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Prep for Less: Tips for Shopping Second-Hand Online

My fashion tenets are twofold:

one; quality pieces
two; timeless pieces

Unfortunately for me, however, this combination can come with a (really!) high price tag. While I would love to be able to shop exclusively at J.Crew or Kate Spade, it's just not in my budget. That doesn't mean that you can't find amazing pieces (even from expensive brands) at great prices, however. Sales, discounts, and shopping out of season are all options - but my favorite strategy is to shop second-hand.

Over half of my wardrobe is second-hand, usually from sites online. That may sound a little daunting, but I promise that once you learn a few tips you'll be able to navigate second-hand shopping like a pro. You'll save the environment and your wallet, all while finding amazing pieces that you might not be able to get anywhere else.

1. Know what you're looking for. 

Browsing second-hand sites can get overwhelming, even if you narrow to a specific brand. The key to avoiding getting a bunch of stuff you don't want in your feed is to know what you do want, and narrowing your search to fit that.

When shopping, I use as many search parameters as possible - starting with a keyword, then narrowing down to a specific category of clothing, my size, and even the color I want.

2. Try out different search terms.

For example, if I'm searching for a Kiel James Patrick scalloped button down shirt (per this post!), I might sort by Women --> tops --> button downs, but search for two different keywords: "KJP" and then "Kiel James Patrick". Different sellers might list the brand differently, and so searching for both allows me to see items that I wouldn't be able to with just one search.

3. Know your size.

Most online second-hand websites don't accept returns unless the item is damaged or not as described. Unfortunately, that means that if it just doesn't fit, you're stuck with it. While that may seem scary, I promise there's a way to avoid disappointment!

Generally, I stick with brands that I'm familiar with size-wise. For example, I know what size I am in most J.Crew clothing; same for Old Navy, L.L.Bean, Madewell, etc. But, what if you come across an item that you love, but you're unsure of what size you'll be?

Well, you have a few options. Firstly, I would check to see if the seller has listed measurements. You can then cross-reference the measurements on the item with pieces you have at home that you know fit you. Some common measurements include shoulder width (length across the shoulders), waist (the smallest part of your stomach), hips (the widest part of your hips), and length (for dresses and skirts) or inseam (for pants and shorts).

For example, since I'm 5'11", I often have trouble with dresses and skirts being too short. If I find a piece online, I'll look for the length measurement and compare that to that of a dress that I already have that's the right length for me.

If the seller doesn't have measurements listed, don't be afraid to contact them and ask for measurements. Another option is to look for the same piece online. If you know the brand, you may be able to find the item on the brand's site (even if it's an older item), and look at the brand's measurements in the item description. For items such as shoes, you can also ask the seller if they run small or large.

4. Learn what works for your body and personal style.

Adding on to my third tip -- an item may be the right size, but it might not be flattering. It's important to know what styles generally work with your body, and what kinds of cuts, patterns, colors, etc. you like to wear. As much as I love sweater dresses, I know they just don't look good on me (tragically), so I avoid buying them. The same thing goes for in-store shopping, but again, since you can't try on second-hand items and return them if you don't like them, it's a good idea to be extra particular and stick to styles that you know will work for you.

5. Use the pictures to check the condition of the item.

Finally, use the pictures included in the listing to check the item's condition. While most second-hand websites are very good about allowing you to return items that come damaged/not as described, it's always better to avoid the hassle of sending it back by checking before you buy. If you need more photos, always reach out to the seller. Remember, they want their item to sell - so most of the time they'll be more than happy to get you any information you need to make your decision.

Here are some of my favorite websites for shopping second-hand (in order of most-used to least-used):

Truly, second-hand shopping is the way to go to get quality items that will last you a lifetime without breaking the bank. As a bonus, you can often find items that are brand new with the tags still on for a fraction of the retail price. Classic style doesn't require a huge bank account, just a little bit of hunting and patience!

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