Why buy new? was the motto in our house when I was growing up. Whether it was inheriting my cousin’s old pair of ski pants, a bag of clothing from that lady at mum’s work’s eldest daughter, or Sunday shopping for vintage homeware at the Crow’s Nest (the best junk shop in Timaru FYI), if we could find something pre-loved to do the job for a fraction of the cost, why wouldn’t we? What this taught me from a young age is how to second-hand shop efficiently and for quality, and to get the most out of the items I buy. Most importantly, I know what to look for.
These days it’s important to remember that opshopping and second-hand buying is a genuine need for a lot of people and the gentrification of these spaces is something to be mindful of. But whether you rely on thrifting or just enjoy it, it’s good to understand why it exists, and how to get the best out of it.
Buy less, and buy better.
Don’t shop for occasions or trends
Instagram lied to us, and we actually are allowed to be seen wearing an outfit more than once. If you have something special coming up and you don’t own anything appropriate, consider borrowing from a friend, or renting. If you’re looking to borrow you can make a night of it and have some wines, maybe a little charcuterie moment, and try on outfits with your mates. Alternatively, there are heaps of rental services on Instagram or Facebook — some who even specialise in certain brands. It’s cool to support small businesses. On top of this, it’s a good way to get to wear something for a night before considering dropping some funds to own it. Win-win.
Setting up a clothes swap with your friends is another cool way to expand your wardrobe and also something you can make a day of, without having to spend anything at all. If you can get away without having to buy in the first place, that’s hot.
Define your personal taste
Get to know yourself and know your wardrobe. Know what you like and what you’re comfortable wearing beyond what’s ‘in’ or ‘on trend’. When I’m shopping, I have a mental archive of what I already own in my head, so I can figure out whether the item I’m looking at will fit in my wardrobe and whether it can be worn well with what I already have. Am I doubling up on something? Is that necessary? Is this a statement or a staple piece? It can take a while to figure this out, and understanding where quality lies can take a bit of experience, so in the meantime create a checklist to help guide you in your opshop escapades.
Define your shopping style
Create a personal checklist to help you decide what is important to you in an item. This is a great way to prioritise your shopping better regardless of what aesthetic you’re rocking at the moment. Pattern? A snazzy print? Fit? Natural fibres? Durability? Versatility? Made locally? Price? If you can define three to five of these that resonate with you, it’s much easier to categorise the items you find.
The more of your personal checklist you can tick off per item, the more worthwhile of a buy it will be. As you become more familiar with your own personal style and taste, your checklist is likely to grow.
My personal checklist focuses on versatility, durability, natural fibres, staple items and a good fit.
I generally don’t shop for brands unless it’s a brand I know to be synonymous with quality. A pair of heavy Levi’s in my size for $10? Tick. A barely-worn Superdry jacket for $8? Tick again. A fast-fashion branded jumper which I know would be versatile in my wardrobe, but is synthetic and definitely not durable? No tick.
Textiles and fibres
Finding items made from natural fabrics like cotton, linen, rayon or wool is always a win for more than one reason. They require less washing and don’t hold smell like synthetics do, plus they don’t wash synthetic fibres into the waterways. They’re also far more temperature-regulating, because natural fabrics are breathable. Wool is a life saver in Dunedin because it keeps you warm in cold temperatures, but is breathable in warm temperatures.
This may sound controversial but hear me out: buying second-hand leather and fur is a big win. These items have already been produced, and you’re not supporting the ongoing production of fur or leather clothing, because you’re not buying them from the manufacturer — you’re buying them from a local second-hand or charity shop.
Synthetic fur is made from plastic, which won’t last nearly as long as real fur. It’s not as warm, not as soft. It’s a lower quality product in general as well as being a real polluter when it loses microfibres. Synthetic leather is similar in this regard, being nowhere near as warm, soft, or long lasting. Also, it’s ultimately made of plastic so it has a shorter lifespan, takes far longer to degrade in the ecosystem and is much harder to recycle. The added bonus of buying real leather and fur is that they’re natural fabrics, baby.
Focus on durability and quality
Finding durable items is very much connected to buying natural textiles and fibres which are more durable than their synthetic counterparts. But this also requires having some knowledge of brands — what constitutes a good fit and what makes an item quality beyond what’s on the tag.
Stay away from fast fashion brands in general, but also when thrifting. Their products may fit into the ‘trend’ category, but by nature are not built to last. In saying this, if it’s a brand you know from experience to be quality, or to be a good fit for you, then go for it.
This step requires a bit of perseverance. The more you flex your thrifting muscles, the more second-nature it becomes to find pieces that fulfill these requirements.
Buying quality items also means that if you have any buyer’s remorse, it will be easier to resell to someone who appreciates it.
Look after your clothes
Look, we’re all guilty of not doing this because life is fleeting and death is imminent: But take the time to read the care labels on your clothing and care for it accordingly. If it says hand wash only? Hand wash only. If it says do not tumble dry? Hang that shit out bestie. It may not be an issue once or twice, but if you’re not taking care of your garments correctly, you won’t get a full lifetime of wear out of them.
Google or ask friends and family what their hacks are for removing different types of marks or stains. Every family has their own secret, but it’s worth knowing that sunlight soap will remove pretty much any type of mark from clothing with a bit of elbow grease. It’s also less harsh than some of the other whitening or stain removing products on the shelf.
If you don’t already know how, level up and search YouTube for a tutorial on hand-sewing for any small holes or repairs on your clothes. It’s way quicker and easier than you’d think, and you can even find thread, buttons, and sewing tools in opshops too. You know what? Go and get yourself a bikkie tin to keep your sewing kit in at the same time. Grandma would be proud.
Staples are always a solid buy when opshopping. When buying certain staples, you can break down your shopping style even further. Plain tees are a tick for me, as long as they’re heavy-weight with a vintage neck band, or have a statement print. Tank tops, similarly, are a tick if they’re heavy-weight, ribbed or have a statement print.
My top Dunedin staples include:
A long, heavy coat. Gotta cover those kidneys babe, and who doesn’t feel like the biggest boss walking to Uni with headphones on and a huge matrix-style coat flowing in the winter breeze? Bonus points if it’s lined or heavy, or has any special features like wind-proofing or water resistance.
A quality two-piece suit (bonus points for three-piece). I was the formal-wear queen of Hallensteins for far too long to not insist that if you’re buying a suit, look for wool, and look for NZ made. Generally if it’s NZ made it will be wool — so you can get two birds stoned at once.
Thermals. This is self-explanatory. We’ve all lived here long enough to know that running the heatpump in a house with no insulation is a losing game, so getting insulated close to the skin is the best way to retain body heat and keep warm during the Ōtepoti winter.
Denim. A good heavy everyday pair of jeans, and a slightly more statement going out pair. To get the most wear out of a pair of jeans, think about what type of fit or silhouette you’re into aesthetically, but also think about what you’ll be comfortable in. Slacks are another good alternative to denim, and a solid casual wardrobe staple.
Boots. Whatever kind of boots you’re into, you’ll find them in a Dunedin opshop. Heeled, leather, ankle, knee high, cowboy, wedges, flat, or platform: have patience and persevere. You will find the perfect thrifted pair.
Which opshops are best for which items:
(these are my top rated ones, there are heaps not included)
Toff’s: Suits, thermals, large coats, costumes, and denim.
Savemart: Boots & shoes, denim, vintage leather, streetwear, branded clothing, and essentials.
Shop on Carroll: Anything vintage, jewellery & accessories, homewares, and boots.
Paper Bag Princess: NZ made, vintage, branded and statement pieces.
ReStore: NZ made, wool, fur & leather, homewares, trinkets, sewing equipment, tech, hats, and gloves.
Salvation Army: Homewares, tech, essentials, and furniture.
Vogel Street Hospice Shop: Trinkets, knick-knacks, and furniture.
Red cross shop: Furniture, curtains, and furnishings.
Ms Vicky’s Pop-in Emporium: Vintage, statement pieces, patterned and embellished clothing, vintage homewares, statement shoes, hats, gloves, and bags.