing. The reason I look for quality is to ensure the lasting power of these pieces. I want clothes that will be durable, that will stand the test of time and that won’t wear out or look “worn” after one season of wear.

High quality garments take extra time, skill and attention to detail and increased material costs in order to ensure their durability. Low quality garments are generally skimping on these factors in order to save money and time. This is why, normally, high quality pieces cost much more. Thankfully, because of thrift stores, high quality items are available at much lower prices which hopefully increases their accessibility.

Sometimes, you can check the name brand of a garment and expect a certain level of quality, but that’s not always the case. Some brands make some high quality items but miss the mark with other styles (maybe an item that’s harder to get right, or a trend piece).

Price can also be an indicator of quality, but it is also not fool proof. High quality garments cost more to make, but sometimes a brands “cool-ness factor” or their even just their name and logo can drive up the price because of market demand, rather than because of the quality of their clothes.

When looking for quality at the thrift store, I go through pretty vigorous checks. You can use these tips when shopping retail too, in order to make sure your money is paying for quality and not just a name. Although these may seem like a lot to think about, it becomes second nature pretty quickly and you’ll most likely be more pleased with your purchases and have to shop less since your high quality thrifted goods are lasting longer! Here is what I look for at the thrift store to find great quality items:

Check the zippers and hardware

Usually zippers made of metal are higher quality and will last longer than plastic (which get caught and stuck pretty easily)

A perfect example of quality hardware is when I stumbled across a Louis Vuitton wallet at the thrift store. From afar, I was pretty skeptical, but the moment I picked up the piece, I knew it was quality. It had a weightiness to it, which is partially due to the heavy metal hardware. The stitching was consistent and clean, it smelt faintly of leather. And I looked for the serial number, and other design details that would authenticate it. After using the last of my data to research authentication tips (like looking at the logo, the stamps on the hardware, etc.) I’m pretty sure I found a legit one - but even if it wasn’t, the quality of the piece was well worth the $10 price tag.

Check the care label

This label is gold baby, gold. First, start off by looking at the material content. If you want a higher quality garment, prioritize high quality textiles such as cashmere, wool, cotton, linen and silk (to name a few). Items that are made of these natural fibres are generally higher quality, will last longer and are better for you to wear on your skin (helps with breathability, etc.). For more info on the quality of materials (like high quality or low quality cotton), you can check out this post by Anuschka Rees, which goes into more detail on how to assess natural fibre quality. And also - don’t be put off if there is a percentage of synthetic material in a garment (ie. lycra, spandex, rayon, modal, tencel, etc.), because designers will usually use a mix in order to enhance the fit and comfort of an item - and we all love a little stretch in our denim - right?!

Make sure to also check how you’ll be caring for this garment: the wash symbols. If you know you’re not a dry cleaner type of person, don’t bother with dry clean only items, because you most likely won’t be caring for them in the ways they’re meant to be - thus shortening their lifespan. I don’t generally do the dry cleaning shindig but I make the exception for evening dresses, coats and dress pants (items that I know won’t need to be cleaned often- mostly just once a year or at the end of a season).

Extra bonus points if you find extra buttons or clasps sewn onto this label. This generally means the garment is made to last and the brand has stocked you with the part of the garment that might wear out (ie. a button).

Look at the seams

The seams of a garment can say a lot about its quality. Look for consistent, tight stitching (the higher number of stitches per inch = the higher the quality) which will indicate that the item will hold up strongly against time.

If the garment is patterned, like striped - you can check if the pattern matches up at the seams (which shows greater attention to detail on the garment maker’s part). Look for snags, holes and signs of wear. Since these items are gently-used, there might be some of that, so make sure it is a repair that you’re able and willing to fix (or pay someone to fix). Generally, I don’t mind fixing a hole at a seam (because you won’t be able to tell where I fixed it), but if it’s in the middle of the garment or at a focal point (design detail), I’ll pass on it.

My thrifted skinny jeans are an example of lower quality stitching. Although the brand is Levis and vintage pairs are known for their long-lasting style and quality, these jeans are clearly a more modern item and the quality just isn’t top notch. As you can see, the seam on the leg is twisting to the front. This indicates poorer quality. A brand name doesn’t mean you’re getting a higher quality garment!

Check the button holes

The amount of times a garment looks to be good quality and then the garment maker slacked on the button holes is remarkable. Check to make sure they are tightly sewn, with no loose threads. Buttonholes get a lot of wear and tear since they help hold the garment together, so if these are still in mint condition at the thrift store after being previously worn - chances are the garment will last a long time.

Does it have a lining?

Some items need a lining, and others don’t. But in general, a lining in a blazer, jacket, coat, skirt or a tailored dress is a tell-tale sign of good quality and workmanship. It’s an added layer of warmth, it feels better on the skin, it ensures you don’t need a slip under the garment and it’s a detail that inexpensive low-quality garments won’t have the the time or money to spend on.

Quality clothes require quality care. So be sure to listen to the care label and care for your items correctly so they last as long as possible. You can take care of pilling on a sweater with a pilling stone and re-attach buttons as they come undone. If you’re repairing a hole, purchase a nice quality thread (not the dollar store stuff - it’ll fall apart over time). If you spend the time on these items, they’ll be sure to last a lifetime!

Do you know of any tips I’ve missed or other things you look for in quality garments at the thrift store??? Share your knowledge in the comments below!



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