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Imagine a scenario: you need new clothing. Whether it’s for a major job interview, a wedding, family gathering, or just because. You’ve scoured your entire wardrobe, looking for something to wear, and nothing is working. You’re desperate. Time is running out.
On top of this, you don’t have much money to play around with. Maybe your paycheck wasn’t as large as you were expecting, or it wasn’t big enough, or you just had to pay a few bills.
But you need those clothes, you know that. So what do you do when you’re out of options?
Second-hand stores to the rescue!
The concept is pretty much what it sounds like. As with the hand-me-downs many or most of us grew up with, you’re buying previously-owned items (many places refer to them as “previously-loved,” which I think is a cute and quirky description).
Most towns and cities have their own local options, but perhaps the most famous of these stores is Goodwill. They not only lease a second life on clothing, but also offer board games, drinking glasses, handbags, and electronic gadgets.
I’m a huge fan of these retail venues. Believe it or not, buying hand-me-downs is one of the simplest and best ways you can make a positive impact on the environment. Producing a new shirt or pair of jeans consumes a lot of resources, and it’s always better to just reuse what’s already in existence.
By giving a pre-existing item a new home, you’re taking a very proactive effort in the struggle against climate change. It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pair of blue jeans and around 713 gallons of water to produce one t-shirt. Buying second-hand cuts this use by over 2,500 gallons.
The selection of clothing in a second-hand store can be hit-or-miss, so it’s not likely that you will find exactly what you’re looking for. At the same time, choices are wide and varied, and they typically offer several options in the most common sizes.
So it’s best to enter with a general idea of what you need, as opposed to something super-specific. Don’t think “blue polo shirt and dark brown khakis.” Instead, go with “blue dress shirt and dark pants.” There’s a good chance you’ll find either exactly what you want or something very close to it.
But, if you don’t, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and being disappointed and leaving empty-handed is no fun for anyone. So by searching for something vague and open-ended, the likelihood of being left without anything at the end of a shopping trip is low.
In my experience, the hardest clothing to find in a store like Goodwill or its local counterparts – local is best, as some of them have a more direct hand in providing charity or aid to good causes – seems to be dresses. Clothing in thrift stores is typically donated by residents of any given area, and dresses aren’t as common as they used to be.
Women’s clothing choices, in general, don’t seem to be as wide-ranging as men’s or kids’. Several I’ve gone to have a selection of the former that appears to be at least half of the latter. Or perhaps it just feels like that (though I can’t explain why, if that’s the case). Gender equality certainly has a long way to go to places like these.
So if you’re looking for a dress that doesn’t look like something worn by a news anchor in 1986, you might have to go to a speciality store. In all my years, I’ve only found maybe one or two that didn’t look super-drab or overly floral. But then, maybe a used dress isn’t the smartest choice for your friend’s special day.
The saving grace here as far as dresses go is that most interviews just want you to look nice, so the chances of needing this specific piece of clothing are probably slim-to-none. Sweaters and blouses are a better option, anyway, and second-hand stores are filled with them.
I’d argue there are just as many sweaters as t-shirts, and everyone knows a nice sweater paired with a flattering pair of jeans is the simplest way to pull together a winning look. It’s almost impossible to screw it up (seriously, you’d really have to try).
So, if you’re in dire need of new threads in a pinch – or if you’re just bored with your wardrobe – heading down to the local thrift store is your best bet. It’s been a while since I’ve been to one, and rifling through the racks is an experience in-and-of-itself. There are some wacky fashion choices for sure, but having the peace of mind in knowing you’ve given previously-loved items a new home is one of the simple, unsung pleasures of life.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2:One. Her favorite drink is RC Cola, and her favorite band is probably Animal Collective.