Shopping Secondhand: Thrift Stores Vs. Consignment Shops

Posted January 16, 2012 by in Fashion/ Shopping
woman thrifting

Chances are, if you’re on this website, you’re interested in looking fabulous for less. One of the best ways you can cut down on how much you spend on your wardrobe is by purchasing secondhand clothing. Whether the clothes come from a consignment shop or a thrift store, as long as you feel great in them, it doesn’t matter that they’re used. In fact, I consider buying secondhand to be a form of recycling. And who doesn’t love to recycle?

If you’re considering shopping secondhand but don’t know where to start,  it helps to understand the difference between the two. Here’s my guide:

Thrift Stores Vs. Consignment Shops

A thrift store sells used, locally-donated items including clothing, accessories, books, furniture, electronics, and housewares for very low prices. Because they rely on donations, they are generally non-profit, with all proceeds donated to charity. Examples include Goodwill, The Salvation Army, Savers, as well as local organizations such as Treasure City Thrift in Austin, Texas.

Remember to visit quality thrift stores. Visiting such thrift stores will make the shopping experience more fun and exciting.

Savers storefront

Savers is one of my favorite thrift stores in Austin because it’s very clean and organized.

Size organization at retail store

A consignment shop is basically a re-sale shop. Customers sell their clothes and accessories to the store, which are then sold for a higher price to make a profit. Depending on the store, you will either be paid a lump sum for everything they want to buy, or paid later as your items sell.

Consignment shops only buy and sell items that are trendy, in-season and in excellent condition, which is what makes them so different from thrift stores.

Everything for sale has been handpicked by a buyer, so the prices are higher than at a thrift store, but still lower than retail prices. Examples of consignment stores that pay up-front include Buffalo Exchange and Plato’s Closet. These particular stores also allow you to receive store credit instead of cash!

Buffalo Exchange logo

There’s always a long line at the buy counter at the Buffalo Exchange down the street from the University of Texas at Austin.

Selling your clothes at Buffalo Exchange Austin Texas

I have to admit that shopping at thrift stores can be more difficult than at consignment shops. Lower prices can mean less organization. Depending on whether it’s a local or national chain thrift store, the clothes will generally be divided into categories and sometimes colors, but not always by size. Smaller items such as accessories and shoes may be kept in bins or laid out on shelves, but in a generally unorganized fashion.

Since consignment shops handpick the items they sell, as opposed to taking in donations, you’re less likely to have to dig to find the good stuff.

At Goodwill, all the clothing is divided by style and color, but not by size.

inside a Goodwill

At a consignment shop, everything is priced individually as opposed to a set price for the same type of item at a thrift store. Compare the prices for jeans at Goodwill and Buffalo Exchange:

Goodwill Austin Texas

Buffalo Exchange pricing

As far as deciding whether you should shop at a thrift store or a consignment shop, it really depends on your style and what type of clothes you like to wear. It’s entirely possible to look trendy wearing clothes from a thrift store, but it also allows you to experiment with items that haven’t been sold at the mall in years to create a completely unique look. Remember, fashion repeats itself. So organize your closet to make room for all your new thrifted items.

Flashback: Advice from a Seasoned Thrifter

When shopping at a consignment shop, you’ll only be seeing the most up-to-date clothing that can be easily styled by just flipping through a fashion magazine. If shopping for secondhand clothing is new to you, I’d recommend going to a consignment shop first and then hitting up a thrift store when you feel ready.

Good luck!

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