If your family is watching costs like our family, buying used or second-hand clothing is an easy way to stretch a tight budget. By shopping consignment shops, rummage sales, and even thrift stores, it's possible to dress our kids in quality clothes without spending a small fortune.
To be totally honest, however, even I experience a bit of embarrassment when buying used clothes for my kids. Wearing hand-me-downs from relatives is one thing. Wearing used clothes that once belonged to a stranger is another matter altogether. To get around that "down in our luck" feeling, my daughter and I follow these 10 rules when buying used clothing.
Don't buy used undergarments or swimsuits
Never, ever buy used underwear or swim suits. Not only is this unsanitary and demoralizing, the elastic is usually so stretched that the garments won't stay on. Brand new underwear can be found for less than a buck at outlet malls and discount department stores. Cheap swimsuits can usually be found at end of the season sales.
Skip the shoes
While some families see nothing wrong with used shoes, I won't buy them myself. Weakened arch supports and the risk of athlete's feet is the main reason why used shoes aren't always a bargain.
Examine the clothes in strong light
A store's fluorescent lights can make it tough to spot food and other stains on children's clothing. Before we bring our finds to the counter, my daughter and I will examine the clothes in the store window for permanent stains, set in grime, or other blotches. If the clothes are soiled, they are returned to the racks since there is no guarantee that they will clean up in the wash.
Can be disinfected
My #1 used clothing rule is that anything I buy from the thrifts must be able to be disinfected. Clothing items that can't be washed or dry cleaned (think hats, scarves, fabric belts & slippers) are best left on the shelves.
Has working zippers and clasps
While I don't mind replacing a missing button, replacing a zipper can easily cost $20 or more. Buying school clothes that need extensive repair work generally isn't a bargain.
Avoid seriously out-of-date clothing
Since my teen is into vintage indie fashions, she doesn't mind wearing well-designed vintage duds from the '60s and '70s. Putting your kids in cheesy out-of-date fashions from the '90s and early '00s (think parachute pants) is both embarrassing and mean.
Must fit properly
Clothing sizes vary by manufacturer which is why it makes sense to try everything on before you head to the register. Trying on clothes will also help you determine if an item is stretched out, has weakened elastic, or hangs in an odd way.
Check for rips, holes, and pulled yarn.
While some people get rid of their old clothes because they've tired of them, many others donate clothes because they've become damaged in some way. Store clerks don't often catch the damage, which is why it's up to us to look for rips and yarn tugs. Some items -- such as coats, formal gowns, and men's suits -- may be worth the expense of a minor repair. Everyday clothes usually aren't.
Shop brand names.
Most thrift stores mark their clothes in a one-price-fits-all format, which means that designer duds are usually priced the same as clothes from discount retailers. Shopping the brand names not only means quality clothes at a great price, but that the used clothes you do buy will continue to look good for the entire school year.
Ask about a return policy.
While clothes found at rummage sales and yard sales aren't returnable, we've discovered most used clothing venues will accept returns under specific conditions. The conditions can be pretty restrictive, however, which is why it always pays to ask about a store's return policy before buying anything used.
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