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D-I-Y. Dee It Yourself. Shopping, Part 2

More schoolin' from Sun-Dee!

Two weeks back, I wrote about shopping at traditional bricks and mortar stores, like Nordstrom, Macy’s, and brand stores like White House Black Market. Contrary to many, I prefer shopping in person rather than on-line. I am seemingly in the minority, as the bricks and mortar stores have less and less traffic as time goes by, and it appears Covid  has accelerated that decline.

However, there is a category of stores more immune to the assault from Amazon and other web merchants, namely second hand stores, which range from lower end thrift shops to higher end consignment shops (although there are web sites like Thred Up that have tried to monetize the second hand market). These stores offer another opportunity to get out and engage in retail therapy.  I have ventured into thrift stores a number of times to satisfy my shopping urges, both in boy and Dee modes, here in the US and in Australia (where they are often called “op shops”, short for opportunity shops).

1. Traditional thrift shops. In the US, the two most common thrift “chains” are Goodwill and Salvation Army (Salvo’s in Aussie speak) stores. Other thrift stores are often sponsored by churches or other charitable organizations. You can usually find one or more thrift stores in most places in the US (or outside the US). Of course, the quality of the store and the goods offered varies from store to store.

The obvious advantage of thrift shops is the prices. They are cheap to begin with, and sometimes discounted below that (“50% off yellow tags”). It’s like going on a treasure hunt–you’ll never know if you’ll find something you like, but you often need to get lucky, but you often have to look through lots of hay to find the needle.

For many in our community, thrift stores offer a way to find out what is your size. Some places have change rooms, usually not monitored by staff. Even in guy mode, you can find bras, tops, pants, dresses, etc, that you can surreptitiously stuff into a basket, toss a pair of men’s jeans on top, and head into a change room to try your choices on. Now, women’s sizes vary, and there are (seemingly) an array of different size ranges, but at least trying things on gives you a better idea of what actually fits you.

Of course, post-Covid, some stores don’t have change rooms. For those stores, their return policies may have been loosened so you can buy something, try it on at home, and then take it back if it doesn’t fit. You’ll have to check with the particular store. When you’re spending between five and ten dollars, is it really that big of a issue to have to buy something and take something back? 

Thrift stores either tend to sort their goods into one of two general categories. Either they sort by size, or by color. By size is my preference. It’s easier to try and find something when they’ve already pre-sorted for your size. If by color, the sizes are jumbled up and when you flip through them on the racks, you have the continuously check the label to see if it’s your size.

One final note on thrift stores. Sometimes they will have unsold merchandise from bricks and mortar stores, but usually the items are from several to multiple years old. For some of us, that’s a good thing. When I started dressing regularly (about seven years ago) my favorite item (still are) was dresses. During the last seven years, dresses have become less popular,  and brick and mortar stores stock fewer and fewer dresses (the chicken or the egg?). Your right dress today might be one bought five or ten years ago,  just cleaned out of a closet, replaced by the latest fashions…..

 ….like a size 14 Maggy London black formal dress. Last week I was in Savers (see below), and saw a dress I first tried on seven years ago, when I first started going out. It was hanging on the rack waiting for me to buy it; $12–and seven years–it was mine.  I just need the right place to wear it. 

There are also several for-profit second hand store chains; Savers, Plato’s Closet, and Clothes Mentor.

2. Savers. Savers is on the lower end of the for-profit second hand stores. They have outlets in both the US and Australia, including two in the Melbourne area that I often frequent, and two here around me in the US. Unfortunately, since Covid, I feel the quality of merchandise at Savers has gone down. In addition, Savers, or at least my local store, has removed the change rooms. It was always nice to be able to pick something off the rack,  try it on, and see if it fit or not. But you can’t do that anymore, which is a disappointment. 

Savers used to also sort things by size number, such as 10s, 12s and 14s. Now they only do it by size ranges, such as small, medium and large. Not quite as user-friendly as before (probably another example of staff shortages in the US). 

In short, I used to recommend Savers more in the past than I do now, and I don’t frequent them as often (no do I go dressed anymore, because I can try things on). But OTOH, I just did find the Maggy London dress there…..

3. Plato’s Closet. A notch higher on the food chain is Plato’s Closet, another for-profit chain. They accept donations and offer cash to donors, so the quality of clothes is a bit higher than Savers or other thrifts. Because they pay for clothes, they are more selective.

However, as their website notes:

Not Your Typical Secondhand Clothing Store

At Plato’s Closet®, you’ll find a huge selection of trendy designer styles as well as those every day basics you can’t live without — all at up to 70% off mall retail prices!

We buy gently used teen and young adult clothes, shoes and accessories that are in good condition — no stains.

We buy every day and will pay you cash on the spot, no appointment needed!

Yes, their target market is teens and young adults, and I am not that demographic. It means the stores’ inventory is what young people wear, which means tops and pants and jeans and the like, and not a great supply of dresses. 

But I have found things there that I like, and they have change rooms to try things on. Also, the staff is also generally young, and as young people are typically LGBT friendly, it’s fine to go dressed there.They are also pretty good and sorting items by category such as tops, dresses, jackets, etc.

They also have shoes sorted by size, and I have occasionally bought shoes there. They have sales every now and then which case you can find clearance items for a couple of dollars. I also bought my latest purse there, a steal at $10.

4. Clothes Mentor. This is at the top end of the second hand chain stores. Prices at Clothes Mentor generally run a few dollars higher than at Plato’s Closet, with dresses generally priced between $15 and $20.

Clothes Mentor also has various items of designer goods, costing somewhat substantial amounts of money for high-end handbags and the like. They also have collections like Lululemon, Free People, and other popular brands. The last time I was in Clothes Mentor I was with Michelle and she basically went crazy, buying 25 to 30 items. Over several years of shopping and multiple visits, I have found some really nice dresses there, probably about ten in total. They organize things in size ranges, mediums,  larges, etc., and display shoes by size. I’ve bought a black fake leather jacket that I like very much. They also have the occasional discount sale and the store I visit will sometimes issue discount coupons, such as 20% off.

Around where I live, Goodwill advertises themselves as the original Halloween store. As Halloween IS coming up (a/k/a, “The National Crossdressers Holiday”) you can visit one of the above options under the guise of looking for a Halloween costume. Or you can just go and shop, because the people there really don’t care (and they don’t know you anyway). If you haven’t yet, give them a go (as the Aussies say).


4 Responses

  1. Dee,
    In the UK a thrift shop would be right at the bottom of the shopping choices , they rate along side jumble sales where nothing is really sorted and the quality questionable but the prices are usually in pennies and not pounds . Our charity shops sound more like your thrift shops , where the items are well sorted into size or colour and priced reasonably for a few pounds . Often they take in new , discontinued stock from retailers like M & S , depite being based on charities they are more like a retail shop offering refunds , that also changed for us in the UK during and after COVID when changing rooms closed .
    Some people turn their noses up at charity shops but I don’t have a problem with them some of my buys are top end designer labels bought at a fraction of the original cost . The choice of heels has gradually faded on the High Street but they often crop up in charity shops , to me it makes sense if the shoes are in still in good condition but someone else has worn them in they will be more comfortable . The other benifit is when we do decide to move items on they haven’t made a huge hole in our finances . While I don’t go looking for compliments now it is nice to hear people say I love what you’re wearing , they almost drop when I tell them where they came from and how much I paid , the times they have asked if they can come shopping with me .

  2. Hi Dee,
    Being a Canuck I can tell you that you girls are spoiled when it comes to thrift shops. I follow Heidi Phox on You Tube. She says most of her outfits are bought at thrift stores and she has a wardrobe of gorgeous dresses skirts tops etc. all bought for ridiculously low prices. Up here in the Great White North it’s difficult to find quality clothes at thrift stores. At least in my town of 100,000.
    The only places I found good quality designer clothes was in Value Village, a chain thrift store and on Facebooks Market place, the best place for me. I can pick up gorgeous dresses for $10 to $15. I even got a brand new pair of ankle booties, still in the box for $15.
    I just find it fun shopping at thrift stores. It’s like an adventure to find that OMG dress or shoes in your size and colour.


  3. Love the guide to second hand shopping.

    I have never found anything (yes, ANYTHING) that fit me at a second hand store. Probably because I’m 4’10” and not thin.

    Or, as I say, I’m short not tiny. Usualky I wear a women’s petite-yes it is a size. No matter how many times I ask “do you carry women’s petite?”, I get directed to the petites and then the women’s department.

    I have never found a store that knows about WPs, unless they carry them.

    One caution, not everyone is in your demographic. Not me.
    I can afford to throw out $5 or $10, if it’s a rare occurrence. It means not doing something else that costs money.
    And I cannot make a habit of it.

    Your comment led to think about all the folks who will never be able to express themselves due to economics and personal finances.

    I will be taking some items to Playto’s Closet to see if they’ll buy them.

    Loved all info.

    I look forward to Sun-Dees.

  4. Thanks all.

    Teresa, I think of “thrift” as a term covers a wide variety of stores, including one-off consignment stores, retro stores, along with the Goodwill and Salvation Army type stores. It’s usually the term I use when I do a Google search like “thrift stores near me”, as I did when my wife and I were in New York City a couple of weeks ago (she likes looking too, and she knows what I’m looking for, even when in boy mode).

    Trish, obviously I can’t testify to all locations, only parts of the US and the Melbourne suburbs (been to probably about 10 there, often amidst a bike ride), and a few in rural Australia. It is often a treasure hunt with no treasure (and I concur, Heidi has cute stuff).

    Renee, I like petite too, but usually because the lengths are shorter because I’m vain and like to show off my legs.

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