6 things you should never buy secondhand, according to a professional stylist

If the shoe fits, buy it — but only if it fits absolutely perfectly, said stylist Natalie Tincher. John D McHugh/AP

As concerns pile up about the fashion industry’s environmental impact, and amidst frenzies of Marie Kondo-inspired closet cleanouts, many people are turning to secondhand shops and services to buy and sell used clothes and accessories.

In the past three years, the resale industry has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market, according to data from thredUP, an online fashion resale marketplace. thredUP also reported that 40% of consumers are taking into account the resale value of clothes before they make a purchase – a percentage that has nearly doubled from five years ago.

According to Natalie Tincher, the founder and principal stylist at BU Style, a personal styling company based in New York City, buying secondhand has grown in popularity not only from a sustainability perspective, but also in the name of crafting a personal brand.

“People like a story, whether it’s how they found a piece, or if it’s the story behind a designer,” Tincher told Insider in an interview. “A lot of the fabrics and styling of secondhand are more unique than what we’re seeing in mass fashion today. These kinds of clothes often have an interesting story that people feel can add to their own style or personal brand.”

Though embarking on an epic quest for a thrifted find can be a fun experience, it’s not always easy to decipher what makes a secondhand item worth the hunt – and when it’s best to leave empty handed.

Tincher, who’s been a professional stylist since 2010, recommends secondhand shoppers keep these questions in mind when shopping at a thrift shop or resale site:

  • Can this go with three to five items I already own?
  • Does it need alterations? If so, are the alterations expensive?
  • What place does this really have in my wardrobe?
  • Do I love it?

Keep reading to learn about six kinds of items to avoid buying secondhand, along with Tincher’s tips for determining if a thrifted find is really worth it.

Clothes that require major alterations

Tincher said that people who go vintage or secondhand shopping can sometimes get so excited by a unique find or a good buy that they forget about proper fit.

“Take out the fact that you love the style, but make sure the style works on you and your body,” Tincher said. “I wouldn’t force things that aren’t the right size because, for example, if I find a vintage pair of shoes that I love, but it’s a 9.5 and I’m a 10, the reality is that they will just sit in my closet and I won’t wear them.”

Thrift shoppers getty
Secondhand garments oftentimes can’t be returned or exchanged, Tincher said. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If a secondhand garment needs to be altered more than one size or involves hefty changes like tapering pant legs, bringing in the waistline, or replacing zippers, it may not be worth the buy.

Secondhand shoppers should also keep in mind that it may be hard or impossible to match the exact buttons or other elements found on clothing that was made decades ago, though “some people may enjoy going through the work of sourcing buttons and adding their own style statement to a secondhand piece,” Tincher said.

Some less-involved and typically less-expensive alterations can, however, be easy ways to update the silhouette of a vintage garment.

“For example, I have a vintage ’80s Lolita Lampica dress that was gifted to me, and the sleeves were way too voluminous, but the body fit beautifully. I took it to the tailor, it was a $US10 sleeve removal, and I ended up with a dress that looked more modern, and is still really unique,” Tincher said.

Clothes with stains or odours

If a secondhand garment is stained, chances are that the discoloration is not going to fade.

“It may be gross, but with shirts, I always look and smell under the armpits of a shirt,” Tincher said. “Salespeople may tell you that the stains will come out, or that they will give you a discount if there’s a stain, but if it’s still smelling or stained when you’re seeing it in the store, there’s probably not much you can do in that department.”

Secondhand shoes that require major repairs

Secondhand thrift shopping
Thrifted shoes can be a fun find, but unless they fit perfectly, they’re not worth it. Tina Fineberg/AP

The one part of the shoe that can be easily replaced, however, is the insole, which many people may want to refresh for sanitary reasons.

“You can always replace the insole if that’s something you want to do to avoid having your foot where someone else’s was,” Tincher said. “I’d say that’s worth doing if the shoes fit perfectly, you’ll wear them, and you like everything else about them.”

Luxury items you haven’t researched beforehand

“I think there is such a spike in secondhand that it’s easy for someone to slap the word ‘vintage’ on something and people will buy into it,” Tincher said. “That’s why it’s important to be wary of the instant purchase. If you’re in the market for a high-ticket item, do a bit of research ahead of time so you don’t get upcharged at a retailer.”

Tincher recommends doing preliminary research about the designer or brand and looking on retailers like eBay and The RealReal, which may offer insight on an average price.

“That way, you won’t get caught up in the moment of getting excited because you found this item at a one-off store. You’ll go in with a price that you expect to pay,” she said.

Designer-label items that have mismatched patterns or stitching

When secondhand shopping for a designer or high-end item, certain design features can be a red flag.

The item’s print or pattern should line up between the waistbands or seams, and the stitching designs should also line up, Tincher explained. If either or all of those elements are not physically lined up on the garment or handbag, it might not be an authentic designer piece.

Tincher recommends doing research on what the original item looks like, from the colour of the stitching to what kind of fabric that brand or designer typically used for the garment or handbag lining during that era.

“Do a quick Google search if you love the item and want to make sure it’s the real thing. Just looking at pictures of the original item can help you see if the pattern or stitching is or isn’t lining up,” she said.

High-end items that don’t come with authentication

Vintage shop thrifting resale bag the realreal
Designer handbags should come with an authentication card or should be guaranteed by the retailer. Eric Risberg/AP

Whether it’s a diamond necklace or a designer handbag, Tincher recommends secondhand shoppers avoid making the purchase if the retailer can’t provide an authentication card or a refund guarantee if the item turns out to be fake.

“Most bigger secondhand retailers have the bandwidth to stand behind their products and can offer returns and guarantees, but you don’t always get that at some smaller shops,” Tincher said.

Especially if searching for a vintage piece from a specific designer, Tincher recommends getting authentication from the seller, or making sure it can be returned if it’s not authentic.

She added that authentication of a secondhand designer item might not be important for everyone, though.

“Let’s say you’re at a vintage shop or a flea market and you happen to love a piece and it’s $US10 – I’m not sure if it’s going to matter to you if it’s the authentic designer piece or not,” Tincher said. “You might just like it because it fits your style and it’s got a certain aesthetic that’s hard to find in today’s fashion. In that case, it’s up to you if you ask for authentication.”