Secondhand: Full circle shopping

The closet asked for a seasonal top, but because spring here is fleeting, buying much in spring colours is not the best value you'll get out of a budget. When I flipped some boutique price tags, I saw that I'd pay more tax on a new sweater than I'd spent on the pristine, hip designer shirt I'd found in a thrift for a son's job interviews.

Thrifts had not offered much for me, though; a riffle through the women's racks was a dispiriting tour of the limp, damaged or outdated. But I saw women there with brimming carts; what did they know that I didn't? I figured, It's a numbers game, and vowed to look more thoroughly.

I stopped by the usual suspects on my FitBit walks, left empty-handed many times, but kept at it. I also checked consignment shops, where someone else had done the picking, and designer labels bloomed. If you're a regular, staff may be willing to call when special pieces come in.

One day, I found two 100% cotton sweaters in perfect, unworn condition: an apple-green Tommy Hilfiger pull, and an aqua Olsen cardi, and struck by my luck, bought both. Total cost, $CDN 12.

Both were laundered immediately with Orange-a-Peel to purge that thrift store deodorant smell.

I imposed the one in/one out rule, and donated to the same organizations. When I found a floaty kimono top from a luxury plus-size brand, a friend got a surprise package. I could really get into picking for friends!

The "full circle" in the post's title refers to the full circle of consumption, from the early days when my friends and I hit the thrifts and vintage shops to stretch our first paycheques, and because we loved the workmanship and fabrics.

I stopped secondhanding in my thirties—busy with family and career, I found it easier to get it now, in my size. I missed the hunt, but couldn't spend Saturday afternoons trolling Kensington Market anymore. I'd occasionally accompany canny friends who had never left Courage My Love behind, but for decades, I was only a donor—and a star one, thanks to overbuying and cycling up and down in size.

At work, plenty of women were shopping in resale boutiques, but it was a secret society. Only if you were a trusted confidante would a colleague reveal, over a white wine spritzer, that her Calvin Klein suit was secondhand.

Now, I find many women are buying secondhand because they want to consume differently, and they are not only open, they are proud to say so.

My chic friend Jude, whose work requires frequent attendance at high-profile events, buys all her business clothes secondhand; Roberta, a committed environmentalist, will wear only used (except shoes). My grandson's other grandmother is presently rocking an Armani raincoat for which she paid one-fifteenth of the retail price; the tag was still on in the consignment shop!

Even if you would never wear someone else's clothes (I'm thinking of Lynn, who believes the emotional energy of the original owner is forever embedded in the garment), you can find other treasures. I bought housewares for our kids' apartments, baby toys and clothes, and art supplies.

"It's addictive", a man who scouts regularly for crystal told me while we waited in line. He is right, but I'm resisting the habit. I left behind some estimable finds: a current Rodier tweed blazer, a black cashmere crewneck—that weren't needed. But I'm pretty pleased that I've crossed those tops off my list for twelve bucks.

 Will I see you there?


Did you buy the Orange-A-Peel at that wonderful shop on St-Zotique?

I actually found new leather booties, lined in sheepskin, at Le Chaînon. They have done their last winter, but lasted for years. And picked up a pair of Campers Spanish walking shoes at a yard sale for $3; they are wonderful for walking. She was selling them because they were a bit short for her feet; perfect for mine.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: They do not carry it; I order it from Good find re shoes!
Unknown said…
I used to buy most of my clothes from second hand stores when I was bringing up my two children on my own and had very little money. I found some great good quality bargains. I still sometimes buy scarves and currently have my eye on a lovely white handbag in the window of our local charity shop. Unfortunately the shop was closed. Hope the bag is still there tomorrow .
Madame Là-bas said…
My daughter has recently lost 75 pounds and will probably lose more. I am suggesting to her that she check second hand stores as she will need to replace her whole wardrobe. I was looking for orange-a-peel but I could only find it as a pet supply. I'm on a shopping moratorium so I won't be buying this year but certainly there is some good value.
Duchesse said…
Mme: When I was in Weight Watchers nearly everyone working down several sizes was buying secondhand- really only thing that made sense. Otherwise, option was cheap stuff, unless money no object.

Orange-a-Peel is sold through but it is also sometimes sold in pet supply stores as is knocks out animal-accident odors. Expensive but extremely concentrated so lasts a long time- my bottle lasts at least 2 years. You just need drops in a load of laundry or diluted in water for cleaning. I have never found anything I like as much.
LauraH said…
Interesting post. I've never thrifted, always turned off by the amount of stuff I would have to go through. Guess I'm not really a shopper, just want to buy it and move on. Your idea of different consumption is appealing so maybe I'll take another look. We have a small consignment store in the neighbourhood, that might be a place to start.

Love the colours of your new sweaters, so spring!
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Unless one is thrifting like my DIL, who only buys for the fabric and then rips the things apart, thrift takes the willingness to trade one's time for a bargain. (I looked for a good 6 weeks for a top I'd buy if it were retail.) But then there is the pleasure of the hunt, which to some is the purpose. I've also known women who get so into thrifts (and variants like garage sales) that they buy things they have no use for, just because it's a find. Thrifting is not always such conscious consumption!

Friend showed me thrifted "ladies who lunch" silk blouse, which she found but never wore... in both of our minds, a mistake.

Consignment is a little different: the value proposition still has to be in place; the prices are higher but it is a way to have something you could not have afforded (or would not be willing to splurge on) otherwise.
I'll check Mondou; fortunately (knock wood) Livia has never had an accident. Renzo got a few drops on the floor while creeping towards his box in his last days (a valiant old cat) but not much odour, I eliminated it (I hope) with Murphy soap and some bottled lemon juice.

The most persistent animal odour (except for skunks and odours of decay) is of spraying by a non-neuteured tomcat. That can persist for years, no matter how one cleans. Good to know about that product.

I love my Campers; the laces were worn out so I bought them nice red ones (made in Canada!) from the shoemaker's at the corner of St-Zotique and St-Denis. Must take shoes back there as my heels are running down at the corners - I must walk funny. I have gone on very long walks in them, to downtown and back etc.
LauraH said…
Thanks for the tips re consignment / thrift.

On a side note, I have a bottle of Orange-a-Peel that I used for a while and now cannot open. I press down and the lid just spins around. No idea why, frustrating. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.
Duchesse said…
lagattta: Oh I love that shoemaker, great skills and such lovely people.

If you order from Well, free shipping on $35+ orders and you will almost be there with one bottle of the Cleaner, which is $31.99. I usually add some dental floss or other low priced thing.

LauraH: I know what you mean but have no advice other than piercing or sawing the top off the damn bottle and re-bottling it. (You hardly need a childproof bottle!). Maybe call Orange-a-Peel?
Unknown said…
I still don't understand why I am charged provincial sales tax on items that were taxed already when sold new.
Jane said…
I'm typing this wearing my black leather jacket (Goodwill - $14), Lucky Brand jeans (Goodwill - $10, shortened - $8) and my black leather cross-body bag (Charity sale - $5). One has to be patient. I only buy if the item is current, in new condition and fits. I try to purchase needs not just wants. It's hard at bargain prices sometimes!
Jane W. said…
Oh, yes. Approximately 80% of my clothing is second-hand, via eBay, consignment shops, and thrift stores. I recently scored an Eileen Fisher shirt jacket ($8) and St. John's windbreaker/raincoat ($10), both with the tags still on.

My 15-year-old daughter watched "The Life Cycle of a T Shirt" at school and loves to "stick to the man."
Duchesse said…
Kira McGarett: The Government of Canada approaches the sale of new or used goods as taxable. In some provinces, the GST is charged, but not the PST (provincial sales tax)- depending on where you live and, in some provinces, the value of what you buy. (E.g., BC exempts the PST portion on purchases of used clothing or footwear but only under $100.) Also, some thrifts include applicable taxes in the ticket price- you pay price marked, but are still paying taxes.

Jane: Brilliant! It takes real discipline to pass up some really cool discovery that has no place in your closet.

Jane W.: I have posted on a similar doc:
and feel great that I saved two tops from (at least for a bit longer) the landfills. I am impressed with eBayers who venture into secondhand; I have bought a few things in the last few years, but not used.

The criminal Rana Plaza collapse was the worst garment factory disaster in history, but its criminal nature harkens back both to the Triangle Factory fire in NYC (mostly young women of Eastern European Jewish and Italian origins) and the related Kader Toy fire in Thailand, in 1993. In all these cases, the young women workers were ordered to work or keep on working in the face of obvious and imminent dangers.

A serious problem is that so much of the second-hand clothing we find nowadays is really crappy, but then, so is the new clothing. I had a pair of less-than-one-year old jeans rip across the thigh when I was cycling, and I was cycling nearby, not a long distance, and there was no obvious wear, no were they too tight, moreover II'd lost weight since I bought them and if anything they were a bit loose.
Leslie M said…
I like your spring finds and this post. I have lost a little weight and need some "new" pants, but have been hesitant to spend much money. There are several consignment shops nearby that I had forgotten. I used to buy consignment for office Christmas parties, as the price was right and I never showed up wearing the same outfit year after year. A few years ago our family had a rule that Christmas gifts had to come from a resale store. We added the caveat that the gift item also had to have a name that started with the first letter of the recipients name, Poor Jordan received lots of jars, but also scored a Joseph Banks overcoat that cost $10. It was fun and we all felt good about saving from the landfills.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: The documentary film "The True Cost" , which I wrote (in the post I mentioned to Jane W.) includes that incident, and the doc is (or was?) on Netflix.

If I can generalize, women tend to hang on to really well-made clothes. I wear things like that till they are not suitable to donate-or at least I don't feel right donating them. One of the outcomes of paring down the wardrobe is that I actually wear things out.

Leslie Milligan: What a fun family game! Hmm...jeans, Jockey shorts, jackets, J. Crew, and maybe in a big year, a jalopy for Jordan? (Does a used car lot count as a "resale store"?) My DILs family does a secret Santa with the requirement that the gift be made by the giver, and below a certain dollar limit.
Mardel said…
I tend to hang on to things I love until they are falling apart, but otherwise, when something just doesn't work it gets donated. And I've bought, off an on, from thrifts since youth, but not lately. Maybe again. I hate the thought of good things going to waste, but the world is filled with so much junk.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Could you please write a bit more? What about jewellery?
Leslie M said…
Ha! I don't think I can give my 22 y.o. stepson a used pair of jockey shorts, otherwise, good suggestions.
Duchesse said…
Leslie Milligan: Yuck! Forgive me- truly! I was thinking of the ones I had seen still in the plastic packaging. In fact a number of thrifts don't accept donations of underwear.
Leslie M said…
You are right, I've seen those, too. Resale doesn't have to mean used. No forgiveness required. I found it pretty hilarious after thinking about it for a few minutes. Imagine the look on his face when he unwrapped that gift!
Bunny said…
I've been a thrifter since my teens. I love the thrill of the hunt and the unique quality find. I am also one of those who buy for fabric. I take it home, cit it apart and use it in my sewing. I also thrift a ton of bags. I take off the hardware and throw the bag out, unless it is made with really nice, clean, thin leather which I will cut up and keep. I sew a lot of bags and hardware can be expensive and fairly generic. Thrifted hardware finds can be quite unique. I enjoy spending a Saturday morning cleaning and polishing my new hardware. I know....I shop the biggest sizes in the store first because I am mostly looking for fabric. I will purchase an occasional exceptional find but for the most part it is a recycle gut. I've also found the trick to great finds is frequent shopping. There are many dogs to plow through but when that occasional jewel surfaces, yahoo!
Jewellery for Jordan, like the Passage des Perles...
I love thrift and consignment shops but I agree that it is time consuming...your 2 pieces for $12 are a bargain.
So many of the newer "fast fashion" items are shoddy and end up at the second hand shops and are crowding out the gems.
It has become more of a challenge finding the better quality pieces but once in awhile you'll hit the jackpot.
I still lust after that Chanel jacket that I let get would fit me now but at the time was a size too small....sigh.
Duchesse said…
Bunny: Thank you for contributing your ingenious thrifting strategy! I once met a woman who told me she was making iPad sleeves from reclaimed fabric but hardware is a several steps beyond, and fascinating. Are they on Etsy or anywhere we can see them?

lagatta: I thought of jewellery but I do not enjoy it on men, save the traditional pieces: watch, wedding band; cufflinks with a suit. (I don't even like signet or class rings.) Unless of course Antonio Banderas would like to take me to a long lunch? Then I guess his bracelets and chain would be OK.
Lynn said…
I can rarely find anything nice in my size in thrift stores (2-4 US), but I do buy "pre-worn" online. You have to know your sizes and be willing to make a mistake or two, but online shopping is another good way to build an environmentally friendly wardrobe. It is also more time friendly than trying to find nice clothes in the few thrift stores in my small college town. No one wears high end clothes here!
Sam said…
My sister and I have trained our adolescent granddaughters to routinely "rent" clothes from the excellent local Goodwill stores, but my best thrifting story was in Stockholm, where Spring was colder than my suitcase anticipated. Fixed my husband and myself up quickly and inexpensively at a neighborhood thrift and thoroughly enjoyed the off-the-tourist-path experience. Maybe our parkas weren't high style, but shivering isn't chic, which we weren't anyway. Since then I've added thrift shops to my standard international sightseeing, not to find buys but because seeing what people pass along is a way to see how locals actually live. But then, I think the combing through a foreign supermarket is fascinating...and a great way to persuade my brain to convert both kilograms and currency.
Duchesse said…
Lynne L: Secondhand shopping online is IMO priced like consignment, not Sally Ann, and is still lots of fun. Yes, you have to know your size, and hope that you can gauge other dimensions via photos, but it gives you access to the world. Where one lives is all the difference in thrifts. IME college towns can be good for housewares because students move so much, and maybe the odd clothing score thanks to faculty or a well-heeled student, but generally small cities or upscale suburbs are the sweet spot... see comment to Sammye.

Sammye: I love how you are "teaching them well". Thrifts and travel: I and other family have enjoyed checking out consignment and vintage, the market stall goods. Someone contracted me recently to ask where she should go thrifting on a weekend visit to Montréal. I warned her that unless very lucky, there would not be much, because women here tend not to turn over their wardrobes often, as they did in my former city. And big city thrifts tend to be heavily picked.

The best thrifting I ever did was with my mother, who wintered in a wealthy smallish town in FL. We called it "Where Cashmere Goes to Die". I agree that checking out where ordinary people shop, when travelling, is a window into the culture. Certainly groceries- especially street markets, but I alsoI like hardware stores and pharmacies, too.
I love street and public markets, but supermarkets are also worth a look as they provide an accurate idea of people's actual diets. They are also easy to navigate with limited language knowledge.

Yes, la Duchesse, even bazaars in posh areas can be fusty here (I'm thinking Ste-Madeleine d'Outremont) as much of the clothing is out of date, people wear clothing for far longer here than in Toronto.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: A saleswoman in a Toronto consignment store once told me when I complimented her on the stock, "We have women bring their things in who turn their entire wardrobes over every season." I really like that women wear their clothes longer in this city, but it does deflate the secondhand offerings!

As I reply I am wearing the green sweater; it has already earned its $6 times over. What a wet spring!
Beth said…
Totally there with thrifting; I've done it for years though less in Montreal than in Vermont where I used to live. One of my favorite jackets, a floral tapestry, was a recent find in a street market in Mexico City. Sewing and thrift stores have allowed me to have the variety of clothes I want without breaking the bank or making me feel guilty. I also buy basics, like t-shirt, tank tops, corduroy slacks at places like Costco or Kohl's: they are good value, fit my average shape, and last quite well; I see no reason to pay more.
Duchesse said…
Beth: Oooh wanna see that jacket! I second getting rid of guilt. ( But I also produced some pretty powerful rationalization, once upon a time.)
With the cold, damp weather, I've certainly got a lot of wear out of my heavy velvet (or rather, velveteen) jacket from Jones New York, bought in new condition for $10 at le Chaînon some time ago. At least we are on high ground; lots of flooding closer to the rivers.

A fabric question: there are some very cute items (new) including a linen tunic top at the Simons Prix Pop promotion, and I really liked this dress for travelling: Do you think it could be cool enough to wear in hot weather, given that it is polyester? I do have some polyester items, sportswear such as running shorts to wear under a skirt, cycling, that are fine. I guess I'll just have to check it out there. I remember poly as being a kind of plastic tent...
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Nice dress! (I will guess, grey for you? )

The floaty cut will make it cooler on the body than a close fit-but there are limits. If traveling by plane, it could work with a scarf to mitigate those AC blasts. If you are somewhere very hot and humid (28C or higher and 100% humidity), poly is just awful. Thin cotton or lightweight linen are best for high heat. (Even cotton knit is too hot in that climate.)

I couldn't find the linen tunic on the site but it sounds good!
Here it is: There are quite a few linen garments, for women and for men. I've had luck with them, though Simons can be brilliant for the price or meh...

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