But I realize not everyone has the same access to excellent local thrift resources. After shopping a few Goodwills in different neighborhoods, I've come to realize that I live near an unusually excellent Goodwill. Some of my finds there (100% cashmere sweaters, Brooks Brothers shirts, 100% silk shells) would be unheard of at other locations. Besides that, it's just a really big, well-laid-out location with a ton of turnover from local yuppies with good taste and a community-minded, pro-donation spirit. When I get sick of Goodwill, there is a second very good thrift store just down the street, plus a higher-end vintage/consignment store walking distance from my work. I'm unusually well provided for with high-quality thrift stores, and that is undoubtedly why I am able to shop there with so much success. But if I ever say something like, "Only fools would shop at new clothes stores," slap me, because most people don't have so much excellent thrift access.
So what do you do if you live in a thrift store desert? Shop online, of course. Here are my top three sites for buying used clothes online.
Audience: Any and all. eBay is a huge site, and you can find just about everything (though it may not be the best for niche items). Sellers are located worldwide and many ship internationally; use filters to limit your results to those that ship to your area.
Price Point: Varies. There are so many sellers and buyers on eBay that it can be tough to find a true deal (an item priced below its market rate), but since clothing taste is so individual, you can still find things where the value to you is higher than the value to others.
Shipping: Varies by listing. Generally you are not going to be able bundle shipping since most of the time, you will be buying one item from each seller. You can usually bundle in the rare cases that you find two items you want from the same seller.
Return Policy: Varies by seller, so check those policies.
To my mind, the biggest downside to shopping eBay, and online used & swap sites in general, can be the lack of a comprehensive return policy. When you can't see something in person first, it's difficult to justify spending irreversible money on it. For clothes and shoes, it's especially important to be able to try things on before fully committing. For this reason, used online shopping is best for specific situations:
- The items are so cheap that you can afford to gamble that amount of money.
- You are seeking out near-new versions of specific brands/models you've already fully vetted (e.g. replacing something you already had, or getting the same shirt you already love but in more colors).
- You are willing to become a seller on the site and go to the trouble of reselling items yourself. (Be honest. And don't necessarily expect to sell it for the same price you paid.)
eBay Buying Tips
- Read the description carefully for any defects or dealbreakers, especially on items where the pricing seems too good to be true. Before forking over your cash, make sure you fully understand the size, color, style, and condition of the item. You can always ask a question of the seller if the description is unclear.
- Scan the seller ratings to see if other users have had trouble with them in the past.
- A reverse image search can be a useful check to make sure the seller hasn't stolen the image from somewhere else. (Sellers of new, brand-name items may legitimately use the catalog image if they're selling the exact same model, but knockoff sellers will often post images of the item they're trying to approximate, not the actual thing they're selling.)
- Search returned too many results? Filter, filter, filter! You can filter by size (after choosing the item type), color, material, and tons of other options. Click "see more" first if you want to select multiple options (e.g. see items in medium AND large). I usually click the "preowned" checkbox to see only used clothes (I prefer used for environmental reasons, but it also filters out those cut-rate knockoff products from giant manufacturers.)
- Not ready to buy (or bid)? Add the item to your "watch list," and eBay will email you when time is about to run out.
- Didn't find anything, but crafted the perfect search? Click "Follow this search" to receive email updates when new items are listed matching the search parameters. Shopping eBay can often be a long game.
If I were to imagine how a used clothing exchange site works, I'd probably imagine Poshmark. Every user has their own little individual "store." Items are listed for flat prices. Social media aspects of the site encourage communication between buyers and sellers.
Audience: Sellers skew young and options are almost exclusively women's clothes (there's some men's stuff but you have to dig). My experience has been that Poshmark is best for casual clothes (T-shirts, flannels, jeans, etc.) All sellers are in the U.S. and only ship to the U.S.
Price Point: Prices are usually quite low, often because the items are not all that expensive new! You can easily find a T-shirt for $5.
Shipping: A flat $5.95 per order. As with eBay, individuals are listing the items and shipping from their homes, so most of the time you will only want to buy one item per order. If you do want multiple things from the same seller, use the "bundle" button (instead of the "buy" button) to create a combined cart, for which you will be charged only one shipping fee (as long as the total weight is under 5 lbs). Return Policy: All sales are final on Poshmark (except for cases of seller misrepresentation). So only buy what you can afford to write off as a noble experiment.
Poshmark Buying Tips
- There's no button to shop by color, but if you include a color word in your search ("green t-shirt"), the result set usually represents the color well. I think there must be an algorithm to match synonyms their parent color name, since I get about the same results searching for "green" and "lime." This can be good since it returns more results, but frustrating if you are searching for an exact shade.
- Make sure you scroll through all the photos. The first photo is much more prominent, but the seller can upload several, and the later photos can include key information, such as close-ups of labels and any defects.
- Not sure you want to buy? Most listings seem not to move too quickly, so you can favorite things and think about it. You can also make offers and see if the seller is willing to sell for less than their asking price.
Where Poshmark is city-states, ThredUp is a centralized government. Potential sellers order a "closet cleaning kit" and ship packages of clothing to ThredUp's headquarters, where each item is examined, processed, and listed (if in good enough condition). Only certain brands are accepted. Because of this vetting process, you can be sure that the items are high-quality: brand-name items that range from mildly imperfect to like-new.
Audience: ThredUp is like Poshmark's big sister. The clothing style skews older and more professional. I use it to find work clothes. It's also supposed to be pretty good for children's clothes. Men's clothes are in evidence, but the site is pretty clearly marketed to women.
Price Point: Vary. You can find extreme deals (pants that retailed for $150 being sold for $15), and moderate deals (blazer that retailed for $250 being sold for $175). Still, because most of the clothes are in like-new condition, the higher-cost things can still be worth it if they are things you might have bought new anyhow.
Shipping: A flat $5.99 for your entire order, free over $79, and free if you are a member of "ThredUp Everyday" (you have to spend a certain amount to qualify so this is probably belt & suspenders). Because the items all ship from the same location, you can create a giant order with no problem, and only get charged shipping once (if at all). Return Policy: ThredUp items are returnable (unless marked Final Sale), This enables you to do the thing where you order a bunch of similar-seeming things and return most of them. I love this thing. (You do have to eat return shipping, unless, again, you are a member of ThredUp Everyday.)
ThredUp Buying Tips
- Churn seems to be higher on this site than on Poshmark or even eBay, so it's quite possible to examine an item one day and not be able to find it the next (presumably someone else has bought it!) I think this is why there is no ability to "favorite" items. You just buy or you don't. Additionally, I must warn you that your carefully crafted cart is going to expire within 24 hours. For these reasons, it is crucial only to shop ThredUp when you are ready to make an order. There's none of that leisurely perusing you get on retail sites or even on Poshmark (where things take awhile to sell). Spend your thinking & dreaming stage making a specific list of the type of things you want, then go find those items when you are ready to make a purchase.
- Listings consistently include a lot of information that I really appreciate, including a verbal description of the condition, style, color, size (including inseam), and materials of both the shell and lining. But it's not possible to use all of these things as search parameters. There are searches for size and color, but not material or inseam. This can make it kind of slog to find things matching your exacting specifications. I typically open about 20 listings in new tabs only to instantly close those that are polyester or have the wrong inseam.
- ThredUp often offers deals and coupon codes for first-time buyers; I got 40% off my first order, so you can bet I bought a ton of stuff in that order! They also offer "give $10 get $10" type referral bonuses, so it can be a considerate thing to ask if any of your friends want to refer you or scan the Internet for a referral link before you make your first purchase. (For example, here's my referral link -- not that you have to use it!)
More Options (I've Not Tried)
- Goodwill Online is an ancient-looking auction site, similar to eBay. The sellers are all Goodwill branch stores across the country, and the goods are items that have been donated. I like the idea of this, but I don't have any tips for you, since, so far, I have yet to win anything on the site. I'm always outbid almost immediately. Despite its 1997-looking interface, it seems like it's a very popular platform.
- Swap.com has a model very similar to ThredUp, though the target audience seems to be more frugal families: there's a lot of very inexpensive, ordinary/casual clothes and kids/family stuff, including a toy section. The search options are extensive and dynamic, but despite all of that power, I just couldn't find anything I wanted on here.
- TheRealReal also has a centralized model, but its focus is specifically on high-end consignment and it can be hard to find a deal on here. I mean I guess it's a deal to get used Stella McCartney pants for $145, but I'll stick to getting used J. Crew for $45.
- Versitiaire Collective, similarly, boasts "pre-owned luxury fashion" and I just don't have the budget.
- Tradesy has a centralized model too, but with a "closets" component that allows individual stores or sellers to have their own special boutiques. It seems to skew higher-end, but has a number of affordable options. Window-shopping there, I saw a lot of intriguing options, but its policy of offering returns only for site credit makes me gunshy. I'd rather buy a bunch of things at once and return them for real money, rather than do a drawn-out process of try one thing, return for credit, try the next thing, etc. Another frustration is that the search is overly generous; I searched for "merino pants" and it returned, in no particular order, all merino items, all pants, and all items from a brand called Merona which I guess it figured sounded close enough.
- The Attic has relatively small stock and seems designed to cater to a sort of bohemian, vintage-y aesthetic; it's easier to find a quirky dress on here than a T-shirt. It's like the ModCloth of used clothes sites. Limited search options make me feel like I'm always missing something.
The more I thrift online, the more I appreciate thrifting in person. Online options give you way more stock than you could ever find in a single store, which is great if you're looking for something fairly specific. Name brands are also easier to search and find online. But pictures just cannot give you enough information for clothes shopping. You can't feel the material, or try on the item, or see the color. In an in-person store, I pass up a lot of items I might consider if I only saw a picture; and I pass up still more items after trying them. These are items I'm apt to buy from online secondhand stores, so I need to be very careful about buying from stores with return policies (like ThredUp), or "gambling" with small amounts on money on stores that don't (like Poshmark).
I could always try to re-sell the items I don't want, but in my experience, that doesn't turn out to be a great moneymaker for low-value items. With that said, this article does beg for a follow-up: How to Sell Your Clothes Online!