RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Buying clothing made from organic fibers and materials is a positive trend that’s less harmful for the environment than buying similar, nonsustainable items. But along with that, you can reduce the impact of your wardrobe on the environment (and your wallet) by looking for clothing that’s had a previous owner. Not only does it keep the clothes from ending up in a landfill, but it translates to less energy expended, and fewer greenhouse gases emitted, to dress you in those duds.
I grew up wearing hand-me-downs (until I hit those fashion-sensitive teen years), and so did my kids. We didn’t call it “precycling,” of course, but that’s what it was: reusing stuff so it doesn’t need to be thrown out or recycled. Passing nice but unwanted or outgrown items back and forth between friends is still a great way to get more use out of perfectly wearable garments. If you have a circle of friends who are about the same size as you, host a swap party: Each of you brings some clothes that are still wearable but no longer wanted by the owner, and you all go home with some “new” items to spruce up your wardrobes.
But you don’t have to get your precycled attire from people you know. We all like buying new clothes. Still, let’s face it, the minute you wear them, they become used. So why pay more for the privilege of taking the tags off yourself? I buy most of my clothing in thrift and consignment stores, and I’m always amazed at the vast array of new-looking (and sometimes new-with-tags) garments available—all for a fraction of what they originally cost. You may not want to rely as heavily as I do on these treasure troves, but you owe it to your budget and your planet to give them a try. And it’s fun!
If you’ve never shopped for preowned clothing, there a few different places to find it:
• Consignment shops, where individuals get a percentage of the profit from the sale of their unwanted items, usually offer the cream of the crop. Every item has been vetted by the store staff and is likely to be of high quality, in good condition, and freshly laundered or cleaned. Their prices tend to be a bit higher than other used outlets, but some have “discount” racks or seasonal sales that can net you great deals. It’s a good option if you just want to dip your toe in the used-clothing waters.
• Thrift stores, including well-known charities like The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries, sell donated items that vary widely in condition and quality. The store’s staff may or may not go over clothing carefully before putting it out for sale, so you need to take a close look at what you buy. Remember that an article of clothing with a stain or a rip can still be a good deal if you can clean or repair it. Prices tend to be lower than consignment shops’—some prices are so low that you’ll save a bundle even if you need to have something professionally cleaned or tailored. You may have to sift through more items here than at a consignment store, but the thrill of the hunt is part of the appeal. Thrift Shopper can help you find stores in your area; the site also has a forum and some links that will give you a glimpse into the mentality of hard-core thrifters.
• Yard/tag/rummage sales run by individuals, neighborhoods, or organizations tend to be less organized, but if you happen on the right one and have the time, you can get amazing deals. A big advantage of these is that you can haggle—politely—with the seller to get a better price. Check your local paper for sales in your area.