The 3 Types of Thrift Stores Every Thrifter Needs to Know About
June 26, 2019
If you want to become a thrifting pro, you might want to learn the distinctions between different thrift stores!
What are the 3 main types of thrift stores?
- Charity shops
- Commercial thrift stores
- Consignment stores
- Plus: buying directly from the owner online
The different stores have merchandise with different qualities and price ranges. They also differ in how and from where they get the clothes they sell. In order to be a successful thrifter, you need to know which thrift store type fits your needs best.
Charity shops accept and sell clothes donated by people. You can usually donate anytime during their opening hours, although they might have a limit on how much you can donate at a time.
The clothes you can find in charity shops come from people who live in that neighborhood or at least from your country or state. That’s why charity shops in wealthier areas stock better quality items. However, it is also a common practice that pieces that couldn’t be sold in a couple of weeks or months are transported to another shop of the same chain.
The average quality of charity shop clothes are quite low, but they often have a big stock. So with some time and persistence, you can find hidden gems.
The pricing of charity shop items is between $1 and $10, but unfortunately for higher-end brands, they usually ask more.
Charity shops often sell other things besides clothes like furniture, home appliances, books, etc.
The most known charity shops are Goodwill in the United States, Oxfam in the UK, and Salvation Army which operates stores all around the world.
Commercial Thrift Stores
The merchandise that charity shops can’t sell in a month or so is sent to distribution centers where they are sorted and categorized by type and quality. They might be sent to another charity shop afterward, sold to commercial thrift stores, exported to another country, or recycled into rugs and insulation.
Commercial thrift stores buy in huge bales containing 50-200 items each. Then they’re selling these clothes individually to customers to make a profit.
It is very difficult to tell where are these clothes are coming from. The biggest exporter of second-hand clothing is the USA. From there the items travel to Western Europe, then to Middle- and Eastern Europe, and finally to Asia and Africa. So if you live in North- or South-America, you can be quite sure that you’re second-hand clothes are from the US or Canada. But by the time the bales reach Eastern Europe, assuming that each country takes a certain amount but also adds their own donated clothes to the mix, you have no idea where the clothes are coming from.
The quality also can vary from one thrift store to another. Usually, it’s better than in charity shops, but as always, there might be some exceptions. However, in these types of thrift shops, the quality is more consistent throughout the store. That means that you’re less likely to find high-end brands, but also that you don’t need to rummage through as many damaged or worn out clothes as in a charity shop. Basically, you’ll find the average fast fashion quality here for the portion of the original price, mostly basics rather than unique-looking items.
Bigger thrift stores sometimes purchase unsold merchandise from high-street brands with the original price tags still on. Last winter year I scored a completely new Debenhams The Collection coat in a thrift store for only a third of the original retail price!
With the quality, the price is also rising. You can expect to pay anywhere between $5-$20 per item in commercial thrift stores, less if you live in a poorer country, or more if the store is selling high-end, luxury goods.
Pro tip: Timing is key for finding the best stuff in thrift stores. They put out new stock usually once a week and some of them renew the whole stock at the beginning of each season. If you find out on which day your shop has new merchandise and you keep in mind the seasonal restock dates, you can look through the clothes before the majority of the people, and you can get your hands on the best items!
Clothing Consignment Stores
Consignment stores work somewhat differently from charity shops and commercial thrift stores. Instead of buying from wholesalers, consignment stores let individuals sell their clothes for a percentage of the price in exchange. For example, you can bring a dress to a consignment store that they’re going to sell for $50. When the item is sold, you get $40 and they keep $10.
These stores are curated by the manager who only accepts the best pieces. These clothes are of good quality without exception including designer clothing, and unique or very trendy clothes.
Consequently, they are also more expensive, starting from $20 per item.
Consignment stores are best for shopping for high-end designer brands for a more reasonable price.
In addition, it’s also reassuring to know that these clothes came from your neighborhood or your city, they weren’t transported all across the globe.
What About Online Second-Hand Shops?
Nowadays we don’t even have to give up on the comfort of online shopping to be able to buy second-hand clothes.
Of course, the most sustainable option is to shop at your local thrift stores, but sometimes we’re not in the mood for sorting through hundreds of dirty clothes. Sometimes we just want to be able to see all the items available, filtered by category and color, and sorted by price.
Online thrift stores offer the comfort of shopping from your home, in your PJs, and you can still shop from any of the thrift store types and even more!
Oxfam, the largest charity shop in the UK has an amazing webshop where you can buy anything you could imagine!
There are hundreds of well-curated online thrift stores who resell clothing for profit. They either buy from wholesalers or from other thrift stores. If you like vintage clothes, check out Asos Marketplace! I love that it’s just as easy as you were buying from Asos, but you’re not supporting fast fashion.
In addition to thrift stores, online shopping offers another way of second-hand shopping: buying directly from the previous owner. I love this because it makes it possible for people to sell their old clothes and because you have more information about where you’re clothes are coming from and who was their previous owner. However, it can be very unsustainable and expensive to ship a single item overseas, so it’s better to buy from sellers who ship from a reasonable distance. On Depop and eBay, you have thousands of sellers and hundreds of thousands of clothes to choose from!
What is the best thrift store? The best thrift store is going to be different for everyone. It depends on what your priorities are. Are you looking for really cheap finds? You’re going to love charity shops. If you prefer a bigger variety of quality items to choose from and you’re willing to pay more than I’d recommend a consignment store.
What is vintage clothing? Vintage clothing is clothing from a certain era that represents the general style and trends of that time.
Do thrift stores wash their clothes? Generally, thrift stores don’t wash their clothes. If you want to find out how clean second-hand clothes are, take a look at this post I wrote a couple of weeks ago!
Written by Csilla Herbszt, a sustainably stylish fashion blogger living her vegan life in Switzerland. You should follow her on Instagram!