• Shannon Harts

Shopping Second-Hand: Find Just What You’re Looking for—and More!

Photo: Becca McHaffie, @beccamchaffie

When I walked into the West Seneca Amvets thrift shop and saw the expanse of old clothes and home decor that lay before me, I wondered if I’d ever find what I was looking for. 

My task: to find a red, Renaissance-looking dress for my Halloween costume. I was going as Buttercup from The Princess Bride. A bonus would be finding a black shirt and black pants for my husband to be Wesley. We thought this costume would be timely since there's a lot of debate about remaking the classic movie (so, to tie that in, my husband would wear a sign with a photo of another movie character famous for saying "inconceivable" & the text, "Remake our movie? Inconceivable!")

Halloween is certainly not the only time I shop second-hand. Thrift and consignment shops are also my favorite places to find nice shirts and jeans—especially jeans since they are already a little stretched out and true to fit, unlike when you buy them new. 

I started sifting through dresses, feeling all of the different fabrics, from cotton to polyester, slip between my fingers.

There were a lot of outdated “nos”, but I was impressed by the great condition everything seemed to be in.

I was suddenly surprised to find a really cute black strapless dress (with pockets!) that would be perfect for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles. 

I snagged this dress and then came across a light grey, 90s prom dress (sequins and all) that I figured could work for Buttercup’s wedding scene. Or, I thought a funny idea (which you, dear reader, are totally welcome to steal) could be dressing as an awkward 90s prom photo with my husband as my date.

As I carried these finds to the dressing room, I suddenly stopped when I saw the perfect black button-up shirt for my husband. I snagged this as well. 

Both of the dresses I had found fit like a glove. I was incredibly satisfied and was about to check out when I saw it out of the corner of my eye: the perfect red Buttercup dress, complete with wide sleeves and some Renaissance-looking lace trim.

Score! I tried this dress on and it was a very comfortable fit. It was also in such great condition, and with a more modern look—complete with pockets!—I knew I’d wear it on many other occasions. 

And as I was walking toward the check-out line now with this dress in tow, I found yet another useful costume addition: a black mask for my husband.

I couldn’t believe my luck! And everything--three dresses, a mask, and a black button-up shirt, came to $40. 

You might see where I’m going with this: I personally believe Halloween is the perfect opportunity to try thrifting or buying second-hand--and to make it a permanent habit. 

While I still find “fast fashion” or cheap clothes from big department stores or mall shops very tempting, shifting away from them has not only saved me a few bucks, but I've found it can have a bigger impact on the planet than you may expect. 

So What's the Big Deal?

The heavy toll buying new clothes takes on the Earth is astounding, and it’s only getting worse.

About one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second, according to a recent Business Insider article. 

In addition, the fashion industry alone is responsible for about 10 percent of humanity’s overall carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, fueling climate change’s devastating consequences. 

But perhaps the most disturbing stat is that the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. Just one cotton shirt can take around 700 gallons of water to produce!

The Aral Sea, once one of the world’s fourth-largest lakes and located in Uzbekistan, Central Asia, dried up to desert land and a few ponds due to cotton farming for the textile industry (Environmental Justice Atlas, The Guardian)

And humanity’s demand for fast fashion is growing. Compared to 2000, people in 2014 bought on average 60% more clothing items in 2014 (Business Insider). 

Wow, so what can we do?

Buying second-hand clothes, for Halloween costumes as well as other needs, can make a bigger impact than you may think. 

The organization WRAP revealed in a 2017 report that extending the average life of clothes by just three months per item, from 2 years and 2 months to 2 years and 5 months, would lead to a 5–10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints (

And of course, buying used clothing keeps these items from adding to the more than 250 million tons of trash that enter American landfills each year.

So you may be wondering: what’s the best way to go about thrifting if you are new to the game?

Here are 6 quick tips to get you started (Lifehack).: 

1. Find the thrift shops near you and don’t be afraid to explore and compare inventories! You may be surprised by how much they can vary. Websites such as the can help you find the location that’s most convenient for you by searching your city and state.

2. Stick to a list of what you need, and don't feel like you need to buy something just because it's a really good deal. I’ve found the low prices in thrift shops can sometimes lead me to get distracted and spend more time than I need to finding what I really came there for. Or I'll spend more than I was planning to and come home with some items I regret and just end up donating again later.

4. Clothes may not be organized by size and organization in general may not be the best, so patience is also a great thing to have when searching for what’s on your list. And creativity is of course important because you just may not find what you were looking for (but you may find a great “awkward prom” costume for a backup or next year!)

5. Don’t forget to check the quality of the items you are thinking about purchasing a well. Since they are used, sometimes there can be small flaws--but there’s usually plenty of other options if this happens!

6. If you are not a fan of shopping in person and prefer online, try an online consignment stores such as Vinted, Poshmark, Depop, and Thredup.

Another great thing about second-hand shopping is you can bring in clothes you don’t want to make room in your closet for new ones (when you may even just be up for a little fashion refresh).  

So to save money and the environment, I recommend giving second-hand shopping a try—and you never know what great outfit or decorating ideas may come to mind as you consider giving old objects new life.

The finished costumes--how'd we do?

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About Me

I'm a nature-loving copyeditor for a company that publishes educational children's books for the school and library markets. I've written a published book about how drones can help the environment and I'm fascinated with ways we can come together to create a better future for our precious planet. I am also a loving cat mom, a proud Syracuse University grad, and an

avid runner. 



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