You’ve probably heard the saying that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. In this age of disposable everything, this has become increasingly true.
I spent yesterday shopping at the Goodwill’s Bargain Barn, in Santa Cruz. It’s a warehouse full of bin after bin of clothes that are being sent off to die. In those bins, treasure abounds, if you know a few tricks.
Shoes can be repaired. If you find a gorgeous pair of shoes that are in good condition except for the sole, consider buying them and having the sole replaced. High heels can often have their heel-tips replaced for very little money. Leather can be re-stitched, buckles can be repaired. Leather-soled shoes can have rubber put on to make them less slippery. A good cobbler can be challenging to find, and you shouldn’t expect miracles, especially on shoes that were originally cheap, but often you can repair a nice leather shoe for much less than you could have bought it new. Learn to clean, condition and polish shoes yourself to make them last even longer.
Stains are often easier to get out than you think. Rust stains, blood stains, grease stains… these can often be removed with some patience and know how. If the garment is in otherwise good condition, and the price is right, consider buying it anyway, and giving stain removal a shot. My favorite tricks include using lemon juice and sunlight to remove spots on whites, and dish soap to remove grease stains. Remember to use cool or cold water and don’t throw things in the dryer until the stain comes out, or you could set the stain and make it more difficult to remove.
Learn basic mending skills. Learn to darn small holes in sweaters, how to replace buttons, and how to patch things. Also, learn what is too big a job for you to bother with. For me, rips in woven fabrics that are not wool, holes in knits that are larger than my thumb nail, and large scale repair of beading or embroidery is too much work. No matter how good the price, I just won’t do the repair, so I don’t buy the garment. Learn how to tell if elastic is replaceable; if it’s in a casing, it should be easy to replace, but if it’s sewn on, or through, or the garment uses elastic thread, don’t bother. It’s a huge job to repair that sort of thing.
If it doesn’t fit, don’t buy it. Trust me. Alterations are costly to have done by a professional, and are time consuming and often look terrible if they’re done at home.
Hats can be refreshed. It’s fairly easy to clean a dusty hat with a clothing brush, or to re-shape a hat with steam from your tea-kettle. DON’T get a hat wet! They will often become a soggy pile of fabric and be destroyed if you get them wet, so avoid hats with obvious stains or soiling.
Learn to ID cheap brands. For example, if something was made for Forever21, don’t pay too much for it, and don’t expect it to last. They’re often cheaply made and not designed to survive for more than a season.
Learn to ID fiber content. Look for labels, and check the fiber content of your garment. If it’s mostly made of synthetic fibers, it’s not going to breath well, and it will feel sticky and unpleasant to wear. It will also be more prone to static. The exception is technical clothing, like sunshirts, or bicycle jerseys. They’re usually made of technical synthetics that are carefully designed to have specific properties like high SPF or wicking. Fiber content will also tell you a lot about how to care for a garment; if something is 100% wool or silk, you’re going to have to very carefully hand wash it, or have it dry cleaned. Cotton is rugged and easy to care for, and rayon is delicate and should be treated with care. Linen is usually marked dry clean only, but can often be machine washed in cold water. Sometimes, though, it will shrink, so just be aware of that possibility.
These tricks are useful in almost any used clothes shopping, and are also useful in keeping your already purchased garments looking nice. It is especially useful to take the time to learn mending and to read care labels to keep your clothes looking nice.
Consider purchasing a clothing brush to keep your dry-clean garments tidy between trips to the cleaner, and a lint brush to get rid of pet hair or fuzz on most fabrics (be careful using either of these on sweaters, they can snag!).