Let’s be honest, one man’s trash is usually just trash. But you can still find awesome stuff at thrift, consignment, and eBay. Part III in our series on what’s worth buying used covers the higher risk categories I scored. I rated them based on the value of what you can get vs original retail prices, the ease of finding the good stuff in each category, and the potential that what you buy will be gross. That’s not to say these things–shoes, leather outerwear, hats, and jeans–are never worth shopping for; they just aren’t as easy to find or can require more work to take them from thrift store shelf to your closet.
A lot of people who like thrifting still draw the line at used shoes. There’s something extra personal about a pair of worn shoes, plus you can’t just throw them in a hot wash cycle like a dress shirt or tshirt. If you can get past the concept, there can be great value in used shoes, and although you can’t really sanitize them, high-quality shoes are some of the most renewable items in your wardrobe. A suit with moth holes in it is generally a lost cause, but a beat up pair of shoes can respond well to re-soling, conditioning, shining.
- Legitimately nice shoes–like those we tend to link in our eBay roundups–are especially hard to come by at true thrift stores. British shoes are the white whale of American thrift stores.
- New shoes depreciate like new cars–once those leather soles are scratched up, they’re worth a lot less than new. That can be good for buyers. There’s a difference between buying truly used, sorta worn out shoes and shoes that are just short of new in box.
- That said, most sellers’ accounts of “only worn twice outside!” are dubious.
- Resoling is common but not usually dirt cheap. Decide whether it’s worth spending $100 on shoes you’re going to need to spend $100 refinishing (cost of resoling can vary quite a bit–fine mail order services can get to $100 easily).
- If you’re a little skeeved out by used shoes, try wearing an insole. I like Superfeet, which also provide extra support.
Some of the coolest stuff in our eBay roundups is leather outerwear. Old leather jackets were often very well made and are quite hardy and resilient if treated properly–plus they often look best beat up, so heavy wear is not necessarily a problem. That said they can feature some authentic smells, and the market is strong enough that really nice jackets rarely go cheap (so the value is not always strong).
- Make sure you know your measurements, as vintage sizing is all over the place.
- Look for U.S. or British made jackets–that’s not a guarantee of quality but it helps.
- Check out Derek’s guide to conditioning a leather jacket–most thrift store leathers are pretty dried out.
- Check out my guide to military surplus leathers for some styles to look for.
Traditional men’s brimmed hats are rare to find in good condition at thrift, although you see them on eBay often. The value is OK here; a used name brand hat like Stetson, Lock, or Borsalino can still be pretty expensive. Traditional hats can occasionally be a little gross–there’s a reason they have sweatbands inside–it’s best to make sure your dry cleaner can handle hats or you have a hat specialist nearby. I’ll also consider ballcaps or (good condition) knit caps used.
- Look for felt hats that list the fabric–wool is fine, rabbit or beaver felt are generally pricier.
- Panama/straw hats can often be a better value (and less musty) than felt hats.
- Know your hat size and the inner circumference of your best fitting hat–some sellers don’t have or don’t understand hat sizing so you may have to judge against their measurements.
If you’re picky about denim, and you probably are, the used market is not fantastic. Thrift shops are much more likely to be full of seasons old Old Navy jeans than midcentury Levis with sick fadez. And sellers who DO have old Levis and Lees often overprice them. That said, if your drawer is full of dark indigo, rigid denim, thrift stores can be a good source for a change of pace: light wash, tapered denim. That’s right: dad jeans. Don’t knock em til you’ve tried em.
- Two things I won’t buy without trying on: leather jackets and jeans. Given the thousands of denim styles and changing industry standards over the years (i.e., what’s a 32 waist really?), it’s especially hard to determine at a glance if a pair of jeans will fit the way you want them to.
- Embrace imperfection. Or repair creatively.
Want More Tips?
- For more tips and thrifting philosophy, check out Jesse’s posts on philosophy, finding the best thrift stores, and how he sifts through the thrift pile.
- Check out Derek’s guide to getting your clothing and shoes repaired.
- Read Put This On’s twice weekly eBay roundups–we have hella good taste.