Finding my way, sharing my finds

My Dirty Little Secret: Shopping at Goodwill and Overcoming the Thrift Shop Stigma

This shirt? Yup, bought it second-hand.

This shirt? Yup, bought it second-hand.

Standing in a store surrounded by endless racks of clothes, I seriously felt like I wanted to cry. And hide. Or at least disguise myself with a hat and sunglasses.

There I was, standing in a Goodwill store and feeling like I had hit rock bottom.

The thought of buying someone else’s clothes disgusted me.  The smell in the store nauseated me.  And every fiber of my being was telling me to run out the door before anyone saw what I was doing.

And so that’s what I did. I left.

Flash forward about 5 months and I will gladly tell anyone about my most recent shopping spree to Goodwill.  Whenever someone compliments something I’m wearing, I’m quick to point out that I happened to purchase it from the thrift shop. And I love spouting off prices: $3.99 for that lovely blouse, $4.99 for my beautiful dress, $3.99 for my strappy shoes.

I am seriously sold on what Goodwill has to offer.  And I want to help others become comfortable with the idea of thrift store shopping too.

But Back to the Beginning First…

The shirt that I am wearing on the left? Yup, thrift shop merchandise.

The shirt that I am wearing on the left? Yup, thrift shop merchandise.

First, you should know that I’ve never been particularly into fashion, except when it comes to dresses. I love me some dresses.

But truly, other than being a self-proclaimed dress junkie, I typically buy clothes out of necessity, not because I find it particularly enjoyable to go shopping.

I remember in high school,  I would go shopping with my best friend and become beyond annoyed with how slowly she shopped. She would carefully leaf through every. single. shirt, carefully evaluating whether she wanted to try it on.  Getting her to final checkout was even more painstakingly slow.  I swear, she had to make a pros and cons list  before she purchased anything.

My shopping style was a little bit different. I roared through stores. If something caught my eye, I went for it.  If not, I kept moving.  When I tried something on, I  quickly ascertained whether I wanted it or not.  There was not usually a lengthy internal struggle in my head. It’s just clothes, after all.

But while I never really cared for clothes shopping, I also didn’t have to worry about being able to afford it, either. My loving parents, in their infinite wisdom of recognizing that kids outgrow clothes quickly, had set my sisters and me up on a clothing budget early.

Obviously when I graduated from college, that budget ended.  It was time for me to grow up and start paying for my own clothes, among other things.

Initially, I continued shopping at the kind of stores I’d always shopped at: $100 for a dress at BeBe? Sure!  $45 for a shirt from Express? Why not?

But then I soon realized that shopping at such places was not very sustainable, especially on my entry level job budget. So I started shopping at more thrifty stores (but NOT thrift stores).  Pretty soon, places like Kohl’s, Marshall’s and Target were regulars stops for me.

Thrift shop shoes. All of them. : )

Thrift shop shoes. All of them. : )

But still, even these lower tier stores could get a bit pricey, especially if you need a whole new wardrobe because you’ve lost 25 pounds and none of your clothes fit anymore.

So for a while, I just hung on to my old clothes and tried to make do.  Things got a little ratty for a hot second.  I definitely continued to wear tennis shoes that had multiple holes.  And I also wore business pants that my mom altered several times to keep them from slipping off my hips.  Man were those things baggy by the end.

But I didn’t really have much of a choice.  At the time, I was still learning how to properly budget my money and I just didn’t have a couple hundred dollars lying around to go shopping for a new wardrobe.

Which Brings Me to My First Clothes Shopping Visit to Goodwill

Thrift shop dress for $5? Yes, please!

Thrift shop dress for $5? Yes, please!

I reached a point where I was ready to try a thrift shop. It seemed like a no brainer: I needed clothes, I didn’t have much money, and I live just 5 minutes from a Goodwill.

Unfortunately, I really overestimated my self confidence. I thought I would find it easy to go in there and start shopping for clothes.

After all, I HAD purchased pictures and gag gifts there before.   What’s the big deal?

But no, instead my pride took over.  I ran out the door and called my boyfriend, asking him if he thought I was a loser for shopping at Goodwill.

He shared with me that he had frequently shopped at Goodwill in the past, especially when he was looking for white button down shirts for his job in the restaurant industry.  And besides, he said, a good deal is a good deal.  And you can find great stuff at Goodwill sometimes.

I was comforted by his words but I wasn’t ready to go back yet. Several months passed and then something game changing happened.

I saw one of my friends at a meeting and complimented her on her outfit.  I don’t even remember what she was wearing that day but it was definitely colorful and trendy looking.

She thanked me and then added in a very casual way, “I actually got it from Goodwill. I get a lot of my clothes at Goodwill.”

My mind was blown.  Not only was she wearing something cute but she was unabashedly revealing that she’d purchased it at a thrift shop.

I jumped on the moment and started peppering her with questions. How long have you been shopping there? Which Goodwill do you go to? I’ve been wanting to shop there too but I was embarrassed – did that ever happen to you? How did you overcome it?

She was so sweet to talk with me for several minutes and answer my questions.  By the end of our conversation, I no longer felt like a loser, a hobo, an outcast.

I realized that shopping at Goodwill, especially in today’s economy, makes good financial sense.  And that you can find really cute, trendy things there – sometimes with the original tags still on them.  She helped me see that shopping at thrift stores was nothing to be ashamed of.

So a few days later, I went back to that Goodwill with resolve.  I was going to give this thrift shopping thing an honest try. I was not going to be ashamed anymore.

So What Did I Discover on My Clothes Shopping Experience to Goodwill?

Love this shirt.  Love it even more since I got it for $4 at Goodwill

Love this shirt. Love it even more since I got it for $4 at Goodwill

You can find some amazing clothes at Goodwill, and for cheap too!  Right before vacation recently, I went on a shopping spree there and bought five shirts, two dresses and a skirt.

The grand total? $43.

During my former days of shopping at the mall, I *maybe* could have gotten two shirts for that money.

Seriously, I continue to be amazed by the prices at Goodwill.  Check them out:

  • Blazer $4.99
  • Blouse $3.99
  • Coats $7.99
  • Sweatshirt $3.99
  • Dress $4.99
  • T-shirt $2.99
  • Suits & 2 pc Dresses $7.49
  • Sweaters $3.99

I’ve since returned for a couple of more shopping sprees to Goodwill.  And here’s my takeaway from the experience:

  • All of the clothes I bought at Goodwill have been gently used.  So they really do feel like brand new to me. And like I said, some even have original tags on them.
  • There are an array of styles offered at thrift stores too, giving me exposure to styles I would have never thought to consider on my own. Plus, a lot of them tend to be brand name. I’ve bought clothes from White House, Black Market and London Times.
  • I’ve actually started looking forward to future shopping sprees there.  After all, new clothes pour in every week.  And there’s such a sense of accomplishment when you find an outfit that fits like a glove and looks fabulous.  And when you go through check-out and find out that it’s only going to cost you a couple of bucks – well, that’s just pure victory!
  • My stereotype of people who shop at Goodwill wasn’t accurate.  I’ve seen people from all walks of life shopping there.  And as I’ve opened up with friends about my latest shopping excursions, I’ve learned a lot of them buy second-hand clothing too.  It has really helped reduce the stigma I had against thrift shops.
  • There’s something poetic about buying used clothes.  Whenever I try something on, I wonder about the memories that the previous owner formed in them. Maybe she was wearing that black dress when her boyfriend proposed.  Maybe she was wearing that blouse when she found out she was pregnant.  Maybe she was wearing those shoes when she was offered that new job.  And now, I get to make brand new memories in those same clothes.  It’s pretty cool, I think.
  • I am having a positive impact on the community without even realizing it. All proceeds at Goodwill go toward helping people in need within the community.  I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to say that when I was shopping at BeBe.

“Love Your Outfit! Where Did You Get It From?”


Love this dress. Even wore it to a wedding. And … you guessed it…bought it at Goodwill.

Yes, I have heard this several times since I started shopping at Goodwill.  And whenever I do, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share my experience about shopping at thrift stores.

Frankly, it was the economy that drove me to shop there to begin with.  I just couldn’t afford the malls.  And by necessity, I’ve learned how to be frugal and how to stretch a dollar.

But even if the economy was better and I made more money, I’m not sure I WOULD stop shopping at Goodwill. I might start shopping at Marshall’s and Target more regularly but I just can’t see myself ever being willing to spend $40 for a t-shirt or $100 for a dress ever again.

Spending that kind of money on clothes just seems wasteful at this point. I would rather spend it on international traveling or outings with my loved ones.

So to anyone who’s struggling with their own wall of pride that’s preventing them from exploring thrift shopping, I leave you with the immortal words of Macklemore:

Ha. I love it!

But seriously, thrift shore shopping is awesome.  Try it out. Let me know what your experience is like.

Be well.


9 comments on “My Dirty Little Secret: Shopping at Goodwill and Overcoming the Thrift Shop Stigma

  1. debbiearriero
    June 13, 2014

    Love the Dress!

  2. emeraldgazes
    June 13, 2014

    Thanks ma! Me too! Very sophisticated and ladylike, I thought. Love it. : )

  3. tjothen
    June 17, 2014

    You should try Clothes Mentor in the Arboretum and Upscale Resale on 74! I’m wearing a bargain buy right now actually. A friend told me this morning that I look really professional today and I know it’s the cheap but trendy blazer. 🙂

    • emeraldgazes
      June 27, 2014

      That’s awesome Tiffany! We should go shopping sometime! And thanks for the tips – I will definitely have to check those places out.

  4. Brittany
    September 24, 2014

    Those outfits are gorgeous! I love going to thrift stores and second hand stores. Especially, Goodwill. I love it so much that I actually work at one lol!

    • emeraldgazes
      September 25, 2014

      Thanks! I especially love Goodwill’s dress section. I can always find adorable dresses there. Haven’t ventured out into other thrift stores yet but figure that’s only a matter of time.

      That’s cool that you work at one. I bet it’s nice to get first dibs on clothes before anyone else : )

  5. Pingback: Good Cents: Goodwill but Cheaper | Seminole Savings

  6. Erin O'Loughlin
    July 28, 2017

    Your writing about Goodwill sent my thoughts and feelings back to my first visit. I, also, struggled with emotions. My being there was a result of absolute necessity. I am in the poverty income level and a high size category. Those two factors were tearing me apart and now I found myself in a thrift store! I wasn’t embarrassed but downcast. After strolling through the racks of clothes, and noticing others on the store, I became quite comfortable. Also, there is a kind of friendliness with other thrifty customers you don’t find in “regular” stores. I now enjoy the experience and am so very grateful for the provision these stores give to so many in need. I appreciate your thoughts about who wore a piece of clothing and what part it may have played played in their life! Poetic indeed.
    Be blessed!

    • emeraldgazes
      August 1, 2017

      That is a great word to describe the feeling of that first thrift store visit: Downcast. I can definitely relate! And I agree with you. There seems to be a certain camaraderie among thrift store shoppers. And I’m always moved by the fact that people from all walks of life come to the thrift shop. It’s a great equalizer in that sense. Thanks for reading! Be well!

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2014 by in Life Happens and tagged , , , , .
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