5 Things NOT To Buy From A Secondhand Store

You'll be so much happier with your finds if you avoid certain thrift-shopping pitfalls.
Publish date:
September 22, 2014
shopping, thrift stores, used clothing, How-To

For many people, thrift shopping is overwhelming. The moment they walk in, there’s a deer-in-the-headlights moment: What do I do now?

The best advice I can give if you’re starting out in the secondhand life is telling you what not to buy when you’re at the thrift shop (cue annoying Macklemore song inevitably stuck in your head).


This goes without saying, but even stores that do an excellent job of cleaning everything should really not be selling undergarments secondhand (unless they are still in the package or with original tags).

Besides the obvious yuck-factor of underwear and lingerie, bras get stretched out so they no longer do their job well. The same thing goes for shapewear. You’re better off buying new, without exception.

Base Layers

The perfect white or black tee. A crisp button-up shirt. A long layering tank. While you might get lucky and find one of these pieces on a thrift adventure, it's probably be best to buy these things new. If it’s a piece you plan on wearing frequently and as the base for many outfits, you want something that isn’t already worn out.

Secondhand shirts are great, but save your money for the special ones: cute vintage plaid shirts, quirky tees or bold printed tunics that will add something a little special to your wardrobe.


Any good runner knows that you need to replace your shoes every six months or so if you’ve been hitting the pavement with any regularity. The soles get worn out and pose an injury risk at a certain point.

You can find decent secondhand sneakers at a thrift store (I have three pairs of Converse, for example), but for actual exercise, don’t risk injury on a used pair of shoes -- unless they look brand new. (And some days, you might get lucky and find new stuff at the thrift: this is the thrill of the hunt!)

Certain Fabrics

There’s a reason cotton is fondly advertised as the fabric of our lives. It’s soft, it’s breathable, it’s natural, it lasts. Before the age of synthetic materials (the dawn of polyester), women’s clothes were often made in silk and rayon. Forty or fifty years later, many of these pieces are still holding up (unlike the blouse you bought last year at a certain trendy mall store).

As for polyester, it holds up fairly well, but often it’s heavy and/or itchy. Buy polyester if it doesn’t make you feel like you have a rash, or if it’s an amazing vintage print you can’t pass up. Otherwise, leave it on the rack for someone less fortunate who has not had the pleasure of reading this article.

Flawed Pieces

Sometimes flaws can add a little bit of charm to a piece of clothing, like perfectly distressed jeans or a faded T-shirt, but some flaws can render a piece unwearable. When you’re picking up clothes, be sure to look out for holes, broken zippers, missing buttons, undone seams, and stains.

And don’t forget to do the sniff-test. While you might be able to get out a little perfume that the last owner left, things like cigarette smoke or musty mildew can be tough to remove.

Have you ever “disobeyed” any of these rules but been happily surprised with the outcome? Share your other thrifting rules with me!