A Beginner's Guide to Thrift Shopping
Thrift shopping has never been my jam. For me it’s always been tucked (read: shoved) away alongside camping, staying in 3 star hotels and drinking cheap chardonnay in the category of things I’m very much averse to. I know, I sound like a complete arse right now.
But as I’ve delved deeper into my finances and tried to develop a more minimal approach to both money and my lifestyle, I’ve really been thinking about how my over-consumption of fast fashion has made an impact on the world – and my wallet – over the years.
So in a bid to consume less new clothing and also find activities I enjoy that don’t cost a fortune, I decided to do a crawl of Melbourne’s best op shops and see if I could find any treasure.
I’ve actually realised this type of treasure hunting is ideal for me. I’ve always loved the activity of shopping and finding cool things to add to my wardrobe, but in regular commercial fashion stores, that’s a bloody expensive habit – and you can hardly make a full day of it. 18 minutes in I’ve usually spent more than I should have. So the idea of op shopping is actually right up my alley. I can spend a day seeking out cool stuff, and on the off chance I find something I like that fits, it’s most likely going to be a huge bargain – and have no impact on the environment.
But how does an ex-snob like me get over the idea of shuffling through rack after rack of other people’s stuff?
Well, I don’t have a magic recipe for that, but let’s just say the first time I came across a designer item for under $10, I found it pretty easy to get my head out my own arse and keep on digging.
How to Shop at Op Shops
Finding good stuff in op shops is all about patience. I’ve tried a few times before but my head was not in the game at all. You can’t walk around browsing like you do in normal stores. Commercial fashion is merchandised so that you spot things at a glance. Of course, thrift shops aren’t like that. You need to dig. Most are organised by colour, and some by size, so just roll up your sleeves and start sliding through each hanger.
What makes it easier for me is that I have a very strict colour palette that I stick to across my entire wardrobe – even when in commercial stores. It stops me over-buying and it means more of my stuff goes together. So I only really buy neutral, plan, classic items in black, white, camel, grey and navy. So I skip through all the colour and print, which saves me time and energy.
Go in with an idea of what kinds of colours or prints you might be interested in buying – it’ll save you time shuffling hangers like a fatigued croupier.
Once you get the hang of looking through the racks, you’ll start to find treasure. Guess what? A designer leather skirt looks crap when it’s hiding in between 18 other old skirts. Just because it’s not immediately in front of you, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
How Do I Find Designer Stuff in Op Shops
The big question. How do you get big brand names from op shops? I know this isn’t the answer you want, but often it’s all about looking. Looking really bloody hard. Of the 10 or so op shops I’ve been in recently, I’d say I’ve found something high end in almost all of them.
Some stores have a ‘new in and designer’ rack with some of the more obvious bigger labels, but this often means they’re marked up more. Still utter bargains, but of course, if there’s a big sign with ‘designer’ written on it, everyone’s going to flock there.
If you’ve got the patience to rifle through the regular racks you’ve got a good chance of finding treasure at rock-bottom prices. Be careful though – don’t just buy things because they’re cheap. If you don’t think you’ll wear it, don’t buy it. Sure, hundreds of dollars worth of savings is tempting, but we still need to be intentional with our purchases.
Where to Find Designer Stuff in Op Shops
The one thing you can do to boost your chances of finding designer clothes in op shops is to be strategic with where you op shop. Think about it. How do designer items end up in op shops? Because the people that owned them originally have such a high net worth that they don’t need to sell them on. They’re happy to just donate them for free.
And where do these high net worth folk live? In the expensive suburbs. Ah, the proverbial penny has dropped.
Think about where are the most high-end suburbs in your area and head there. That’s where I’ve had the best luck. I recently went on a 6-hour scour of three suburbs, and here’s what I found.
Best Malvern Op Shops
At one end of Glenferrie Road sits a massive Vinnies, and at the other, a huge Salvos. Personally I prefer the Salvos, but I’ve heard of people scooping major finds at Vinnies, too.
In Salvos I came across a lot of Kookai, Country Road, Uniqlo, Witchery – basically all the brands I usually pay full price for! It’s definitely worth a dig in here for some luxury finds, too. I spotted a Decjuba leather dress for $18, but sadly it was a size 8 and wouldn’t have fitted me.
In here I did grab a Country Road scuba shell crop top for $9, to pair with my multitude of high waisted pants and skirts. I’d been after a classic black top that wasn’t too long for ages!
Best Toorak Op Shops
It’s slim pickings in terms of op shops in Toorak, but the one they do have is SO worth the trek. Hidden on a small side road just off the main strip of Toorak Village, Toorak Op Shop (yes, that’s its entire name) is an independent op shop with more designer stuff than I’ve ever seen in one place. It’s not cluttered at all, and honestly feels like a designer boutique. The ladies that work there are so lovely, and I’ve seen brands like Perri Cutten, Veronika Maine, Reiss, Maxmara, Phillip Lim and Banana Republic there all on the same day.
In here I grabbed a pair of Banana Republic 12 hour pumps for $25.
Best Elsternwick Op Shops
Okay let it be known that on this thrifting crusade, I was seriously flagging by the time I made it to Elsternwick – so take my reviews here with a grain of salt.
The main op shops in Elsternwick are Salvos, Vinnies, Sacred Heart Mission and Posh Opp Shoppe (the latter three are snuggled together in a neat little cluster, making your next mega scour super easy to navigate).
To be honest, I was pretty surprised with the selection in Elsternwick. It’s a pretty affluent area, but a lot of the items I was coming across seemed either super old and totally unwearable, or really bad quality. You know those brands that you find peppered throughout cheap imported stores – lots of those. And plenty of Kmart, Target and TEMT – not quite what I had in mind.
That said, the most luck I had was in the Posh Opp Shoppe. This place is overwhelming – there’s a lot happening. But it does have pretty set pricing. All tops, pants, coats, etc. are a set price. BUT beware. That excludes ‘otherwise marked’ and ‘security tagged items’. Aka most of the good stuff. These guys have an eye for what’s designer, and they’re not afraid to charge you a bit more for it. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve every right to – and your money’s going to a good cause, of course. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself being told a shirt is $50.
Got a suburb you want me to scour?! DM me on Instagram and I’ll report back!