thrift shopping

8 Tips for Thrift Shopping Like An Expert Without the Overwhelm

how to thrift shop without getting overwhelmed

This post was written by Betty Kary for StyleWise. As a way of creating a more robust resource, I've added my own "notes from a thrift shop manager" under Betty's tips (with her permission).

As a young student with a life-long and growing passion for fashion and a deep concern for the well-being of our planet, I fell quite naturally into thrift shopping. I just love the idea of creating unique and inexpensive outfits all the while consuming in a responsible and ethical manner. And if I may say so myself, I pull it off quite well. I guess you can say it’s because passion, motivation, and a little creativity pay off! I try to use my successes to inspire others to get into thrift shopping as well, and even though I may succeed in sparking interest, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told:

“Damn Betty, I love that sweater! You have to take me thrift shopping with you, I tried to go once but I never find anything nice like that. I just don’t know where to start.”

So for all those of you who feel the same, or even those of you who had never paid mind to it before, I put together a little “how to” guide to get you started!

1. Research local thrift stores. 

Get to know the options you have in your neighborhood, and be sure to read any available reviews. If a store is unclean or if people have had bad experiences, needless to say how important it is to know ahead of time in order to avoid any problems. 

Also, you can look into what sales some stores may be having soon, ‘cause yep, even if their prices are already super cheap, thrift stores like any other store often need to make room for “new” items coming in and therefore offer sales. For example, once every few weeks, the Value Village hosts 50% off sales, and may I just say, its damn worth it! I once got 12 great pieces for only 35 bucks.

Notes from Leah:

Don't be afraid to try a hole-in-the-wall at least once. Smaller, local shops can get passed over in favor of larger corporate stores that get more traffic if you only pay attention to Yelp reviews. When you find a shop you like, ask if they have an email newsletter or another communications method. That way sales will be delivered to you digitally!

2. Get to know the store layout. 

Once you’ve picked out a shop to check out, get to know its layout. Some stores are organized differently. On top of being divided by gender, some spots organize by type of garment, color, size, etc. If the store you’re visiting has no system of organization whatsoever (which I doubt), I suggest you turn around and walk out of there. It's likely not worth your time! 

Notes from Leah:

There's no perfect way to organize a thrift store, so don't get discouraged if you enter a shop that's organized in a way that isn't preferable to you. Use it as an opportunity to explore a wider range of sizes and styles. If you leave unhappy, at least you've gotten to know your taste a bit better!

3. Scan the racks. 

I imagine you’ve all been to TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Winners before. You know the drill: you pick a rack and pass your hand through the hangers, visually scanning for attractive colors, patterns, fabrics - anything that might tickle your fancy. I wouldn’t bother looking at every garment one by one or you’ll lose interest too quickly or end up spending hours wasting your time.

4. Check for size and imperfections. 

Once a little treasure catches your eye and you pull it off the rack, make sure you check it all up and down. You want to check if the size is appropriate for you, and to look out for imperfections. 

You’re checking for things like missing buttons, busted zippers, stains, or damaged fabric. Most of the time whatever a shop will put on the rack is in decent condition, but a few times I've fallen in love with a piece only to have my heart broken having to put it back because of wrong sizing or a flaw of some sort. In some cases though, if I really love the piece, I’ll try to see if I can fix it myself. Sometimes all it takes is a little stitch-up and its good as “new”!

Notes from Leah:

If you're looking for things like food and sweat stains, try to take the item to a window to view it in natural light. Additionally, I often find that viewing an item on a flat surface versus vertically helps illuminate condition issues better.

5. Try it on. 

You’re all big boys and girls here, you’ve been shopping before! You know it’s always safer to try on a garment before buying it, just to be sure. 

Notes from Leah:

I've learned my lesson the hard way. Always try things on, even if it costs $2. There's no sense buying something that's a poor fit.

6. Keep an open mind. 

I can’t stress this enough! In thrift shops, it’s always best to separate your mind from all the preconceived trends you’ve been force-fed by multinational corporations. When you open your mind to what you like, you’ll be able to unleash your creativity and perhaps acquaint yourself with a whole new style you had no idea you had resting within you! 

If you really do love the trends and street style going on around you, it’s also a lot of fun to pair old treasures with new items, and build trendy outfits with reused or upcycled goodies. 

Notes from Leah:

If you're having trouble honing your personal style, I suggest reading A Life Less Throwaway.

7. Don’t get discouraged. 

If you don’t find anything you like within 20 minutes or even on your first trip, don’t just give up! I’ve had shopping trips where I walked out with nothing, and others where I walked out with an overflowing basket, and trust me, the latter happens much more often!

Notes from Leah:

Sometimes we shop to ease boredom or anxiety, and that makes it easier to impulse buy things we don't really want. But it's a good idea to get comfortable with leaving a store empty-handed. Set a loose shopping list in your head (ex. black knit tee, wool cardigan) to help focus your shopping.

8. Wash thoroughly. 

This is an obvious one. Anything you buy from any store needs to be properly washed before you wear it, and even more so when it comes from a thrift store. These garments have been worn and tried on by who knows how many, and who knows where they come from. It's therefore always important to check them for bugs of any kind (in my countless experiences I have never had this problem), and to wash your new finds thoroughly as prescribed on the care label. 

Notes from Leah:

Nine times out of ten, the donor has washed their clothing before donating it, so you're not likely to get an infection from a thrifted clothing item. Still, as Betty suggests, some items were improperly stored in damp environments or are musty from years tucked away in a closet. It's always nice to freshen things before wearing them. If you notice moth holes, avoid the item unless you're prepared to treat the garment and wash it effectively.

There you go, that’s it! Now you got pretty much everything you need to know to get out there and start diggin’ for treasure! Feel free to snap a cute pic of yourself and DM to my Instagram blog. I’d be happy to feature your thrifted outfits!

Keep on keepin’ on!

- Betty Kary


how to thrift shop without getting overwhelmed

Decluttering? Here's How to Responsibly Get Rid of Your Stuff

tips for tidying up and donating old things

Written by Alice Robertson, a professional organizer and tidying consultant, for StyleWise

A note from Leah: In today's fast paced consumer economy, where items are purchased and discarded without a second thought, it's important to remember that "tidying up" can function merely as a release valve for overconsumption, personal guilt, and overwhelm. We should be careful to cultivate a type of consumption that releases us from this cycle, but in the meantime, it's good to know how to start the process of paring down for good. 

It wasn’t too long ago that decluttering one’s home meant stuffing garbage cans and dragging oversized items out to the curb. Diminishing landfill space — today, 2,000 landfills hold more than 200 million tons of municipal waste — and a growing environmental consciousness have altered the way Americans dispose of waste and objects that create clutter. Eco-friendly decluttering is a deliberate, purposeful process that emphasizes recycling and finding ways to dispose of objects that can’t be simply thrown out. Protecting our environment requires everyone’s participation, so consider the following ideas for reducing, recycling and reusing.


Textiles account for a massive amount of the total material that’s sent to landfills. In 2014, more than 16 million tons of textile waste was produced, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The majority of that bulk — over 10 million tons of clothing, bedclothes, and mattresses — wound up in landfills. Old mattresses make up a considerable amount of textile wastage, despite the fact that much of the material inside a mattress is recyclable. So, contact a local recycling center to see if they have a mattress reclamation and recycling program. The American Textile Recycling Service has collection bins in communities across the US where you can leave old clothing, bedding, and other textile items instead of throwing them away. Find a drop-off location near you by calling 866-900-9308 24 hours a day.

Instead of tossing old clothing into the trash, make a trip to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a local thrift shop with a mission that aligns with your values every month to keep textile waste from overwhelming your living space (call ahead to make sure that the shop has the infrastructure to send unsaleable items to textiles recycling facilities).

Or, take advantage of the second-hand economy by taking your unwanted clothing to consignment stores, holding a garage sale, or by selling them online on Ebay, Poshmark, or Etsy. It’s a great way to make decluttering pay off (literally) and recycle items that could benefit someone else. It’s certainly better than sending more waste to the local landfill; you can learn more by clicking here.

Appliances and Electronics

Decluttering can become a hassle when it comes to disposing of oversized items such as appliances and electronics. Check with appliance retailers who sometimes offer buyback programs to encourage consumers to recycle. If that old refrigerator in the basement still works, consider donating it to a homeless shelter or an orphanage. If, like many people, your drawers are jammed full of old computer keyboards, cast-off cell phones, cracked tablets, chargers, and other debris from outmoded electronic items, be aware that most communities have recycling facilities that make it easy to declutter all that drawer space in an environmentally responsible manner (many electronics retailers also have buyback programs).

Digital Decluttering

Not only has technology made our lives easier, but it can also be put to work to help Mother Nature. What you need to declutter all those old documents and photos are a computer, an internet connection, and a scanner. Once you’ve scanned everything you want to keep, simply upload it to the cloud, where it can live forever at your fingertips and readily accessible.

Digital decluttering also lets you clear out computer downloads, unsubscribe from newsletters and email lists, clear out browser extensions, and better organize your images.

Clean and Green

Another not-to-be-overlooked benefit of eco-friendly decluttering is the opportunity to give your home a thorough cleaning. In keeping with the environmentally responsible theme, use natural and non-toxic cleaning substances that won’t threaten your family or the environment. Supermarkets and hardware stores offer many green cleaning options these days so you don’t have to default to the same bleach-based products you’ve always used.

If you prefer a more homespun approach, use common household substances like baking soda, lemon juice, or vinegar to clean the bathroom, get stains out of carpeting and upholstery, and deodorize your indoor air. Some of the safer cleaning products on the market are instantly recognizable (such as Bon Ami), while others, such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, are made from natural substances and can be used to clean everything from floors and dishes to your body.

Decluttering frees you from the stress and strain of agonizing over what to do about unwanted and unneeded possessions. It’s a way of preserving the natural environment and making resources last longer. The next time you look around your house in despair, try thinking of decluttering as a freeing and self-empowering initiative and an opportunity to recycle and reuse.

Related Posts: 


tips for tidying up and donating old things

My Ethical & Secondhand Coat Collection + How to Shop For Thrifted Coats

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

Contains affiliate links

Coats are expensive. Ethical coats even more so.

Which is why 80% of my coats were purchased secondhand for under $30. There's no shame in that. In fact, it's a really pragmatic choice not just because of price point, but because there is an overabundance of beautiful, natural fiber coats on the secondhand market. I picked up a couple extras this season just because they came into the shop where I work and were too good to pass up (that may be one of the reasons our point of sale software named me the best customer of 2017! Oops).

The current "ethical influencer" space is populated by looks featuring all new goods, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think it can imply that to be an "ethical person" you have to have new things. Not only is this untrue, it inadvertently locks people out of pursuing this lifestyle due to price, size, and accessibility limitations. I need to remind myself of this as much as anyone else. I am always, always tempted to buy every new, beautiful thing. But the things I love and wear often are often secondhand.

Without further ado, my 5 Beautiful, Mostly Secondhand Coats

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

Ethical Details: Coat - Thrifted; Scarf, 

Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

This thrifted coat by Herman Kay is just fun. The shell is a wool/nylon blend, which keeps me warm in 35-45 degree weather and the red cuffs and accents make me happy. After reading this post about the benefits of owning a silly winter coat, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Why should outerwear be as dreary as the weather? 

A note: I intentionally purchase coats slightly bigger than I need so that I have ample room for sweaters and general coziness. This also gives me for flexibility when searching for items at thrift stores, because I can expand the hunt to a range of sizes.

Shop Herman Kay coats on Etsy

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

Ethical Details: Vintage Pendleton Coat - thrifted; Scarf, Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

The newest addition to the cozy coat family, this Pendleton wool coat reminded me of Everlane's new cocoon coat, except it's (presumably) much better quality. The shell is thick, 100% wool that's soft and smooth to the touch. It's actually probably two sizes too large - and the sleeves are a bit long - but I like the way it drapes as a result.

I've been meaning to put together a post on how the best way to shop for Everlane dupes is to shop vintage. I mean, this coat has almost the same lines as Everlane's coat, except it's more practical and luxurious. Plus, I only paid $30 for it.

Shop Pendleton Coats on Ebay

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

Ethical Details: Land's End Coat - thrifted; Scarf, Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

The OG coat in the bunch, this was one of those thrift shop miracles. I went thrift shopping with my mom at Valley Thrift in Ohio (I LOVE that place) a couple years ago on the hunt for a navy toggle coat. And there it was! This one has a 100% wool shell and 90% wool lining, so it's quite warm. I would say the wool quality is inferior to the Pendleton coat, but that's to be expected. 

Shop wool toggle coats on Ebay

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

Ethical Details:

Mossimo Canvas Coat - thrifted; Scarf, Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee- Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

I used Christmas money to buy this coat at a cute consignment shop in downtown Charleston, West Virginia (you should visit!). It's lighter weight than other coats in my collection, but it's flannel lined, so I find it perfect for late fall and early spring. Even though this was originally from Target, I've had it for two years and the quality is great. (I also have fond memories wearing it to the Women's March in 2017).

Shop canvas army jackets on Ebay

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

Ethical Details: Puffer - c/o Everlane (last year); Scarf, Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

Last but not least, the one new item in my coat wardrobe. Everlane sent this to me for review last fall and it's a workhorse for snow days and super cold winter days since it's water resistant and extremely cozy. This year they released a recycled poly version.

Shop Coats at Everlane

What To Look For When Buying Winter Coats Secondhand

❅ Stick to naturally derived fibers like cotton, wool, and other animal fibers for greatest warmth and quality (acrylics and nylons DO NOT cut it in truly cold weather - since you're buying secondhand, you won't contribute to demand for new, animal-derived textiles) OR technical poly-fill like Primaloft.

❅ Check for moth holes, stains, tears, and other condition issues. Do a sniff test to make sure there isn't serious mold or smoke contamination.

❅ Go in with a plan. Do some online window shopping at stores you like to narrow down the cuts, colors, and styles you're attracted to.

❅ Be flexible when shopping at physical stores. Try on multiple sizes and give items that look boring on the hanger a chance. Sometimes things look magical on. 

❅ Make sure you can layer sweaters and scarves under it.

❅  Check sites like Ebay, Etsy, Poshmark, and for options.

❅ Create a flexible budget and stick to it.

❅ Have fun!

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

The Moral Wardrobe: #nonewclothes

Thredup secondhand month #nonewclothes
Imagine: a wardrobe full of sustainable goods you paid less then 10 bucks for. 

It sounds impossible, but it's actually completely accessible. It's called secondhand shopping, and it has changed my life.

As I mentioned in last week's 101 Things to Buy Secondhand post, Thredup is capitalizing on the fact that National Thrift Shop Day is this Friday (August 17th) by declaring August Secondhand Month and launching a #nonewclothes social media campaign in which participants pledge to purchase only secondhand clothing throughout the entire month.

So far, so good for me (well, with the exception of underwear). Thredup gave me some store credit so that I could share a post with readers on Instagram but I decided to discuss it more here. I ended up getting two amazing J Crew blazers, this dress and shoes, and a cool Ralph Lauren choker for under $200 (the bulk of the price was in the blazers). The outfit I'm wearing cost about $40.
  Thredup secondhand month #nonewclothes stylewise-blog.comThredup secondhand month #nonewclothes Thredup secondhand month #nonewclothes stylewise-blog.comThredup secondhand month #nonewclothes
Ethical Details: Dress and Shoes - c/o Thredup; Earrings - Darling Boutique Charlottesville

My ethical fashion journey has been interesting this year because I've rekindled my love for secondhand while also getting really honest about what I'll actually wear. In the past, it's been hard to limit my purchases at thrift stores because everything is fun and cheap. But I end up with so much stuff that doesn't get worn that it becomes overwhelming. 

Now I'm reframing secondhand shopping, not as a way to idle away the afternoon, but as a part of my overall wardrobe building goals. So I might take a chance on a pair of slip-on sneakers, but I'm still going to look for the silhouettes, styles, and brands that make me feel most like me.

101 Things to Buy Secondhand

101 things to buy secondhand thredup

National Thrift Shop Day is August 17th and online secondhand retailer, ThredUp, has declared August Secondhand Month. I decided to join up by featuring secondhand outfits and inspiration. Contains affiliate links

Even though I spend up to 40 hours a week working at a thrift shop, it's easy to forget just how many things are available on the secondhand market.

A combination of convenience and incessant marketing discourages most of us from seeking out as many things as possible secondhand, but honestly, the


part of the argument has become, in the age of the internet, a poor excuse.

With relative ease, you can shop millions of secondhand products from your living room.

And if that's not your preferred method, most towns are located near a local charity shop, Goodwill, or used furniture store that round out your options.

Finding something like a used blender may not be as easy as stopping by your local Bed, Bath, & Beyond, but the cost savings and environmental good you're doing more than make up for it (she says after having just purchased a new blender).

Why is secondhand ethical?

The secondhand market is just as it sounds: a secondary market. As such, purchases made from individuals and shops selling secondhand goods do not directly contribute to demand for new goods, which means no person or ecosystem will be further harmed as a result of your purchase (that burden lies on the first consumer of that good, though it also lies on the system that allows exploitation to happen in the first place). Secondhand, in this sense, is an ethics-neutral marketplace.

However, shopping secondhand is also a stop-gap between the initial consumer and the landfill. If you can get even a few more uses out of an item before it's discarded, you're significantly reducing its environmental impact. Not to mention you'll save a lot of money over time.

The List 

Below, I've brainstormed 101 things to buy secondhand and provided links where applicable to help you narrow down your search. And in case you're wondering, yes, I have either personally thrifted or helped others shop for every single thing on this list.

As a general rule, household and clothing items are readily available on Ebay; clothing and accessories are easily accessible through




, and

; and electronics are available from



B&H Photo

. Fun vintage items are easy to find on Etsy. But never forget your local secondhand shops!

101 things to buy secondhand thredup

Without further ado...

101 Things to Buy Secondhand


Online Options:


 (search "pre-owned")

Local Options:

Habitat ReStore, Goodwill, Local Resale, Craigslist

1. French Press or Electric Coffee Maker

2. Pots & Pans

3. Silverware

4. Plates

5. Food Storage containers

6. Sheets

7. Curtains

8. Quilts & Comforters

9. Towels

10. Furniture

11. Bathroom caddies

12. Mirrors & Artwork

13. Picture Frames

14. Tiles & Flooring

15. Cabinetry


Online Options:



B&H Photo



 (search "used" and "refurbished")

Local Options:

Goodwill, Local Resale, Craigslist

16. Computer

17. Camera & Lenses

18. Cell phone

19. TV

20. External Harddrive


Online Options:









Local Options:

Goodwill, Local Resale

21. Tops

22. Pants & Skirts

23. Sundresses

24. Evening & Cocktail Dresses

25. Wedding Dress

26. Socks

27. Bras

28. Pajamas & Loungewear

29. Swimsuits

30. Activewear

31. Scrubs

32. Jackets & Coats

33. Baby & Kids' Clothes

101 things to buy secondhand thredup


Online Options:





Local Options:

 Goodwill, Local Resale

34. Purses

35. Shoes

36. Backpacks & Suitcases

37. Scarves

38. Belts

39. Jewelry

40. Hair Accessories

41. Shopping Totes


Online Options:


 (search "pre-owned")

Local Options:

Local Resale, Goodwill, Habitat ReStore, Craigslist

42. Outdoor Furniture

43. Bird Feeders

44. Sporting Equipment

45. Flower Pots

46. Plant Stands

Baby Equipment*

Online Options:



Local Options:

Craigslist, Local Resale

47. Pack 'n' Plays

48. Strollers

49. Cribs

50. Booster Seats

51. High Chairs

52. Activity Centers

53. Mobiles

*Check safety standards and regulations. It is generally best to avoid buying used safety equipment like car seats. 


Online Options:




(vintage toys)

Local Options:

Goodwill, Local Resale, Craigslist

54. Bikes

56. Stuffed Animals

57. Legos

58. Toddler & Baby Toys

59. Baby Dolls

60. Barbies

61. Melissa & Doug Toys

62. Puzzles

63. Board Games

64. Scooters

65. Video Games & Equipment

66. Card Games


Online Options:


Local Options:

Local Resale, Goodwill, Craigslist

67. Crafting Kits

68. Looms

69. Yarn

70. Knitting Needles

71. Fabric

72. Ribbon

73. Buttons

74. Thread

75. Sewing Machines

76. DIY Books

77. Sewing Patterns

78. Canning Jars

79. Craft Storage Cases

80. Paint

82. Markers, Crayons, Colored Pencils, etc.

83. Canvases & Stretcher Bars

101 things to buy secondhand thredup


Online Options:


 (search "pre-owned"),

Better World Books

Local Options:

Local Resale, Goodwill, Vintage Shops, Craigslist

84. DVDs

85. Records

86. CDs

87. Books

88. Audio Books

89. Magazines (these are often free at thrift shops or libraries)

90. Record & CD Players


Online Options:


 (search "pre-owned")

Local Options:

 Habitat ReStore, Goodwill, Local Resale, Craigslist

91. Blender

92. Toaster

93. Washer & Dryer

94. Dish Washer

95. Food Processor

96. Knife Sharpener


Online Options:


 (search "pre-owned")

Local Options:

 Habitat ReStore, Goodwill, Local Resale, Craigslist

98. Carpentry Machinery

99. Screwdrivers & Drills

100. Hardware


Online Options:


Local Options:

Goodwill, Local Resale

101. Sealed Toiletries

Once you sit down and think about it, you realize that items available on the secondhand market are virtually infinite. A little forethought goes a long way.

101 things to buy secondhand thredup

What's the weirdest or most surprising thing you've purchased secondhand?

Super Simple Upcycle: Cropped Army Jacket

upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative
Product shots from Nordstrom & Nordstrom Rack: One | Two | Three
This post contains affiliate links

I've been eyeing all the wonderful denim jackets out this season, most of them inspired by classic Levi's and the vintage denim trend.

But I simply haven't worn my jean jackets when I've owned them in the past because I'm not into the Canadian Tuxedo thing and the only other items they pair with are dresses and skirts. But that doesn't work either, because they're normally not cropped enough to lay well over high waist silhouettes.

After my Nordstrom shopping post, I fell down the rabbit hole looking for a casual cropped denim jacket when I came across this Madewell Army Jacket.

And that gave me an idea: Why not find a secondhand, lightweight army green shirt and crop it, leaving the hem raw?

It's a hybrid of all the other jackets I was looking at, and it would ensure that I would have a piece that I could pair with jeans, skirts, and dresses, because both the color and silhouette would be just right. I found an amazing secondhand, slightly oversized army green blouse on ebay for $5.00 (including shipping & handling!), then simply cut it to fit.

Upcycled Cropped Army Jacket

upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative
What You'll Need:
  • Secondhand Army Green Jacket or Blouse in Lightweight Cotton (slightly oversized is preferable). Try Ebay,, Poshmark, and Etsy for secondhand and vintage options.
  • Straight pins, chalk, or pencil for marking
  • Scissors
upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative
Outfit Details: Earrings - 31 Bits; Jacket - Secondhand via Ebay; Jeans - thrifted; Tee - Everlane

To Make:
  1. Put the jacket or blouse on and button it up to ensure the hemline is even all the way around your body.
  2. Find your desired crop point and mark it in several places with straight pins (or with a pencil or chalk).
  3. Take the item off, re-button it, and lay on a flat surface. Finish marking your line about a half inch lower than your original markings to ensure you don't accidentally over-crop your jacket (fabric may roll or fray after cutting). 
  4. With the item still laying flat, cut straight across. 
  5. Put your jacket or blouse back on and see how it fits. Adjust if needed.
  6. Throw in the dryer to fray the hem.

Hooray for an absurdly simple, very inexpensive DIY.
upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative

Counter-Culture, Consumption, and a Secondhand Solution with Darling Boutique

Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand
Photos by Tristan Williams for Darling Boutique and StyleWise.

Do you ever have one of those weeks where the same conversation shows up in various contexts, like it's following you so you can learn something from it?

That happened to me last week.

In the 5+ years I've been writing about ethical fashion, I wish I could tell you the best path forward is clear to me now. I mean, I've read hundreds of articles, I religiously follow dozens of ethical blogs, and I've even had the opportunity to do some public speaking on the topic. But despite all of these experiences that could or should have cemented a set of ideals for me, I find myself even more confused about how to really "do the right thing."

That's because the industry is big and the world is huge and the problems are both massive and always changing. New political regimes and trade deals change the rules of the game everyday. The more I've learned, the more I understand how little I know.

That complicated conversation I kept having with thrift shop customers and friends and readers always ended with the same answer: maybe the very best thing we can do, right now, is opt out a little bit by choosing secondhand.
  Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand stylewise-blog.comDarling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand
And for me, right now, knowing what I know and being situated as I am at a thrift store 4 or 5 days a week, that answer makes sense.

Of course the fashion industry has a right and maybe even an obligation to its workers to keep creating new things, and I find great meaning in being able to support brands that prioritize ethical labor and sustainable practices. But I think we have, over time, placed too much weight on the moral value of buying new things from ethical dealers as if our consumption is necessary to change the world. Even if that is true in our consumer culture, I honestly don't believe it should be true.

What we're witnessing right now in the ethical consumer space is a dangerous conflation of shopping with virtue, and once we allow that idea to warp our orientation toward consumption more generally, I think we only find ourselves in an, at best, morally ambiguous and, at worst, utterly disastrous brave new world where all moral decisions are navigated through the lens of consumption, corporate structures, private industry, and Capitalism. In other words, we bow to the manipulative whims of the marketplace and its industry leaders' compulsions. But paradigm-shifting moral structures come from a place of counter-culture. They must, or we will lose ourselves.

Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand
That got a lot heavier than I intended when I started writing, but truly, it is serious. It's so easy to get caught up in the story brands feed us instead of engaging in comparatively harder work of writing our own narratives.

But let me get back to the intended topic of this post: Darling Boutique. 

Located on a side street of the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Darling is a carefully curated consignment boutique that also sells lots of beautiful goods from local artisans. Owner, Linnea White (we share initials and a birth year), and I have become fast friends over the last few months of me stopping in. Admittedly, I mostly stop in for "shop talk" because it's refreshing and necessary to have a peer to share work woes, advice, and news with. Since we both run small secondhand shops, we have a lot to talk about.

Linnea is also invested in ethical fashion and sees the shop as an extension of that mission. She invited me to help style some Darling pieces for a shoot with shop photographer, Tristan Williams, and we thought it would be fun to show how shopping ethically through secondhand purchases can result in creative, bright, offbeat style that runs counter to the current neutral-minimalist aesthetic. There is room for everyone in this movement.

Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand
We framed the shoot around two key pieces: a throwback Mata Traders dress and a quirky Guatemalan wrap skirt with little people dancing across the bottom hem (I wish they were more visible in the pictures!).

I decided to style the Mata Traders dress against the grain: rather than playing up its boho accents, I went '60s mod with a collared shirt, big button earrings (which I ended up purchasing because I LOVE them), and Kate Spade daisy sandals. We tried to be more authentic with the skirt, styling it with a peach tank top, huaraches, and whispy earrings.
At the end of the day, we are all responsible for making our own decisions, and we really can't hold other people accountable for how we decide to prioritize ethical credentials. But secondhand makes a lot of sense! It's abundant; readily available at consignment shops, thrift stores, swaps, and online marketplaces; and helps us refuse to buy into the idea that all purchases must be overtly entwined in our moral decision making. Secondhand shopping is smart and eco-friendly, yes, but it is, above all, pragmatic.

And in a world of virtue signaling, snake-oil sales pitches, and other unverifiable facts, I am all for pragmatic solutions.

Learn more about Darling here.

My 7 Favorite Places to Shop for Vintage Clothing Online

7 Best places to shop for vintage clothing online -
Contains affiliate links

(I was going to post this tomorrow, but it's a snow day on the East Coast, so here's some snow day reading for you!)

I discovered vintage clothing in college, right around the time I realized that thrift stores existed. My roommate Mary and I had a lot of fun playing with vintage fashion, from wide leg rayon jumpsuits to short and sweet 90s dresses. I didn't have a lot of disposable income (fun fact: I intentionally ate soup mixed with Minute Rice in college so I could save up to buy clothes), but I could easily find one-of-a-kind pieces at local thrift and vintage stores, and that's all I needed to express myself creatively.

I sold vintage for several years, but it was turning me into a hoarder. I let that dream go a couple years ago with no regrets, but I still love to add a little bit of vintage to my wardrobe, and I'm trying to do that more this year. It's just more fun!

My top pick for vintage shopping is scouring local thrift shops, but that's not everyone's cup of tea. If you're looking to add a bit of sustainable, eco-friendly fun to your wardrobe, look no further than the vintage shops and marketplaces below.


1. Smockwalker Vintage

Reasonably priced, lots of selection, and the owner has a great sense of humor.
Best for: women who like casual pieces they can mix in with their contemporary pieces.
See my review here.


2. The Kissing Tree Vintage

Excellent condition, some rare items, and tons of selection.
Best for: true vintage lovers who are looking for something specific.
See my review here.


3. Neo-Thread

Reworked vintage pieces with a great eye for modern trends.
Best for: women who want a one-of-a-kind piece with a bit of attitude.
See my review here.


4. Moth Oddities

Specializing in vintage from the 70s through the 90s.
Best for: women who are prepared to pay full market value for groovy stuff.




A huge online consignment store that allows you to search by style, brand, and size.
Best for: bargain hunters.
See my review here.

SHOP HERE (Get 20% off your first purchase of $20 or more through this link)

6. Ebay

A major resale site that carries vintage alongside lots of other items.
Best for: specific item searches and those seeking a good deal.


7. Etsy

A marketplace specializing in handmade and vintage.
Best for: specific items searches and people who like the thrill of the hunt.

7 Best places to shop for vintage clothing online -

Photo by GREG KANTRA on Unsplash

I Tried And It Changed My Life (Slight Exaggeration) review
I received a no obligation gift code from that I used toward this post's featured purchases. Post contains affiliate links.

A long time ago, a bright eyed and bushy tailed version of myself waxed poetic about, a new-at-the-time online consignment store with great search features, low prices, and ample opportunity to earn referral credit to shop.

After about a year of good experiences, Thredup radically changed their consignment payout structure, raised prices to customers, and started placing limits on referral credits. I became disenchanted and, while I'll still recommend it as one option for secondhand shopping, it's no longer my first choice.

Then, in December I received an email from one of the affiliate networks I belong to announcing that I could apply to receive a no-obligation store credit to I had heard of them, but thought that they were a swapping-only website and not a true store. After a few minutes on the site, I realized I was wrong, so I went ahead and applied. They sent me a $25 gift card plus a generous coupon code, and off I went to shop. review
Ethical Details: Top - Everlane; Cardigan - Everlane; Pants -; Boots - thrifted review
I've been looking for a couple things at local thrift shops and ethical sites for the past several months and just wasn't having any luck. I wanted:
  1. a pair of plaid wool pants that reminded me of Annie Hall
  2. some embroidered shoes
I found both of these things on, plus a beautiful, lightweight wool midi skirt by Eileen Fisher for a total of $32.80 before applying the store credit.

But the real miracle is that everything fit perfectly. The quality on each item is exceptional and the shoes are super comfortable in addition to being like-new. review
Ethical Details: Top - Everlane; Jacket - secondhand; Skirt -; Shoes -

Shopping Tips

Shopping from big, multi-brand secondhand marketplaces can be a bit tricky.
  • To ensure a good fit, you should look up the size charts for each brand you're interested in on their respective websites. 
  • When searching, it's best to input a couple keywords, but don't get too precise or you'll confuse the system. allows you to narrow your search by category, style, size, color, and more. carries men's, women's, kids', baby, and maternity clothing, plus shoes, accessories, toys, and decor. Pricing is super reasonable and the site often has sales. 

Honestly, I'm just really happy with my experience and I think it's a great option for anyone looking to reduce the amount of new product purchases they make.

Shop here

Use my referral code for 20% off your first purchase of $20 or more.

The 5 Best Places to Consign or Sell Your Ethical Clothes Online

where to consign and sell ethical clothing online
If your closet is overstuffed, you've got a dozen grocery bags full of things to donate, or a life change has left you with things you can no longer wear, the answer may be to resell them. 

I'm all for donating, but if you're on a budget or have goods from small labels that aren't that marketable to the masses, it makes a lot of sense to consider your resale options. One of the biggest issues with donating a pile of unsorted clothes is that the staff at thrift shops are mostly left to their own devices to discern what is quality and what will sit on the racks for the next six months. It's more satisfying for everyone if you ensure that your specific goods can go to someone who understands what they are and really wants them.

For myself, I prefer to consign at a local shop (Darling Boutique is my favorite), because in-person sales are often more successful than online ones, you can interact with a real person, and the consignment payout is up to 50%. I choose items I think have mass appeal to send to consignment, then use Poshmark or Ebay to sell specialty items and small labels.

But what to consider when you're selling online? Here are a few things to keep in mind...

Time Commitment: First, you need to take the time commitment of reselling seriously, and be honest about how much time you are willing to commit to photographing, communicating with customers or consignment owners, and waiting for things to sell.

Effort: If you decide to resell yourself, you'll likely make more money per transaction, but you'll be responsible for packing things up and taking them to the post office. You'll also have to decide if you want to accept returns.

Quality and Curation: Whether you're consigning or reselling, in order to save both effort and time, make sure to narrow down your items to high quality, in demand clothing that looks good when photographed. Some items simply won't sell online, so consider hosting a swap or donating what doesn't make the cut.

This list contains a few affiliate links.



Pros: Incredibly easy - just request a Clean Out Bag and put all your stuff in it
Cons: Very low payouts | Many items and brands not accepted | Only a small number of ethical brands accepted (Eileen Fisher and Everlane are top ones)
Payment Format: Upfront payout
iPhone App? Yes
Would Recommend? No, if you aim to make money. Yes, if you have no time to deal with your piles of clothing in another way

Learn more here

I used to be a strong proponent of Thredup, but over the years, they've reduced their total payouts and hiked up prices. I once sent in a huge bag full of new and like-new clothes - some with tags - and only got a $2.00 payout!


Pros: Focuses on ethical fashion and boutique brands so your ethical goods will fetch a higher price
Cons: You must photograph all items ahead of time for approval | Specializes in upscale brands
Payment Format: 55% of total sale price after item sells
iPhone App? No
Would Recommend? Yes, if you've got high quality, ethical items to sell

Learn more here

Bead & Reel Rescued Collection

Pros: Focuses on trend-driven ethical and vegan fashion
Cons: Vegan items only | Payment offered as store credit
Payment Format: 50% of total sale price in store credit after item sells
iPhone App? No
Would Recommend? Yes, if you like to shop at Bead & Reel

Learn more here



Pros: It's the happenin' place for resale these days | Shipping and customer communication managed by the platform | Social sharing options
Cons: Some brands and products are hard for customers to discover | You can't directly communicate on orders or negotiations | Social sharing is almost required for discovery | High fee | Flat rate and Make an Offer only | US only
Payment Format: Poshmark takes 20% commission on the sale after purchase is complete
iPhone App? Yes (Use referral code, leahcwise, for $5 credit)
Would Recommend? Yes, for "hot" brands and items. No, for off brand items and things geared toward an older audience

Learn more here

I've had some success selling brands like Everlane, MATTER, and VEJA on Poshmark, but the commission rate is quite high considering you're doing a lot of the work yourself. And customers will almost always use the "Make an Offer" option, so be prepared to negotiate. My shop here.


Pros: Large and well respected marketplace | You can find a buyer for nearly anything | Easy to use platform | Low fee | Bid, Flat Rate, and Make an Offer options, customizable for each listing
Cons: Crowded marketplace | Shipping rates and customer communication are your responsibility
Payment Format: Ebay takes 10% commission on the sale after purchase is complete
iPhone App? Yes
Would Recommend? Yes, for less niche items and things you're looking to make a quick buck on. No, if you're aiming to get closer to market rate for your goods

I've been selling and buying on Ebay for at least a decade, so I'm comfortable with the format. Some sellers may find it overly complicated for their needs, but I personally find the most success on Ebay, especially when it comes to selling Everlane (international customers can't currently buy directly from the Everlane site, so they are anxious to buy from resell sites like Ebay).


Whether you choose to consign or sell yourself, reselling takes time and effort. But it can also be the most satisfying way to ensure you don't go over your seasonal clothing budget and get your items in the hands of people who will enjoy them for years to come.

P.S. In an ideal world, all of our ethical goods would work out for us. But sometimes you end up with something that just doesn't fit right, or isn't suitable for your lifestyle. I believe it's better to be honest about that and move on in a responsible way rather than holding onto it.

where to sell ethical clothing online - poshmark and ebay review

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Visions of Utopia: Why Everyone Should Support Community Thrift Shops

why you should shop at a community thrift shop

The motto of the Episcopal Church, emblazoned on signs and bumper stickers, is:

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You

The Episcopal-affiliated shop I manage displays this inclusive phrase near the front register, and I like to think it informs the way I manage the shop, and the way customers feel when they walk through our doors.

Regardless of affiliation, community thrift shops have a unique opportunity to create inclusive, equitable spaces. 

Shopping is socioeconomically stratified

Think about it: most brick-and-mortar stores draw in a relatively small demographic. Middle class teenagers, plus size women, high income outdoor enthusiasts, low income single moms, wannabe fashionistas, or bargain shoppers. Because of specific marketing goals and price points that match desired socioeconomic targets, even our shopping is stratified. In fact, retail employees are often trained, implicitly or explicitly, to either welcome or shun particular shoppers. Case in point: one time I entered a Coach store in a ritzy Florida mall wearing a tie-dye t-shirt and cutoff shorts. The employees literally grimaced when I walked in the door, assuming that someone dressed like me wasn't there to buy anything (as it turns out, they were right, but if they had treated me with kindness I may have added something to my mental wishlist).

On the other side of the coin, upper middle class shoppers are socially encouraged to stay away from stores where "poor people" congregate, places like K-Mart and Wal-Mart, for instance. It sounds harsh to articulate that, but if you are or have been located within that demographic, you know it's true. Sure, you may justify it on the basis of poor employee treatment or manufacturing policies, but at least a portion of the disgust you feel has to do with the physical space, and who tends to occupy it.

Involvement in community and civic groups has declined rapidly

People don't get together anymore. A

rapid decline in community involvement

 (as much as 50%) - whether in civic groups, bowling leagues, or religious services - over the last 30 or so years decreases our opportunities to interact with people in different economic and political demographics from our own. One researcher speculates that this is a multi-fold issue: the rise of suburbs, recessions, more women in the workforce, greater mobility, and technology all contribute to the way society is structured.

By the same token,


has been in decline

for more than a decade. Community groups and nonprofits are hemorrhaging participants on both sides, leaving them with little choice but to restructure or close their doors altogether. The end result is fewer resources for community engagement and involvement, and the breakdown of infrastructure that would allow us to reweave this social fabric.

Online "tribes" all but eliminate the need to interact with diverse populations

The rise of complex online forums like Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook make it easier to connect to like-minded people than ever before. In terms of creative and political synergy, this is an asset. But it also means we can attain much of our social fulfillment without ever leaving our homes.

And, because the internet is vast, we have no reason to congregate in diverse thought groups or tolerate conflict. The social borders are well maintained.

why you should shop at a community thrift shop

Where the thrift shop comes in

Thrift shops by their nature offer something for everyone. Prices are low, inventory is overflowing, and the environment is casual. 

Mothers come in with their kids, clients from social service agencies shop free with vouchers, upper middle class donors peruse the racks after dropping off their goods. Homeless people stock up on t-shirts, college students buy party costumes, Trump supporters chat with hippies in the checkout line. This is one of the last places where diverse populations coexist peacefully, finding common ground discussing the beauty of that $4.00 cashmere sweater or asking how old the baby is. This is a place where Christians catch a glimpse of the Kingdom and secular humanists restore their faith in humanity. 

Thrift Shops as Ministry

As a practicing Christian, I often compare the "ministry" of the thrift shop to the ministry of more traditional church work. Theoretically, religious spaces are intended for everyone, but it's easy to be burdened by the metaphorical heaviness of a church's front doors. Religious institutions have not, historically, been welcoming spaces for all. They have always been stratified along the lines of race, doctrine, sexual and political orientation, and social and economic class. This means that a significant portion of the population will feel unable to enter the community space of the sanctuary. 

But the thrift shop is different. When a person enters the space of a thrift shop, they are equal. Rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, Trump follower or socialist, if they've come to browse, they're welcome here. Shopping in this space is as democratic as it gets. Everyone's come for a deal, and a deal they shall receive. By contextualizing our mission as a sort of holistic ministry, we are often better equipped to meet people's basic social needs - and certainly their material needs - than a typical commercial or religious space. 

People are free to talk about their dying mother or their wayward kid, to share their work woes or their big dreams, to trade recipes and life stories. And when you give them the space to do it, they open up.

Finding Balance

Of course, not every thrift shop is created equal. Some local and national shops in my area don't find the right balance between raising funds for their outreach programs and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Sales are important, because they ensure you can sustain your financial commitments to local agencies, which ensures that they can sustain their work. But the way I see it, the most important resource we offer - and what makes us markedly different from other nonprofit models - is physical space and physical goods. We are uniquely equipped to meet people where they are, and to not understand that part of the mission is a moral problem. There is one particular shop that advertises itself as an "upscale boutique" and, as a result, only attracts a more well-to-due clientele. Sure, they're making bank for their charity, but where does that leave the people thrift shops were created for? And how does that help loosen the bonds of socioeconomic stratification?


Find a community thrift shop and support the heck out of it. 

While you're there, think about chatting with the volunteers, asking for fashion advice from a fellow shopper, and waving at a baby. You just might find that your life has become more meaningful than when you started out.

P.S. There are also practical reasons to shop at thrift shops, namely, that they keep stuff out of landfills and help you budget for higher priced, ethical goods.

My Other Posts on Thrift Shopping:

Reasons to support thrift shops

The Moral Wardrobe: Smockwalker Vintage

Smockwalker Vintage review
This post was sponsored by Smockwalker Vintage and I received an item for review.

As much as I complain about Instagram (and it is regularly), there's no doubt that it can initiate some fruitful and gratifying interactions. That's definitely true when it comes to my budding email friendship with Justina, proprietor of online vintage shop Smockwalker Vintage.

If you've been here awhile, you know that I used to sell vintage clothing, so I'm always interested in talking shop with other secondhand dealers. Justina and I bonded over the wonky and weird things we found/find when searching through piles of used goods to curate our vintage shops. We also talked a bit about the anxiety welling up in us over the current political environment. These sorts of instant connections are things I shouldn't take for granted. They're worth reflecting back on whenever I feel isolated or overwhelmed.

Smockwalker Vintage reviewSmockwalker Vintage review

Smockwalker Vintage specializes in the type of vintage I'm most attracted to: the wearable kind. Yes, a sequined flapper dress is beautiful and a mod mini in scratchy polyester pulls out all the stops when it comes to nostalgia, but neither is practical for most people's lifestyles. Not to mention that the price on collectible vintage can be prohibitively expensive.

Smockwalker is for women who love vintage, but not just for them. The wearability (and extremely reasonable prices) of the selection means it's also for women who like the idea of purchasing through a more sustainable avenue. Plus, vintage clothing is almost always made of better quality materials than items currently offered at standard retail stores, so it'll last and last.

Brief tangent: I am absolutely fed up with the appalling quality of most new items offered at department stores and boutiques. I see them every day when they come into the thrift shop where I work. The seams are weak; the fabric is doomed to fade, pill, or stretch out; and the cuts are weird and unflattering. This isn't just some passive result of the influence of fast fashion, this is blatantly rude to customers. We deserve to be able to purchase things that will hold up and that we can feel good in. Even if you don't think that supply chain ethics matters, you should care that companies are trying to pull one over on you when it comes to quality.
  Smockwalker Vintage reviewSmockwalker Vintage review
Wearing: Romper c/o Smockwalker Vintage; Tee via Everlane*; Thrifted Melissa Jellies (similar)

Justina sent me a charming romper to review and I'm in love with it. That sounds ridiculous, but I have a soft spot for sort of goofy late 80s/early 90s patterns and cuts. This one is easy to wear and looks an awful lot like a skirt but with the ease of a pair of shorts.

A few other items I like: 90s Jersey Mini Dress | Midi Colorblock Sun Dress | Vintage Seamed Jeans

If you're intimidated by secondhand shopping, curated vintage shops like Smockwalker Vintage are a good place to start. Secondhand shopping is the most eco-friendly - and in my opinion, most fun - choice, so it's worth giving it a try.


Shop Smockwalker Vintage

Neo Thread Co's Upcycled Clothes Are Unbelievably Cool

neo thread upcycled and embroidered clothing shop
This post was sponsored by Neo Thread and I received an item for review.

When it comes to upcycled goods, there's a clear dichotomy between "craft" and "art."

Neo Thread's line of secondhand, upcycled, and hand embroidered goods definitely falls in the latter category. I'm all for experimenting with previously used materials to create new and inspiring pieces, but it takes someone special to achieve something remarkable.

Sarah Holley scours Albuquerque thrift shops for base clothing and materials suitable for repurposing before creating one-of-a-kind pieces to stock her shop, like the hand embroidered Peace Hand tee I'm wearing in this post. A testament to her talent, she was able to grow Neo Thread into a full time business earlier this year! I sent over some interview questions to get a better sense of her process and what inspires her.

How did you get started in this business? 

Sarah: I started neo • thread as a typical, broke, business, specifically entrepreneurial, undergrad student. I would frequent local thrift stores purchase and modify clothing to my liking and, to my surprise, the liking of others. Students started complimenting and asking where they could shop my look. So, on a whim,  I decided to stop getting ready and get started. I had always wanted to start a business that centered around creativity and improving the community and realized that nothing would make me feel ready for this endeavor so I best dive in.

Initially, I sold through Instagram through comments (pre-DM) then moved to Etsy. I graduated college in 2015, became discouraged, dropped neo • thread, and got a grown-up job. But the passion kept tugging at me, I wanted to create: to create well and for a greater purpose. At the end of last year, I decided to start neo • thread back up. I formulated the vision, filed the business paperwork, created the website, and got to work. I was able to leave my job and become full time with neo • thread this last February.

neo thread upcycled and embroidered clothing shop neo thread upcycled and embroidered clothing shop

Who is your archetypal customer?

The young, multi-mindful woman; that is, the young free spirit who is ethically, earth and style conscious.

Tell me a bit about your process for selecting base materials and customizing them.

I scour vintage and second-hand stores for high-quality articles that stand out to me. Whether that be in an oddly shaped dress with a great fabric pattern, a cool vintage jacket or top or a cozy sweater in need of revamping, I’m on the hunt for the beauty unseen. For me, it is important that neo • thread clothing makes a statement about its wearer. So, in customizing, I want the pieces to be stylish but not overly trendy. Meaning, you can wear that piece beyond the year you bought it. The fast fashion industry has trained us to throw clothing out after its 7th wear and that leads to more textiles in our landfill. I want to end that! I want to make clothing that is unique, lovable, and lasting.

How long have you been doing embroidery? Are you self taught or did someone train you?

I’ve been embroidering for about 4 years. My aunt gave me a tattered, embroidery book my grandma had given her in the late 1950s. I poured through every page, in love with the art that could be created with such plain materials. As a skill, embroidery is not difficult to learn. However, it requires a great deal of patience, which has been and continues to be my greatest challenge. I have a great love and appreciation for embroidery and hand-stitching for this very reason.
  neo thread upcycled and embroidered clothing shop

What are your long term goals for Neo Thread?

neo • thread is meant to be bigger than myself, an online shop, or even a place with cool, ethically-sourced clothing. The goal is to create a platform and community for other creatives to take part, join the movement, experience mentorship and do exactly what I do, modify discarded clothing into beautiful new pieces. These seamstress/artists would be mentored and trained on how to create and sell their items on neo • thread. I want these creatives to experience more life, and financial and creative freedom. All the friction of shipping, branding, and boring business work would be taken out of their way so they could focus their energy on doing what they love: creating! Imagine a world with more ethically-sourced clothing, more encouraged and empowered creativity and less and less textile being thrown to the landfill. This is my dream - it’s what keeps me excited and full of hope! 

neo thread upcycled and embroidered clothing shop Wearing c/o Neo Thread Tee, c/o OESH Sandals

You can probably tell, but this t-shirt really gets me. It makes me feel cool and comfortable in my own skin. The embroidery is impressive, even more so in person than online. And the base tee has the softness and give of a well-worn vintage band t-shirt without looking like something you would sleep in.

Since all of Neo Thread's creations are one-of-a-kind, this particular shirt is sold out, but Sarah has other cool tees in her shop, which you can check out here. Neo Thread also carries sweaters, dresses, shorts, and jackets.

Like Sarah mentioned, the goal is for Neo Thread to become a multi-maker marketplace centered around quality, upcycled goods, so if upcycling's your thing, make sure to reach out and see how you can get your products on Neo Thread.


Shop Neo Thread here. 

Follow on Instagram.

 A note from Sarah: neo • thread co. shoppers are adoringly referred to as neo • t girls. neo • t girls are about the clothing but even more so are about a movement. A movement towards self-expression, sustainability, ethical sourcing, and an empowered community. The movement has been represented with the call to action to “ be a #neotgirl”!

The Best Way to Get Rid of Unwanted Things (Spoiler: It's Not Goodwill)

This post was written by Hannah Theisen and originally appeared on Life Style Justice.
Alternatives to Donating to Goodwill

Any aspiring minimalist or zero-waste living enthusiast will eventually run into the ethical issues with getting rid of stuff. Most of us who are on this lifestyle path haven't been minimalists or conscious consumers from birth, so how do we dispose of all the stuff we've accumulated that we don't want or need without contributing toward the environmental stress that's being placed on our planet by our massive amounts of cast off goods...

I generally don't support big thrift shops.

Only about 20% of what gets donated to those Goodwill-type stores is actually put out for sale. 

The rest is sorted and either sent to landfill or shipped overseas- and the crazy surplus of cheap American fashion in developing companies has ruined many countries' own textile/clothing industries and contributed to the lack of sustainable work. Kind of like how TOMS dumps shoes in "poor" communities and brings ruin to local shoemakers, or how we dump excess crops from the US into Haiti and put local farmers out of business. In addition, the financials and "charitable giving" of these big-box thrift stores are somewhat sketchy. Goodwill, for example, pays top executives millions per year while paying workers as little as 22 cents an hour.

Since I've been trying to avoid simply hauling bags of my no-longer-wanted stuff to a donation site at Goodwill or Salvation Army, I've had to get a bit more creative (and alot slower) as I downsize my belongings. Here are some ways that I've been able to get rid of my old "junk" in a more sustainable way:

Art Supplies: 

Many non profits and art organizations accept donations of used art supplies. I was able to recently get rid of a bunch of old card stock, half-used acrylic paints, brushes, and more by donating it to a local group that teaches free art classes to youth.


Free The Girls collects used bras to donate to a social enterprise in Mozambique where women repair and remake the undergarments and sell them in the local market. I've donated to Free The Girls several times... and will most likely continue to do so because I haven't found a better alternative and I believe very strongly in providing jobs for women leaving the sex trafficking industry. However, I am going to be honest and say that I don't love the organizations messaging and the general rescue-y vibe. In addition, I know that donating used goods to be sold in overseas markets can be quite detrimental to the local economy and apparel industry. However, I still believe that donating used bras to be refurbished and worn again is a better alternative than throwing them in the landfill. You can mail bras to Free the Girls, or see if there is a local drop off center near you. I drop mine off at a local midwifery office!


When getting rid of clothing, I go by a certain formula:
  1. Sell
  2. Give Away
  3. Repurpose
  4. Donate
  5. Trash or compost

First, I always try to sell my lightly used clothing. Not because I need to get money from my old stuff, but because my philosophy is that people place more value on stuff when it's not free, and think more carefully about whether they want something or not. For example, when I go to a clothing swap and am faced with piles of free clothes, I am far more likely to pick up something that I don't really need/won't end up wearing a lot! (Leah recommends selling on ebay or poshmark.)

Second, I'll give away anything that my friends or family want. Thankfully I have two sisters who wear similar sizes! Sometimes this step is first, if I'm getting rid of a piece that I know a certain friend would like or fit into well.

Third, I try to repurpose. If an item isn't sellable or easy to give away, most likely it's a bit ratty. I tear old cotton tees into rags, make headbands from old shirts, and have even made cloth napkins from some of Andrew's old button downs.

Fourth is donation. This, of course, is only for things in good condition, and only as a last resort if I haven't been able to give them away, sell them, or repurpose them. When I do donate, I donate to a small local thrift and vintage shop rather than Goodwill.

Fifth is Trash. Thankfully I don't have to use this option very often, but occasionally some of Andrew's work shirts will be so torn up, filled with holes, and covered with glue that they aren't salvageable for any purpose. Anything that's 100% natural fiber gets composted, a few things do find their way to the trash can...


Read more tips at Life Style Justice.

Getting Thrifty With It: Part 2, 6 Things to Buy at the Thrift Shop

5 things to buy at the thrift shop

Scavenging for treasures at thrift stores is one of my favorite pastimes but, admittedly, it can be a bit tedious to find just the right thing. A few weeks ago, I shared 5 things to avoid buying at thrift shops, but my advice doesn't end there!

Today I want to share the items I prefer to buy at thrift shops over regular retail stores. For me, thrift shops aren't just more sustainable alternatives to the mall, they're treasure troves of goods that defy current trends and traditional merchandising standards. My personal preferences (and my body type) don't always mesh with current trends, so thrift shops provide an essential resource for finding things that work for me across brands, styles, and eras.

6 Things to Buy at Thrift Shops Instead of Traditional Retail Stores

1. Durable Cotton Denim

Even if you're not big into the mom jeans trend, you have to admit that thick, cotton denim from the 1990s and earlier just holds up better than jeggings. Since I carry most of my weight in my hips and thighs, I hunt for high waisted denim with extra room in the hips to make into cut-offs in the summer. Cropping full length jeans allows me to customize the length (booty shorts just aren't my thing) and they're a lot more flattering than the flimsy, skin-tight shorts you often find on the market today.

2. Skirts, Skirts, Skirts

Why buy a new midi skirt when you can buy a groovy, vintage one from your local thrift shop? I don't shop for skirts from traditional retailers at all now that I've discovered the skirt wonderland that is the thrift shop. All sorts of patterns, lengths, cuts, and brands are available in a single place, which allows you to try on lots of different things and find the perfect fabric, pattern, and cut. I recently styled a vintage Ralph Lauren Country skirt I thrifted in a The Moral Wardrobe post.

3. Sweaters & Outerwear

Cold weather clothes made of high quality, cozy fabrics like cashmere and wool are expensive, not to mention that a lot of today's luxury materials just aren't as high quality as they used to be. That's why I've become a secondhand cashmere hoarder ever since I started working at a thrift shop. I used to stock up on Old Navy sweaters made of acrylic and cotton blends, but they never really held in my body heat like a layering piece should. Now that I have access to cashmere sweaters (at $4.00 a pop!) and the perfect wool toggle coat (for $29.99), winters are a lot more bearable.

thrifted cut off shorts and crossbody with everlane pima cotton
Wearing thrifted shorts, a thrifted purse, and an Everlane tee.

4. Statement Dresses & Tops

The ethical fashion world is great at producing high quality, organic cotton basics and I tend to prefer to buy those sorts of things new for the best fit and long term wear. But fun, printed garments produced under fair trade guidelines are either harder for me to find in the right cut or out of my price range, so I seek them out secondhand. Favorite finds: a cold-shoulder top, a '90s skater dress, a slinky polka dot t-shirt dress, and a Ralph Lauren color-block button-down.

5. Swimsuits

This may surprise you, but I actually prefer to buy swimsuits secondhand. Hygiene issues aside (just be careful to check for wear and wash thoroughly before wearing), the thrift shop provides better variety and better pricing on swimwear. I found the perfect, daisy print halter swim top at a shop in a neighboring town a few years ago (I can officially say that I had a halter swim top before it was cool) and it pairs just fine with the black swim bottoms I already owned. For someone who is neither an hourglass nor a wearer of push-up bras (it always seems like swim companies assume we all fit in those categories), I like being able to select from a wide variety of silhouettes and sizes. In fact, I think my top may be a children's item.

6. Purses

Though I have a pretty even mix of new and used bags in my collection, I often get more use out of the surprise finds from the thrift shop. I always use a mid-sized crossbody, preferably made of lightweight fabric with lots of organizational pockets. Finding all of that in an ethically produced bag is pretty much impossible, so I keep my eye out for conventional brands with those specs at secondhand shops.

I'm interested to hear your thrift shop victories! Let me know in the comments. 

Read about 5 Things to Avoid at Thrift Shops.

Getting Thrifty With It: Part 1, 5 Things to Avoid at the Thrift Shop

second hand and thrift shopping advice: 5 things to avoid

A couple of years ago, I shared 10 introductory thrift shopping tips for those who find secondhand shopping daunting. In light of some of your survey responses asking for more thrift shopping advice, I've decided to start a series with more specific tips for finding good quality items on the secondhand market.

I'm a huge proponent of buying secondhand, but not everything on the secondhand market is created equally in terms of stitching, fit, and fabric quality. And since most things have been used or worn before, it's especially important to be aware of the way certain fabrics and materials wear over time, and to be alert to any condition issues like pilling, pulling, staining,  stretching, and shrinking. I recommend looking over the pieces you're considering in natural light - find a window or see if you can take the item outside - because yellow fluorescent light has a way of covering a multitude of problems.

I've been working as the manager of a thrift shop for almost 2 years now, so I've become much more aware of the styles and fabrics to avoid, as well as the most common wear issues on secondhand clothes.

5 Things to Avoid When Secondhand Shopping

1. Polyester & Rayon Blends

If you want your items to wash and wear well, avoid anything made of knit polyester and rayon blends. The term polyester can refer to a huge variety of textiles - from chiffons to satins to knits - and not all of them will show wear quickly. But in my experience, clothing made from both knit cotton/polyester blends and rayon/stretch knits will start pilling after light wear, even if you take care to hand wash and air dry the items. And since you're already buying these things secondhand, it's best to just avoid these fabrics altogether.

2. White Shirts

White shirts are so crisp and summery, but it's best to avoid them on the secondhand market unless you're shopping at a curated consignment store. In my experience, the majority of white tees, tanks, and blouses donated to thrift shops have either armpit stains or food stains that didn't fully wash out. I'm constantly having to cull white clothing from our racks at the shop because of pit stains. If you must buy a white shirt, make sure to check it out in natural light.

3. Vintage Elastic Waist Pants & Skirts

While I've found lovely vintage skirts at secondhand shops, I would generally advocate avoiding anything 20+ years old with an elastic waist. Elastic wears out over time, losing its stretch and expanding. To check for elastic loss, give the waistband of the item in question a firm tug and listen for the tell-tale crinkling sound of bad elastic. Sometimes elastic goes out in swimwear due to prolonged exposure to chlorine. In this case, the whole suit may feel brittle. When in doubt, put it back on the rack.

4. Jeggings

The thin, stretch fabric that today's fast fashion jeggings are made with loses its shape very quickly, conforming to the original wearer's specific curves and movement. It's best to avoid pants, jeans, and jeggings made of insubstantial, stretch fabric because you'll often find when you get them home that the knees start sagging or the area around the crotch and thighs has stretch marks from heavy wear by the previous owner.

5. DIY Hemming & Tailoring

Just say no to items that were cut, cropped, and taken in at home. There are exceptions to this, of course, but I've been pretty disappointed by items I took home only to find that the hem was uneven or the seam allowance too small for minor alterations of my own. Even if the item was professionally tailored, it may still be a no go, because tailoring is body-specific. An item that may have fit you at its original proportions is now cut just right for the nice lady who donated it to the thrift shop. Tailoring makes it nearly impossible to tell what size the item really is since the size on the tag is now irrelevant.

A few other items to avoid: used socks and underwear (that one's probably obvious), appliances with only 2 prongs on the plug (it's a shock hazard!), and particle board furniture (it will likely fall apart in transit).

I'm interested to hear your thrift shop horror stories! 

What items disappointed you after you purchased them? What fabrics and qualities do you avoid when secondhand shopping?

EWC Second Hand Challenge: don't chuck your junk in my backyard

Ethical Writers Coalition Second Hand Challenge

The Ethical Writers Co. of which I am a part has decided to host a Second Hand Challenge for the month of September. That means something different to each of us, but we're all hoping to bring to light the beauty of buying second hand. I've gone on and on about the benefits of secondhand shopping already, even writing an article about it for Relevant Magazine, but I'm still learning to Shop Secondhand First for everything instead of impulse buying on Amazon.

Since I manage a thrift shop, my perspective on the secondhand industry is perhaps more obsessively parsed out than most. While I think that the used goods market is a vital middle man between retail stores and the landfill, it is by no means a perfect system. For one, a lot of donors assume that everything they give to thrift shops and other charities will find a happy home and go on to live a full life, but that's just not the case. At my shop - and I think we're rather generous about what we keep - we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day. We send most of that off to another charity in the hopes that they'll find some use for it, but we're fooling ourselves if we don't admit that half of that pile will end up being thrown out.

"...we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day."

This is the biggest pitfall of the secondhand market: it operates (for many) as a guilt release valve for over-consumption. People don't feel bad about buying new stuff because they know they can hand over all their old stuff to charity. They don't have to deal with the burden of tossing it in the trash.

This point assumes, of course, that people tend to feel guilty about throwing things away, but that's not true for everyone. Some people give to thrift shops simply because it makes them feel like they've done their good deed for the week. One donor even told me that she considers donating her stuff to thrift shops her primary act of goodwill, as if handing over unwanted items to us is a heavy burden for her. While I'm sure every charity shop is immensely grateful that people donate, it shouldn't replace real activism. The donor-receiver relationship is mutually beneficial; it's an exchange, not a great moral deed.

"If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them."

Another downside of the secondhand market's existence is that it allows people to be flippant about their possessions and the human and environmental costs of production. If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them. I've made it a habit to pray for the makers of the things I buy, use, and wear whether they were fairly sourced or not, not so much because I think my prayer will change the lives of those I pray for, but because I think the habitual act of prayer will change my heart for the better - it will orient my thinking toward justice and intentionality.

Despite its shortcomings (but let's be honest, they're really our shortcomings), shopping secondhand is still a very good thing, because it gives perfectly usable things another chance to live our their intended lives instead of being thrown out or otherwise abandoned. And everyone can benefit from the secondhand market: people with lower incomes have access to nice things, shopaholics can curb their spending, landfills don't fill up so quickly, local charities receive financial support, and the people who made the goods in the first place are remembered and respected through the long term use of their products. But, as with everything in this life, we must act responsibly.

rules for shopping with intention

Shopping secondhand is a budget friendly way to shop more sustainably and I'm determined to get in the habit of buying more than just clothes on the secondhand market. Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift. Plus, there are a ton of other ways to get exactly what you're looking for on the secondhand market thanks to marketplaces like ebay and thredup; or you could host a swap with your friends or in your community and find things you love for free (plus, passing things on to the specific people you know will value them is often a better option than donating willy-nilly to a thrift shop). I figure that if I can buy something that's on a slippery slope to the landfill instead of buying new, that's a small win for sustainability.

"Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift."

So follow along with me and the EWC this month as we take on the #ethicalwritersco Second Hand Challenge. If you use our hashtag on social media, we'll be able to see what you're up to and get some inspiration! You may be a novice to shopping secondhand or a seasoned pro, but we want to know how you're taking advantage of charity shops and online consignment sites to create a more sustainable, less wasteful life.

Additional Reading:

From the EWC:

10 ways to thrift shop like a pro

thrift shop like a pro

I know there have got to be tons of thrift shopping guides on the internet, but were they written by a thrift shop professional?! I've been managing a local thrift shop for 5 months now and I still thrift in my spare time. I've got a system that helps me scan and shop even the largest shop in under an hour.

Here are my steps. Modify them to suit your needs!

Bring cash just in case.

Some of the best thrift shops don't have the income to support credit card costs. My thrift shop just got a card reader, but we still require your purchase to be greater than $10.00 to use it. You don't want to abandon your new favorite thing just because you don't have a few dollars with you.

Grab a cart. 

You may think you're only going to grab a couple things, but it's always best to go hands-free on a thrift adventure. Having a cart will make it easier to sort items and make your final choices. If the shop doesn't have carts available, ask an associate where you can stow your goods while you continue shopping.

Start in a section that inspires you. 

I always start in shoes! Even in Goodwills that organize shoes on top of the clothing racks, I prefer to skim shoes first just because I love them. Finding a few items I love at the very beginning encourages me to keep going and I can make sure I grab up what I want before someone else discovers them.

Spot clothing by pattern or color. 

Clothing racks at thrift shops can be extremely overwhelming, especially if they don't seem to be organized in any particular way. To get around the panic, I look for hints of patterns, textures, and colors that I love. The item may be the wrong size or in poor condition, but at least I've given myself a system to find the things that are best for me instead of mindlessly going through the entire rack.

thrift shop

If something is cool, but you're just not sure, put it in your cart anyway. 

This may sound counter intuitive - and it would be if you were at the department store - but thrift shopping offers opportunities to get creative. If a pattern or style appeals to you, but you don't know if it'll fit or flatter you, put it in your cart to try on. You never know!

Estimate your total along the way. 

Never stop tallying! For some, thrift shopping means spending under $20.00 every time. Since I resell and buy almost everything secondhand, I can easily rack up a total close to $100.00. I always estimate my total to make sure that I'm staying on budget. This also helps me part with things I don't really want anyway.

If you're buying it for yourself, try it on!

Admittedly, I have trouble with this one. I buy a lot of stuff without trying it on first, but there's a 50/50 chance it won't work out. Sure, it might be in your size or be your color or be really cheap, but trust me when I say you really don't want to make a habit of taking things home that you'll never wear.

Get a second opinion.

If you can, bring a friend who shares your passion for secondhand or knows your style well. If you can't, don't be afraid to ask an associate for her opinion. My thrift shop is staffed primarily by retired women (and me!) who would love to help you find something you love.

Narrow it down!

Now that your cart is piled high and you've tried everything on, begin the purge. Put back anything that doesn't fit correctly or is just too funky/boring to suit your needs. Check and double check for rips, stains, and tears. It's best to do this by laying the item as flat as you can get it and inspecting it from all angles in direct light. If you find quality issues, decide whether to tell an associate, put it back (if it's minor or noted already), or keep it. Keep in mind that some thrift shops will not allow you to purchase an item after you've noted a condition issue, so if you really want something with a tiny stain, keep that information to yourself.

If you love the shop, take a business card and get social.

Most thrift shops maintain a facebook page even if they don't have a website. If you can't readily find a business card, ask an associate for details. It's fun (and useful) to stay up to date on shop sales and events and the people who run the shop really appreciate your support. There are lots of thrift shop chains in the US these days, but the little guys (like me) have to work pretty hard to get the word out, so we rely on happy customers to tell others about it and to let us know how we can better serve the community.

Here's a helpful cheat sheet to pin or take with you!

thrift shop