The Ultimate Guide to Secondhand Apparel Shopping
By Clare Gallagher
As college students during the digital age, there is a constant pressure to reinvent ourselves through our own personal style. While the rules against outfitting repeating in your Instagram posts are unwritten, there is still a voice in the back of our minds that warns us against it. My voice happens to take the form of Kate from The Lizzie McGuire Movie taunting, “Lizzie McGuire is an outfit repeater,” but most of us experience this phenomenon, albeit slightly differently.
Between social events returning in-person and our ever-shrinking budgets, it's no surprise to see Shein packages piling up in your apartment’s package room. While the average college student is aware of the environmental detriment caused by Shein and other fast-fashion brands, they lack the funds to style their social calendars with outfits from Everlane or Reformation. It's no secret that sustainability comes at a higher price tag.
Still, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that, “the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions,” which is more than, “all international flights and maritime shipping combined” (UNEP, 2018). Additionally, the World Resources Institute states that, “about 20 percent of industrial water pollution is due to garment manufacturing” (WRI, 2017). So how can college students alleviate this problem when they can’t afford sustainable brands? The solution is in secondhand apparel shopping.
Shopping second hand has many more options than simply hitting up your local Goodwill. While traditional thrift stores are a great option, consignment retailers and even online options exist as well. Each has their pros and cons, and their own areas where they shine. And most importantly, there are plenty of options in the College Park area. Each second hand apparel option is affordable, accessible, and a great way to reduce the rapid resource consumption in the fashion industry through repurposing old pieces, while still making sure you can create new outfits as you please.
Beginning with the only type of thrifting you can do from the comfort of your own bed, which makes it my personal favorite, online resale shops. There are plenty of options, the most well-known being Poshmark, Mercari, and Depop, but Depop happens to be my go-to. I have both bought and sold items on Depop for a little over a year now. In terms of selling, items that make the most profit are name-brand, especially designer, pieces in good condition. My first big sale was a Tiffany & Co necklace I didn’t wear much anymore; however, pieces that aren’t necessarily designer but are in good condition can still make you a little extra cash. I recommend name-brands like Princess Polly, Urban Outfitters, Lululemon, Zara, etc. What I find sells best are items that are trendy and reasonably priced. I will typically price things between $10-20 depending on the item, brand, and condition. These can be accessories, shirts, dresses, skirts, sweat-sets, and college-specific apparel. In terms of what doesn’t sell well, I find jeans and shoes difficult to sell online because people prefer to try them on in-person. Other tips are to offer free shipping and use direct-messages to communicate with potential buyers.
As for buying on Depop, it's important to pick items that include a long description, have pictures from multiple angles, and vet the seller’s page before purchasing. As much as I love Depop, scams do sometimes occur, so ways to avoid that are to check out the seller’s page and see how active they are, what their reviews say, and how fast they typically take to ship out items. You can also message them to see what their specific policies are regarding returns or exchanges. Again, checking out the pictures and description will give you a better idea of what condition the item is in and how it is supposed to fit. I recommend purchasing from Depop when you have something specific in mind, personally I have been scouring the app for a pair of cowboy boots recently, or when you are looking for a name brand. I find it easiest to have specific search terms when looking for pieces. My last tip is to look for college or team apparel using the app, I know for a fact there are a lot of University of Maryland options available.
Moving on to consignment shops, Uptown Cheapskate is located less than five minutes away from University of Maryland’s campus. Consignment differs from a regular thrift store because they pick and choose what they want to buy for their customers. Which makes their items slightly more expensive than a Salvation Army, but still cheaper than other fast-fashion brands and they offer a more curated selection. I have both bought and sold items from Uptown Cheapskate for almost three years now.
Like Depop, when selling, they tend to pick items that are trendy and name brands, but a key aspect when selling to Uptown is making sure your items are seasonally-appropriate. They tend to stick to warm-weather clothes in the spring and summer, and cold-weather clothing in the fall and winter. Another difference is jeans and shoes in particular sell really well at Uptown because customers have the option of trying things on. My biggest tip for selling to a consignment retailer is waiting until you have a huge basket of stuff to drop off due to the fact that the consignment shop needs to make a profit as well, so you typically earn less per item than on Depop. However, because you are selling a bunch of items at once you make more money instantly than slowly dispersed over a few months.
When buying pieces at Uptown I recommend looking for things you need to try on. Jeans, shoes, skirts, dresses etc. are much easier to decide on in person vs. online. They also organize their clothes by size, which eliminates the hassle of spending hours searching for your size on a resale website. Another bonus of Uptown being located so close to UMD is that they are buying most of their selection from other college students. So it is easy to find trendy clothes that are popular in the late-teens to early-twenties age range. Buying at Uptown is great when you need an outfit fast but aren’t sure if you will wear it many times, like a last-minute Halloween costume.
Finally, we have the classic thrift store. While Goodwill and Salvation Army are well-known chains across the country, I’m a big fan of Value Village and Unique, two thrift stores that are a short drive from College Park. While you don’t make a profit donating to traditional thrift stores, it's a great way to both give back and make sure your old clothes don’t end up in a landfill. Here anything goes, just make sure it's wearable. In terms of shopping, be prepared to do a lot more digging than with the first two options. Your best finds are going to be hidden gems, and it may take a while, so definitely don’t go when you are tired or hungry. Some go-to’s at thrift stores for me are oversized flannels or funky graphic tees. But part of the fun is never knowing what you are going to find, so my biggest tip is going in with as few expectations as possible.
Between online resale shops, consignment retailers, and regular thrift stores there are plenty of affordable options for college students to curate both a trendy and a sustainable wardrobe. So we can look cute while doing our part to reduce resource consumption and textile waste.