Shopping right now is complicated. Where should I put my dollars? Is it safe to shop in person? Do I need new things or am I bored, stuck in quarantine, and relying on old coping skills? There’s a lot to consider, but the upside of the way things are right now (who knew there was an upside?) is that many of us have been given the opportunity to slow down and consider the way we do things and why we do them that way. We’ve been given some space to reinvent some of our patterns.
I have lots of thrifting habits and many have recently changed. With the pandemic in full swing, it felt scary at first to get out there and dig into used goods. I had to update many of my thrifting practices to feel safe. Let me offer a few pieces of advice to help make your thrifting trip as seamless and comfy as possible.
Eat and drink
Ok, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: eat a snack and drink something before you thrift. Since you’ll be masked during your thrifting trip, you won’t be able to sip anything as you peruse the aisles. You probably don’t want to eat or drink in these not-very-ventilated spaces anyway. Before you leave or on your way, drink a smoothie, eat a fig bar, or drink a tall glass of water. And be sure to use the bathroom before heading out. Some thrift stores have closed their bathrooms to the public and you don’t want to be caught needing to pee.
What to wear
Wear something that allows you to try clothes on. In compliance with COVID-19 protocols, dressing rooms in thrifts stores are currently closed. My favorite thrifting outfit is biker shorts and a big t-shirt. I can step into skirts or dresses to see if they fit and can easily try on jackets and sweatshirts over my clothes.
I’m also a big fan of socks and sandals. Before you get huffy, hear me out. I’m really pregnant and a nice sock and Birkenstock combo allows me to slip into shoes without a lot of doubling over at the waist. Personally, when trying on shoes at the thrift, I like a sock barrier. Plus, if I’m wearing a pair of freshly tie-dyed socks, I look hip, not sloppy (I hope!).
Maybe try gloves
While shopping for home goods, I might pull out a pair of gloves. Soft-sided items are difficult to shuffle through quickly with gloves on, but hard items are no problem. With gloves on, I can easily pick things up to feel the weight and quality of the item or check for a sticker or marking on the underside.
When to go
It’s good to find off-times to shop. Avoid senior days. Try to shop over your lunch break or in the early evening. I find the stores have less customers during these times. And while I’m shopping, I make sure to follow arrows, stay a full cart’s length away from fellow shoppers, and try and wait patiently if someone is shopping in an area I’d also like to shop, instead of crowding in.
A few other small tips? Bringing a big canvas bag from home instead of pushing a cart can feel less germy. I remove hangers as I shop. While waiting in line to check out, I organize my items. Most thrift stores have new procedures for checking out. Sometimes they ask that you hold up all the tags on your items to be scanned through a plexiglass shield. Having your items ready to go can reduce some stress.
Thrifting is similar to shopping of any kind
Something to keep in mind while thrifting is that COVID-19 is most readily transferred through the air. Germs don’t live long on surfaces. Shopping at the thrift store doesn’t necessarily pose any more risk than shopping at Target. So using your best judgment is key. If the bathrooms at the thrift store I’m at are open, I like to stop on my way out and give my hands a little scrub. I also keep hand sanitizer in the car. When I get home, I wash up my new items and all is clean and sparkly.
I try not to think of thrift stores as extra dirty. Thrifting is just like any shopping right now in that I want to be as safe as possible while I’m there and then careful to wash my items up when I get home.
If you don’t want to thrift in person
If shopping in-person is a bridge too far for you, I understand. There are alternatives. You might want to try Arc’s personal shopper service. This service is particularly COVID-friendly. A new client simply signs up online for a time slot and pays a small fee. You’re able to choose your personal shopper. You give your personal shopper some information about yourself. You’re able to specify what you’re looking for. (I love this part!) Perhaps you’re looking for clothes for a new job, or for the fall season, or you just had a baby and need some transitional pieces in various sizes. Your shopper does the shopping and then goes through the items they found with you via a Zoom appointment. How chill! You’re able to purchase any of the pieces for the same amount you would pay if you were shopping in person. Your shopper could even help you set up a payment plan, if you find lots of clothes you’d like to buy.
I love the germ-free nature of this kind of shopping, but there are so many other extensions. If you want to work on shopping secondhand but are overwhelmed by thrifting, this option could be perfect. This would also be great for a person with particular physical needs who struggles to navigate the crowded aisles of a thrift store. Even someone pinched for time or with a smaller span of attention would find shopping this way valuable.
Try the WWW
Another way to shop secondhand without stepping into a thrift store is via the old world wide web. Many vintage sellers have taken to Instagram, myself included. Shopping from local sellers can be doubly fun because you can avoid shipping costs and perhaps build a relationship with someone in your community that loves doing a thing you’d rather not do.
If you want to get heavy into online thrifting, you can also try your hand at sites like eBay, Etsy, Depop, or Poshmark. Each site has its own return policies and vibes. For instance, The RealReal is for luxury resale, whereas Mercari is intended to be an online flea market, selling items of all manner of quality and style. There are a lot of sites to choose from, none of them perfect, but several that are useful for specific kinds of shopping. Unfortunately, the best way to get to know them is to try them out for yourself and see how it goes. It can be a bit of a gamble, but lots of shopping methods can feel like that.
Resale sites vs. Instagram
Obviously, I’m biased, because I sell vintage on Instagram, but when I shop, I like to shop from a person. I like to see the styling of an individual. I’m able to ask questions about the item or about the seller’s process and get information straight from the source. I like to know that I’m supporting thrift stores and encouraging thrifting in general, not just the resale of fast fashion. But, I think that reselling clothes on any level is a giant step in the right direction, so I applaud any type of secondhand shopping.
With those tips in mind, I’d love to hear from you. How has your experience been with online thrifting or thrifting in person? Any particular tricks I forgot?
When not caring for her two small but weirdly strong kids, Meggie enjoys all the thrifting, teaching barre and kids’ yoga classes at Blooma Yoga, reading fiction, watching Shrill, hanging out with buds and/or her husband, and laughing at her own jokes.