It’s Not Used, It’s Vintage

Chrsta_dress_Page_1I have had people stop me in the hall and tell me how nice I look, and ask where I buy clothes. When I admit to shopping a lot at Goodwill, they are surprised—but you can find great clothing and accessories at second hand stores for very little money if you’re willing to rummage. (My greatest score to date is a stunning $450 Kate Spade bag for $6.00!)

Thrift stores, charity stores, secondhand shops have all experienced a renaissance during the recent recession. Most communities have several, and Goodwill even has an on-line auction site. ( In my decades of thrift shopping I’ve learned a few things.

Not everyone can be a thrift shopper. Some folks feel thrift stores are nasty dirty places, and wearing someone else’s clothing is creepy. Explore a few stores. If you can’t overcome these feelings, go back to Macy’s and shop sales. If you can, find a shop or two you like, and you’ll be hooked.

Experiment! Second-hand clothing is so inexpensive, you can try things you’re not sure of. Take home that hot pink blazer, or gypsy skirt. If, after a couple of weeks, it’s just not you, donate it back with very little damage to your budget.

Take your time. In regular stores, everything is neatly organized. This may not be the case at thrift stores. Look quickly for colors, fabrics, textures that interest you and pull out the possibilities for a closer look. If lemon yellow makes you look like death, don’t bother with that gorgeous lemon yellow Ralph Lauren sheath.

Examine each item carefully. Inspect all zippers, buttons, snaps and anything that might need replacing. Check seams for holes, look for stains, stretched out hems, shiny patches. Turn everything inside out to check for lining tears and other hard-to-see issues. If you have sewing skills, a dropped hem or missing button may not be a problem. If you can’t sew a stitch, leave it in the store.

Check washing instructions. I once found a beautiful robe that was dry clean only. I can be messy, so that just didn’t make sense for me.

Carefully plan what you’ll wear while shopping. Smaller used clothing stores often have no changing rooms or have very open changing rooms. Wear something you can try clothing on top of. For example, tights with a wrap skirt and a thin t-shirt. You can stand in the aisle and pull on jackets, slacks, and skirts and remain decently covered.

Used clothing stores have great accessories. Unique jewelry, hats, purses, gloves and scarves can be found for almost nothing.

Do not buy secondhand shoes. You run the risk of foot fungus, and they’re worn into the shape of someone else’s foot. (I admit, I once bought the most gorgeous pair of evening pumps you have ever seen. I couldn’t help myself. I still have them.)Christa_dress_Page_2

Wash everything when you get it home. Like most reputable shops, Goodwill launders their clothing, but they use pervasive-smelling dryer sheets. I have to run them through the wash a couple of times before they begin to lose that “goodwill-ish” smell.

Institute a “nothing comes in unless something goes out” policy. Keep a donation bag in the trunk of your car or by the back door, and drop anything in it that is uncomfortable, out of style, the wrong color, or just not right. Don’t bring anything new home until you’ve donated something. It will keep you from having to do those huge clothing clean-outs every few years, and gets your old stuff into the hands of someone who can really use it.

Clothing is a tool we can use to make ourselves feel great, and to make a positive impression on others. It demonstrates who you are and how you feel. It is possible to look nice and age-appropriate, and to do it without spending a fortune. If you’re not sure what works for you, talk to a trusted friend. Go shopping together, experiment, try things on. Be honest. Have fun.

And when you find that gorgeous vintage black dress that fits you beautifully and lasts forever, you can throw on some jewelry or a scarf and look fabulous for any occasion!



About Cathy Severson

Cathy Severson helps baby boomers find more meaning and purpose in their lives and work. Get your copy of her complimentary e-book Guide to Retirement Activities a comprehensive look at work, volunteering and leisure based on an individuals’ personalities. Call for a complimentary 20-minute consultation to answer your most pressing concern. 928.775.4949 or email Cathy at

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