Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Your Complete Guide to Thrift Shopping in New York and Connecticut

Head to Toe: Dress and slides, thrifted (Goodwill Westport) // Belt, thrifted (Unique Boutique Manhattan) // Bag, Brahmin

When I asked my Instagram followers what they wanted to see on the blog a while back, thrift shopping tips was the overwhelming response. I’ve been writing this post in my head for quite some time, so here’s my stab at finally getting it all down!

I have been thrift shopping for my whole life—no exaggeration. I remember when my mom would take me to our favorite consignment shop, and I’d load up on Abercrombie sweaters, American Eagle jeans and rare gems like Juicy Couture zip-ups. She’d always say, “You made out like a bandit,” when we left with bags jammed with clothes. In high school and college, I worked at Old Navy and gave a lot of my hard-earned $8.27 an hour back to the mall, but I always relied on secondhand stores for staples like jeans and jackets.

In post-grad life, I counted on thrift shops to build a closet for my new job as a magazine editor. Around the same time, I began documenting that closet right here on this blog. Then and now, I hate paying full price for things I know I can nab for so much less secondhand. And I’ve never been good about splurging on one luxury item. I’d rather have six secondhand pieces!

With my 30th birthday on the horizon, it’s become more important to me to have quality items over fast-fashion trends. I’d rather buy J. Crew sweaters at a thrift shop for the same price as similar styles at H&M. Over the years, I have scoured through racks all over New York City and Southern Connecticut, and I’ve found the best prices and quality items at the places below.

Best Secondhand Stores in NYC and Connecticut

  1. L Train Vintage, multiple locations, Brooklyn
  2. Continuations Consignments, Stratford, CT
  3. Goodwill, Westport, CT
  4. Savers, Orange, CT
  5. Buffalo Exchange, multiple locations, Manhattan
  6. Unique Boutique, Upper West Side, Manhattan
  7. Salvation Army, Chelsea, Manhattan

Types of Secondhand Stores

A few notes on the different types of places on my list...Goodwill, Salvation Army and Savers are thrift shops, which means the pieces they sell are brought there on donation. Continuations and Buffalo Exchange are consignment shops, so people bring clothing on consignment to earn a portion of the sale. One way to get the most bang for your buck is to consign where you shop. I consign clothes at Continuations and get paid half of what an item goes for, if it sells.

Buffalo Exchange, on the other hand, pays you on the spot. I honestly think Buffalo is overpriced for a secondhand store, but I was able to do well there when I lived in the city because I sold clothing and shoes back to the store. (The latter was plentiful due to my jobs at trade fashion magazines.) The retailer offers 50% in store credit or 30% in cash for your items. I always took the store credit for my things and used it to buy new clothes the same day. It felt like a free shopping spree!

Thrift stores tend to be cheaper than consignment shops, but there is more digging involved. Consignment stores have curated items and only accept current styles that are good quality. At thrift stores, there’s going to be a mix of less-desirable options, but you’ll get the best bargains for your efforts. Thrift stores can vary in quality as well. I love the Goodwill in Westport. It’s organized by size and color, and it’s typically stocked with quality brands since it’s located in an affluent area. The thing is, stores like Goodwill Westport know what their items are worth and high-end brands are priced accordingly.

Anywhere you go, Salvation Army is going to have the cheapest things. Don’t knock it until you try it. I’ve gotten J. Crew sweaters, Topshop skirts, and even a Dior blazer at Salvation Army. Church thrift shops are another hidden gem. My favorite leather Alice + Olivia blazer was found in a church thrift shop for $8. While they are diamonds in the rough, these things are priced cheaply since these stores are typically nonprofits and don’t know too much about the value of designer items. I’ve also found that thrift shops outside of the tristate area have great vintage pieces between $3 and $10. I recently bought a Pendleton suit for $7 at a thrift store in Delaware.

What’s Not a Bargain

To be honest, I’ve never gotten into high-end consignment shops. They’re great for those who want to save on designer pieces, but I don’t consider paying $100 for a secondhand dress to be a steal. And to me, nothing beats the thrill of finding a designer item buried in a thrift store basement. I only shop these locations if they’re having big sales. I recently got a Parker blazer and DVF dress at Roundabout in Westport for about $12 each, since the store was having a flash 75% off sale. If you’re into designer clothing, my advice would be to subscribe to emails at a few of these locations to know when they’re having seasonal sales. Buffalo Exchange does a yearly $1 sale for Earth Day, but you have to get there super early.

I also don’t recommend online consignment shops unless you’re looking for a specific high-end item. I found my black diamond wedding band on The Real Real and was really happy with the price and quality. The site offers a layer of assurance since they examine everything before it goes online. But, I don’t think it’s the place for cheap clothing.

I’ve found ThreadUp to be underwhelming and overpriced. And there's always the risk of not trying things on. Plus, digging through the racks at consignment shops is part of the fun! I have also tried selling things on the site and barely broke even for the price to ship my items.

The best way I’ve found to buy secondhand digitally is when local bloggers sell items on Instagram stories. Follow a few bloggers who are in your size range—they might post some good deals!

Additionally, be weary of vintage stores. And I’m saying that as a person who loves vintage stores. I’ve been to a lot of vintage shops in Brooklyn that are just really overpriced. I love L Train Vintage because it has really cool pieces for good prices. Remember, just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worth a lot of money. Designer things will always be worth more, but an '80s department store blouse should still only be about $10, not $40. Now that Levi’s mom jeans are back in style, they run between $40 and $50 wherever you go. Try them on before investing, since sizing has changed over the years. (This is a good rule for vintage items in general.) And if it has moth holes or stains, just leave it. No matter how cool it is, you’re probably never going to wear that holy dress to work or anyplace else.

Annie’s 10 Tips for Shopping Secondhand

  1. Ask if there are any discounts. Most secondhand stores will have a tag color or section that is on sale that week. Half price means double the buys!
  2. Sell where you shop. If there is a consignment shop you like, sell your own clothes there. It’s a good way to rotate your closet and fund your fashions. Some places, like Buffalo Exchange, will offer incentive to go for store credit over cash. 
  3. Try it on. You never know if something has shrunk or if there’s a weird-fit reason why someone donated it.
  4. Examine the item for stains/rips/defects. Even in nice consignment shops, things slip through. If you think it’s an easy fix, ask if there’s a discount.
  5. Don’t buy just because it’s cheap. It’s easy to think, this is $3, why wouldn’t I get it? But if it never quite works, it’s just taking up precious real estate.
  6. Shop thrift shops in affluent areas for better brands at higher prices. Shop thrift shops in not-so affluent areas for better bargains with a little more digging.
  7. For big-ticket items, do a quick Google search to make sure the store is offering a fair price. Unless you’re at a flea market, haggling isn’t encouraged. But if you’re on the fence about a splurge, it can’t hurt to ask. If it’s been on the rack for a while, the owner might be willing to knock a few bucks off.
  8. Go to thrift shops at the beginning of a new season. Think about when you clean out your closet. (I just did a big purge when I swapped my summer and fall clothes.) That’s when thrift shops will be packed with inventory. For higher-end consignment shops, you'll find the best items at the beginning of the season and the best bargains at the end.
  9. Go frequently. Secondhand stores have constantly fluctuating merchandise. You might strike out one day and hit gold the next.
  10. Plan to spend some time there. Thrift shops aren’t going to have perfectly styled end caps and rows of uniform inventory. You have to take the time to look at each piece on the rack. And I defer to tip number three. Always, always take the time to try it on.
For more tips on secondhand shopping, read my article in Connecticut Magazine


  1. This is so chock full of good info! And your finds are proof of the hunt and fun!

  2. Really helpful!
    Thank you <3


  3. You look incredible Thanks a lot for the guide xoxo Cris

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