April 1, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn't Snub Secondhand and Vintage...

I come from a long line of women who love fashion.  I am talking about everything from clothes to shoes to the perfect accessory that ties it all together.  I have photos of my grandmother and her sisters from the roaring twenties where they are decked out in the most beautiful dresses, hats, and full length fur coats. (don't judge~it was long before PETA came into the picture)

At the age of 16, with my brand new work permit in hand, I made an appointment with the Nordstrom HR Department.  Every time I walked into the familiar surroundings of any Nordstrom, it was as if the mothership had called me home. Sadly, they did not initially share a mutual admiration for my keen vision of what I knew I could bring to the Nordstrom family.  It became clear to me that I was going to have to go to Plan B.  I basically became relentless and made it my mission to convince the powers that be that they were missing out if they did not nab me as their newest protege.  And I am proud to say that I ultimately wore them down and happily worked at Nordstrom throughout high school and college. Looking back, it was probably one of the best working and learning environments I had as a young woman.  The philosophy of the company, the high expectations of the employees, and the overwhelming number one rule that customer service was always top priority.  Simply, the honor and privilege that came from working at the creme de la creme of clothing stores.      

You might think the greatest gift I received from Nordstrom was a 20% discount. While that was lovely, it was more basic.  It was learning the nitty-gritty of fashion.  You know, the thrill of meshing together articles of clothing that alone are nice, but together make a statement.  Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of fashion don'ts throughout the years, even some fashion yikes!!  But I paid attention to anyone who I thought had that special talent for merchandising, and all of those nuggets I picked up along the way have continued to serve me well as an adult.

While I still love the chill that goes up my spine when I walk into Nordstrom, I have learned to use the basic art of dressing in the polar opposite surroundings of secondhand stores.  What???  In the course of several years, you may have noticed that consignment stores, vintage shops, and online sites like eBay have become all the rage.  I am not a personal fan of buying used clothing online because it is difficult to see the item, and once you purchase it, you typically own it.  But a nice consignment store in a really good part of town is hard to beat.

I am often asked why I would ever be caught dead in a "used clothing store." Funny thing is that I have purchased many many items with tags on or shoes with not one scuff on the sole at such a HUGE markdown, it would make your head spin.  Out of all of my clothing conquests, I would say that my very favorite is a knee-length wool Escada sweater that likely retailed for $1000.  I just happened to be in Whidbey Island, Washington celebrating my anniversary a few years ago, and happened upon it in the most adorable consignment shop that could have easily been mistaken for a high-end boutique.  It was $80.00 and I never looked back.  Another time I found the most pristine vintage swing coat on a sale rack for $30.00.  You just never know what sweet little gem you're going to find.          

I have put together my top ten list to remember when consignment store shopping because there can be some pitfalls when shopping secondhand.

1~ The first thing to remember is that you typically cannot return it so don't get too excited by the prices and purchase items you really don't need and probably won't wear.

2~ Be sure to examine the item well. That means look for hidden repairs, damage, and stains.  The best shops are sticklers so try to shop at consignment stores that are in more affluent communities and have a boutique feel.

3~ Don't buy a shirt, for example, that originally came from Target or a lower end store.  You might as well just go to Target and buy it new.  It's not going to be discounted enough to make it worth buying it second-hand.

4~ Be careful buying handbags.  There are a lot of knockoff bags out there.  If you don't know your stuff, you could end up with a cheap wannabe designer bag.  If you do know your stuff, you can get a great deal on a Louis Vuitton or Gucci bag. Again, definitely go to a high-end consignment store.  They pride themselves on selling the real designer bags.

5~ If you need a fancy dress, it's the best place to shop.  Chances are the dress was only worn once.

6~ Accessories like leather belts, jewelry, and scarves can be very expensive and can be found for significantly less at a consignment shop.

7~Leather is another item that is very expensive when purchased new.  If you are seeking a leather skirt or pants, this is definitely the way to go.

8~The dressing rooms are typically small and not well-lighted.  Be sure to check yourself out in the common area, as they all usually have full length or three-way mirrors somewhere in the store.  Okay~ this may sound weird but I always take a small compact in case they don't have a three-way mirror.  If doesn't look good from behind, don't buy it.

9~Be willing to walk away empty handed.  Remember, it can be hit or miss because it's not a store with multiple sizes.  You may see the perfect skirt but it's one size too small.  Don't, and I repeat don't say to yourself I am going to buy it and lose 10 pounds.   Just walk away.  Remember rule #1~you can't return it if you change your mind or fail to lose those pesky 10 pounds.

10~If you do find the perfect item, don't, and I repeat don't walk away because someone else will know rule number 10 and they will snag it.  Trust me, I have hesitated before and missed out.  And it still pains me to this day.  Sigh...


  1. Brilliant tips. I'm not a person who enjoys going out to buy clothes but one thing for sure, some of those secondhand shops have never let me down. I bought a lovely tweed jacket for £1, yes that's what I said £1. It has lasted for many years and whenever I've worn it, people always comment on how nice the jacket looks. Perfect quality. Now, you can buy a similar one for around £300 minimum brand new.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Great to hear from you! Jules

  2. My sophmore & junior years in college in the US South (known for their high style & strict fashion rules), I was nominated as a Mountain Laurel candidate, part of which was being well-dressed. I was especially pleased because most of my wardrobe was vintage/second-hand!
    My mother introduced me to consignment, especially in nice areas of town, saying "It's how the rich get richer, darling!" When we went shopping in the mid-60's, she'd point out the labels in the clothes with the caveat to keep up with their business health, as their quality closely followed. Jonathan Logan, I still miss you!
    ----Linda T, Portland

    1. Linda~ You are a great creative inspiration in every way! Thanks for the comment! xo Jules

  3. We have some family pictures of Grandma and her sisters, too! Maybe they're the same ones. I remember all of them being impeccably dressed and made-up. I loved going to Aunt Myrtle's and seeing all of the clothes in the upstairs closets. And your Grandma, Emily, was always perfect in my mind. I, too, have found 2 wonderful consignment stores, one in Dubuque and one in Madison that I just love. Sometimes I find just the right piece... And I follow your rules, too!
    Hugs from Wisconsin!

    1. Sara~ Love your comments! Family history is so special. ox Jules