Thrifty fashion

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

A pair of rustic cowboy boots. A flowered spring frock. A designer purse.

One can find unique items at great prices at secondhand stores.

"In this economy, people are learning to recycle," said Christine Meyer, an employee at Saks Thrift Avenue, a consignment store in Casper. "We are just trading clothes, like we did in high school with our girlfriends."

Consignment stores sell items for other people, who are paid after the items have been sold. Thrift stores, on the other hand, sell items that have been donated and profits sometimes go to charity.

Saks Thrift Avenue stocks name brand and designer labels in women's clothing of all sizes and styles. Vicki Swenson, of Gillette, shops in Saks Thrift Avenue about once a month.

"It makes you feel good that you're not wasting your money," she said.

Saving money makes sense when it comes to one-time wear garments, such as formal wear, or when purchasing a large quantity of clothing at once for a warm-weather vacation. Women who are losing weight also benefit from shopping at secondhand stores, because it's an affordable way to size-down their wardrobes as the weight comes off.

Name-brand clothing -- some of which is not available locally -- can also be found in secondhand stores. Sometimes, a garment has only been worn once or twice before it finds its way to the salesroom floor and others still have tags.

"Ninety-five percent of it is good-quality stuff and it's in good shape," said Darlene Langley, after making a purchase at the Salvation Army store in Casper.

She and her daughter, Tina Norris, both of Casper, are frequent secondhand store shoppers. In the summer, they make weekly trips to their favorite spots to see what's new. They might find a blouse, a collectable bear, a home decor piece to refurbish or even kitchen appliances. On other days, they go home empty handed.

"We would rather be shopping here than at the mall or something, not just because of the prices, but because of the things we find," Norris said.

A quest for unique items at a fair price also draws Sarah Boomgarden, 26, of Casper to secondhand stores. Both a donor and a shopper, Boomgarden uses Pinterest to get creative ideas for craft projects and home decor.

"You never know what odd, fun items you'll get," she said.

As far as fashion goes, the low prices allow her to try more adventurous styles. If a garment doesn't fit in her wardrobe, she can always donate it back and try something new.

Here are some tips for secondhand shopping:

Bring cash.

Some secondhand stores don't accept checks, debit or credit. Either carry cash or call ahead to find out what form of payment is accepted.

Have a goal.

Some secondhand stores are so jam-packed with clothing, housewares, sporting goods and more, that it could take a whole day to browse through the merchandise.

"It can be overwhelming to go in," said Sarah Boomgarden, a Casper thrift-shopper.

She recommends starting out with one goal in mind. You can always hit up another department on your next trip.

Bring a friend.

Browsing racks goes faster with a little help and good conversation from a friend. It never hurts to hear an honest opinion when trying on clothes, either.

Vicki Swenson, of Gillette, suggests going out to lunch and making a day of it.

Be patient.

Give yourself plenty of time to search the racks.

"Go at a time when you can spend your time and enjoy what you're doing," Swenson said. "You can find really nice things if you take the time to look."

Try it on.

There's no use in buying something that doesn't fit, even if it is cheap.

Shop frequently.

Secondhand stores are constantly adding items to their sales floors. Ask when sales take place and when new items are stocked.

Shop at the end of the season.

At the end of the season, people clean out their closets and make donations and stores clear space for the next season's fashions. There are often great savings to be had at this time, said Jackie Wagner, manager of Rescued Treasures in Casper.


It's OK to negotiate prices, Wagner said.

"It's a thrift store, we like to wheel and deal," she said.

Some stores may not have negotiable prices, but it's worth trying.

Be creative.

Imagine how you can use the item at home.

"Look beyond the chair in front of you," said Tina Norris, of Casper.

It might be a perfect fit for your home if it were repainted, she said.

Basic sewing skills go a long way, too, added her mother Darlene Langley. Adjust the look or fit of a garment with simple alterations.

"You don't need a sewing machine," Langley said.

Inspect it.

Garments usually undergo careful inspections before they make it onto the racks, but it's wise to give it a second look. Check for stains and tears, examine the seams for loose threads and test buttons and zippers before making a purchase.

Don't wait.

If you see something that fits your needs, buy it.

"If you snooze, you lose," said Jackie Skurok, manager of the Salvation Army store in Casper.

Each item is one-of-a-kind, and it's unlikely that the store will get another.