The Fine Art of Second-Hand Shopping: Tips From the Pros

Not only do second-hand stores offer to help your closet-cleaning cause and earn dollars in the process, but they are also full of fabulous clothes that you may never be able to afford new.
The Fine Art of Second-Hand Shopping: Tips From the Pros

A city of sky-high living expenses, a culture that now values minimalism, and the rise of sustainable fashion has made Toronto’s second-hand stores more popular than ever.

Not only do they offer a no-fail way to help your closet-cleaning cause and earn dollars in the process, but they are also full of fabulous gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories that you may never be able to afford new. Some items – like timeless designer purses – may actually age like a fine wine.

There are a variety of both bricks and mortar and online resale stores in Toronto. Like any shopping experience, there are a few tips that the savvy consignment store shopper has picked up along the way. 

Window Shop the Designer Racks

Know your labels to get familiar with price points,” said Kary Dick, owner of Second Nature Boutique, a longtime secondhand spot on Mt. Pleasant Rd. in North Toronto. “Take a stroll through the higher end stores like Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom and check out some of the imported designer brands. With that knowledge, you will be able to identify the quality pieces.” She also suggests checking out fashions that appeal to you on social media and Pinterest to give you a focus as to what to look for, as some second-hand stores can be overwhelming.

Self-Serve is More Fun

You can definitely score some awesome finds online – and most standalone consignment stores have online retail features – but in person is more fun, as you physically stumble upon all the amazing preloved finds you never knew you needed in your life. “The advantage of a boutique-style store is the personal service and education of the history of some pieces,” says Dick.

Pay Attention to Detail

Make sure you give yourself enough time during the shopping experience to pay attention to the details of the item. Look at inner tags of garment; notice where it was made and fabric content,” said Dick. “Anything item made in Europe is worth trying on. Fabrics like silk, cashmere, and cotton have a nice feel on the body.”

Come Ready to Hit the Change Room

In addition to allowing enough time to notice those details, give yourself enough time to try things on. It’s good to have an idea of what you’re looking for and be ready to try pieces on,” says Britt Rawlinson, owner of VSP Consignment, a contemporary consignment boutique in the city’s Dundas West neighbourhood. “Designers vary with fit, so what may not be marked as your size might end up fitting you perfectly.”

Check Out All Levels of Boutiques

There are affordable hidden gems throughout most boutiques. “Sometimes the higher end stores have wonderful sales; you can really score when stores get full and want to clear out,” says Dick. “In our store, we have a permanent lower level with items reduced daily, up to 70 per cent off. You can find Dianne von Furstenberg, Theory, Rag and Bone, Marlowe, Marni, Oak & Fort, Mackage, to name a few.”

Know Your Market

When it comes to selling your designer duds at consignment stores, do your research first to understand the criteria of what the store is taking to avoid wasting your time after you’ve gone through the trouble of cleaning out your closet. “Make sure to check with the store of your choice to see what season they’re accepting for and what styles are popular,” says Rawlinson. Dick echoes the sentiment. “Some items may not work in one store – menswear, kids, bridal, vintage, current etc. – but would be suitable for another,’ she says.

Prepare It As You’d Want to Purchase It

Say goodbye to former closet items when they are in good condition. “Successful items are in great condition and are relatively contemporary,” says Rawlinson. “Make sure all pieces have been cleaned, with all buttons and zippers intact, and with the pockets cleaned out. If you’re selling a designer handbag, include the protective bag it came in.” Presenting the items on crease-free and on hangers also makes the lives of consignment store owners easier.

The good news for resale lovers is that business is booming, thanks to a new way of shopping that is being instilled in our society; recycling clothing keeps it out of landfills. “Our clients are much more aware of the life-cycle of clothing and love the thrill of finding a coveted piece that they are able to work into their current wardrobe,” says Rawlinson.

Consumers have moved away from fast fashion and now seek smaller, better curated, and subsequently smaller wardrobes. “As much as there are fun pieces in the lower-end stores, they are called ‘disposable’ clothing; meaning style and quality does not necessarily last, but are fun for a temporary trend,” says Dick. “With today’s smaller living spaces and lifestyle budgets, focusing on buying less but quality pieces that will last makes the most sense; why wouldn’t you shop this way? Over time, our society has many avenues to keep clothing out of our landfills and make it acceptable to recycle. We donate approximately three to four bags per week to charity, weighing five pounds each. Over the past 44 years of business, we have kept approx. 34,408 pounds out of our landfills.”

Do you know any other second-hand shopping tips? Let us know in the comment section.