How to shop for used clothing online
Follow these tips when hunting for that preowned garment of your dreams.
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The market for used clothing is as popular and profitable as ever. According to secondhand retailer ThredUp, pre-owned clothing is on track to supplant fast fashion in sales within the next decade. And if that’s not surprising enough, brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and Madewell have introduced storefronts in which they sell their own brands' clothing secondhand, as part of an effort to be held accountable for the textile waste they produce. Used clothing is in and it’s not going away anytime soon.
If you’re looking to get in on the action—and you should, if you like saving money and/or care about sustainability—there’s no shortage of secondhand and thrift stores online. But how should you navigate the sea of offerings to find what you want? We’ve got you covered.
Find the secondhand retailer(s) that work for you
With so many retailers offering used clothing, you might ask: Where do I shop? That all depends on what you want. While the variety of online thrift retailers can be daunting, it’s helpful to know which storefronts offer the type of clothing you may be looking for.
Reseller giant eBay is excellent for secondhand everything, while Etsy has a lot of vintage finds. Many other sites specialize in secondhand apparel. Poshmark has sellers that offer new and used garments from a wide range of mostly mid-tier brands, while you can find gently worn designer duds at a discount on The RealReal and Grailed. ThredUp and Swap let you buy, sell, or trade in clothing from mall brands, mid-tier retailers, and classic outdoor apparel.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for and just want to browse around, it’s helpful to visit a few retailers and window-shop to find pieces that call out to you. All secondhand retailers have categories you can sift through on your own, and some stores also feature curated staff picks on noteworthy items and sellers or helpful charts that show what brands are currently popular on their sites.
Search in broad terms and play with filters
After you’ve chosen a retailer (or two or three) to shop, it’s a good idea to plug loose terms into the search bar to find the items you seek. Searching for “vintage fleece jacket” on eBay, for example, will yield more results than adding qualifiers like a brand or color to the equation. Sure, “vintage fleece blue L.L. Bean jacket” offers some results, but on websites like eBay, Poshmark, or Etsy where the sellers themselves are listing items, some of these important qualifiers may be omitted. This can cause some products to be hidden by searches that are too specific. By using broader language, you may also come across cheaper alternatives to what you’re looking for, as well as items that may not have been on your radar in the first place.
Activating the site’s filters is the easiest way to narrow down your search results. Browsing Etsy and typing in “Uniqlo” presents a large gallery of the brand’s items sold at the retailer. By playing with filters, you can define certain features you’re looking for in your Uniqlo clothing. You can select a gender, set a price cap for yourself, see who is offering free shipping, and check off attributes like specific colors or styles of clothing to give more specificity. Messing with filters can help you save a ton of money in the long run, especially when it comes to cutting shipping costs.
Browse product descriptions and photos carefully
Once you’ve tracked down that garment you like, it’s time to devour the information found on its product page. While the obvious first move is to sift through photos, make sure you check out what the seller is saying about the item in its description. Great sellers have detailed descriptions about the products that they’re selling, noting things like minor tears, faded colors, or unraveling stitching. Sometimes this information isn’t clearly conveyed through product images—and sometimes the seller will use the brand’s model photos, which are not helpful in considering the actual garment you’re considering—so it’s important to read descriptions in full.
Garment pricing aside, shipping costs are also something to watch for. Be ready to pay a higher shipping cost for heavier items like sweatshirts, hoodies, and jackets, or clothes that may be coming from outside of the U.S. Lighter items like T-shirts, hats, and accessories should skew lower in shipping cost. You can also get a discount on some sites for “bundling” items together from the same seller, though this may require you sending a note ahead of your purchase to negotiate a deal.
Finally, as with purchasing any clothing online, the most useful thing you can do when looking at used apparel is to find a piece’s measurements to ensure it will fit right. When you have an idea of how something measures, you can pit it up against some of your best-fitting clothes to compare sizes. Knowing the measurements of an article of clothing is especially important when buying secondhand because most sellers do not offer exchanges or returns. Remember, a large shirt from H&M will fit differently from a large shirt from Gap.
Ask sellers questions—respectfully
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to send a seller a note requesting more info. If there aren’t any measurements for a product you want, ask if they can provide them. If an item is described as having a small hole in it, ask to see a closer image of the damage. If you’re wondering if you can work out a deal with a seller to pay less, again, ask! Many sellers on Poshmark and eBay thrive on this interaction with their buyers.
It’s also important not to judge sellers off of photo quality. If you’re interested in a T-shirt and the photo of it looks blurry or low in resolution, request better images of a product. These things happen—some sellers have camera phones that aren’t the best, while others could’ve accidentally uploaded an unclear image. Not all poor images are signs of a scam or poor seller.
Remember to be courteous when speaking with sellers. Some eBay or Etsy sellers are clearing out their closets as a part-time gig and aren’t available at all times. Be patient when directly asking about a product, as selling used clothing online may not be a top priority for some.
Don’t forget to leave feedback
Some sellers who use storefronts on eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, or Grailed may be owned and operated by a small business or individual. When you purchase a product from them, they're providing you a service that could affect their reputation on these websites. If you buy something from a small seller, make sure to leave proper feedback, positive or negative. This helps other buyers make purchasing decisions.
While one bad review can knock a store’s rankings down a few notches, shoppers who don't leave a review at all can be frustrating for owners who depend on buyer ratings, especially good ones. Commenting about a seller’s customer service experience or fast shipping speeds, for example, can be what gets other buyers interested in a seller’s store. Do your part and give praises when they’re due.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.