1. TRY IT ON
This one’s a biggie. The number one tip for an op-shopping success story is to try on everything*. Just try it on. No exceptions. No, not even that Witchery dress in a size 12, even though you’re always a size 12 at Witchery. Funnily enough, if you were shopping for new clothes at Witchery, you would probably try it on there, to check the style and feel, at the very least. You may be tempted to skip this step in an op-shop because it’s cheap and second-hand and we are always SO BUSY and in SUCH A RUSH.
Trying it on is also DOUBLY important for any vintage or handmade pieces as fits are so subjective. My policy is to scour the shelves for colours/fabrics/patterns/styles I like and then trying them on, no matter what the tag says. You never know, you may have your very own magical Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants moment.
Have fun. Play around with it. An over-sized dress may look cute with the right belt. A tee that is slightly too small might look good layered under overalls or a summer dress. Don’t be afraid to take accessories into the change rooms and have your own mini dress-up party. And, unless the store is super busy, don’t be afraid to (slightly) bend the ‘five items at a time’ rule. It’s more fun to try on clothes together, and you can get a better picture of how they may look as part of an outfit. Because, you know, we rarely leave the house in just a blazer. Rarely.
*Sub-tip: dress for success when you plan to hit some thrift stores. Leave the skinny jeans, copious layers and accessories, or anything requiring excessive buttoning at home. Dresses are best and shoes that easily slide off and on are a must. The harder is to get undressed and redressed and undressed and redressed over and over, the more likely it will be that you will walk out of the store with spontaneous purchases you later discover you don’t like, or you miss out on a hidden gem that looks terrible on the shelf but killer on your body.
2. LOOK IN EVERY SECTION
Don’t limit yourself to a quick squiz of the dresses, blouses and handbags. Pretend you are Indiana Jones! Your local thrift store is a haven of hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered. Cast your eyes over all sections, there may be gems hiding in unexpected corners. I have found cool shirts mistakenly delegated to the children’s section, amazing men’s tees that I can alter to fit me (see point 3), funky art-deco jewellery mixed in with the toys. Rummage through chests of hats, scarves and belts; the best stuff is often at the bottom.
3. MAKE ALTERATIONS
If you LOVE the style of a piece, but the fit isn’t right, open your mind to the idea of investing in getting the garment professionally altered to fit you. Fair enough, it may not be worth it for that floral H&M summer dress, but for those one-in-a-million vintage pieces and unique finds that melt your heart, paying an extra $50 to make them perfect will be worth every cent. And, let’s face it, most of us have been guilty on spending way more than this on a dress brand new.
For all those shunned fast-fashion thrift finds (I’m looking at you, floral H&M summer dress), sometimes home alterations can be a quick, easy and cheap way to fix/alter/style it up. Skirt too big? A simple dart in the back may fix that. Top with a cool print is too long? A simple snip and stitch to re-hem it into a cute crop. Distress a pair of vintage Levi’s rather than buying another new pair. Annika Victoria is the queen of this world, check out her YouTube channel for some inspo!
If you need bigger sizes, op-shops sometimes don’t provide as many fun options. This is where a little DIY day could be a fun way to make/customise your own cute clothes. Look for cool prints/fabrics on smaller sized shirts, cut out the sections you love and sew them on to panels of your favourite shirt, or the pockets of your jeans. Op shops usually have a stash of funky fabrics, patches, ribbons, lace, etc. which make for fun DIY embellishments. The possibilities are endless!
4. MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE STAFF
Seriously. Take a deep breath, harness your inner extrovert and get to know these guys on first name basis. They will often be the most fun, lovely people (after all, they’re usually working for a charity!) and they can help you with your treasure hunting. Looking for the right pair of brown winter boots? Let the staff know; maybe they have some out the back, or they can keep an eye out for any that come in.
5. LOOK FOR THE DEALS
My local thrift store has a $2 rack, of clothes that are discounted after five or six weeks in circulation. Sometimes, some of the best gems can be hidden here! The Salvation Army stores also do rotating weekly tag specials and most other op-shops have some sort of double-bargain opportunity. Speak to the lovely staff (your new besties, if you’re following my advice from point 4) and suss out what the deal is. Everybody loves a $2 bargain!
6. LOOK FOR QUALITY
One of the most intimidating aspects of op-shopping can be that there is just TOO. MUCH. STUFF. I know, it can be overwhelming to the untrained shopper. Rather than a regular store, where styles are grouped neatly together and arranged conveniently by size, thrift-stores are often a free-for-all. Some group blouses by size or price, but most are grouped by colour (or not at all). The rapid rise of fast fashion over recent years means that a lot of what fills op-shop shelves is junky. DO NOT DESPAIR. There are diamonds to be found within this rough. You may not have the time or the inclination (or, quite frankly, the sanity!) to examine each piece on the shelves, so train your eyes to look for quality fabrics and styles that are classic and well made. Avoid poly-blends and look for velvet, silk, linen, cotton, cashmere, chambray, merino and the likes.
7. SHOP WITH A PURPOSE
We all know grocery shopping is easier when we bring a list. Op-shopping is no different! Before you head out, think about what you need. This can make the whole process much less stressful! Look at those fashionistas you admire on Instagram and save their pictures to consult for some in-store inspiration. Scour fashion magazines for styles you love, rip out the pages and take them along with you (Faye Delanty, AKA the Fashion Hound, is the expert at this, and has a way of making incredible couture-inspired outfits from completely thrifted finds). Need a dress for a wedding or event? Source some inspo before hitting the shops. See an outfit in the Sportsgirl window that looks cute? Look for similar pieces in op-shops and look on-trend without looking like the clone of every other girl that drinks the Sportsgirl Kool-Aid.
8. BEWARE OF ‘STYLE FATIGUE’
Last, but certainly not least, be careful of falling into the trap of buying too much of the same thing. This is a symptom of our fast-fashion world: we honestly think each pair of skinny jeans is different and that we need twelve different types of black and white striped tees. You probably don’t. We can’t all be Mark Zuckerberg. As I have spoken about before, we need to be conscious about over-consuming. We don’t need to buy clothes for the sake of buying clothes. Look for pieces that spark joy and bring something new to your wardrobe, and leave the rest on the rack.