Columnist – Gayle Lynn Falkenthal
The Sunday newspaper and the mailbox are jammed with “Back to School!” shopping circulars, urging parents and their kids to hit the stores for everything they need to start school in style. Especially if you have several kids who need school wardrobes, the tab can be eye-popping. With everyone worried (again!) about the economy, maybe you’re ready to try a little creative and smart cost-cutting by shopping thrift stores for back to school. We’re here to help you do it.
It takes time and patience to make your way through a good-sized thrift store, so I recommend leaving the younger kids at home. Send them to a friend’s house, and then offer to play host later and let your friend go shopping another day. Don’t go when you are in a hurry. Items are generally grouped together but aren’t arranged in size categories.
Before you head out, have your kids try on clothes they already have. Take one of each basic piece that fits, along with a tape measure. Bring those pieces along for size comparisons. Carry them in a nice bag from home and check in at the service desk when you get to the store to have a clerk sign off on what you’re bringing into the store. At most thrift stores you can’t make returns, so you need to be certain about the fit.
Make a list of items you’re looking for ahead of time. Concentrate on some basics: tanks, tees, cardigan sweaters, hoodies, shorts, jeans and jackets. Then when you need to buy the must-have on trend items, you won’t mind spending for a few killer pieces since you’ve saved money on the rest.
Know this year’s trends before you shop. You might be surprised for example that high waisted jeans and shorts are back. So are Mr. Rogers-style cardigans, stripes and plaid. Pick up a copy of InStyle magazine if you need a little help. If you can find on-trend items at a thrift store, you can indulge in something that might be “out” a month from now because it was such a bargain.
If you’ve got a teen willing to make a statement, go for a vintage piece that no one else is likely to own. It’s less of a risk at a thrift store price. Dropping your teen and his or her friend off with $50 at a thrift store and letting them do their own shopping is a fun way for them to spend an afternoon for less than lunch and a movie would cost and they may have found some great items to put in their closet.
Don’t forget to check out the backpacks and bags. This can be hit or miss, but you never know what you might find. You might also find school supplies.
I recommend against buying shoes unless they are brand new. They get broken in to the original owners’ feet in no time and could hurt your kids’ growing feet.
Be sure to wash everything thoroughly before your kids wear your finds. Some people recommend Sensi-clean, which is used to remove harsh detergents from cloth diapers. I personally avoid buying items with any strong detergent or product fragrance odors.
If you’re new to this, read a few past Thrift This! Columns for general tips. Many thrift stores have sale days just like regular stores, which certain items or type of tags will be 25 to 50% off. Other stores will give you a discount coupon if you bring in donations. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t fill up a bag of items before going thrift shopping.
Some thrift stores get donations from apparel makers. Check out United Cerebral Palsy stores for Charlette Russe items, and St. Vincent DePaul stores for new mens’ sized pants originally carried by Costco.
Shop in nice neighborhoods where there are a lot of kids, and you’re likely to find more items and higher-end clothing that is like new or even brand new. You’ll feel a special kind of excitement when you spot a Kico Kids dress for your toddler for $5 when you know how much it cost new. Who knows, you could even snap up that Burberry leather jacket, Dior or Chloe dress, or D&G Jeans for your kids. Seriously, who besides Katie Holmes and Angelina Jolie is buying this stuff for their kids?
Visit my eBay store “TNBB” for some fun items I’ve picked out just for you. My finds are your finds!
Note: This is a re-post from 2011. ~ SDBM