How to Thrift + 10 Top Online Thrift Stores

November 27, 2023

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I'm Madeleine!

I’m the girlfriend you text when you’re scratching your head reading labels in the grocery store, the confidante you blurt your “I can’t tell anyone else!” bathroom shenanigans to and the handy science nerd who comes through with the best cost-cutting, time-saving health tips you don’t know how you ever lived without.


Confession: I don’t like shopping. Shocking, I know! But before you call the fashion police, hear me out. It’s not the shopping itself that I don’t like; it’s just that the fast fashion industry itself really makes me cringe, leading me to explore the world of online thrift stores instead.. When I come across a $10 t-shirt screaming “bargain,” my mind races to the less advertised costs: potentially underpaid workers and harmful environmental practices. Call me a Debbie Downer if you want, but despite wishing it weren’t so, the hard evidence often points to these unfortunate realities.

Did you know that according to Fashion Checker, more than 93% of brands surveyed aren’t paying garment workers a living wage? And the International Labor Organization estimates that 170 million children are engaged in child labor, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond.

You can read more about it and get involved at Fashion Revolution

Here’s the thing: my thrifting days actually started back in high school. Back then, blissfully unaware, I rarely considered the darker side of fast fashion – the significant environmental damage it causes and the hidden injustices within its production process. Thrifting at the time was more about creating a trendy wardrobe on a limited budget than about being a conscious consumer.

My Conscious Fashion Journey

My journey into conscious living first began with a complete overhaul of my skincare routine. I became that person – scrutinizing every ingredient, ditching products with harmful chemicals, and leaning toward plastic-free options. 

As I started diving into the world of sustainable living, I couldn’t help but notice striking similarities between beauty and fashion – child labor, unfair wages, chemical pollution, etc. Both industries, I realized, were constantly pushing us toward consumption, chasing trends, and, as a result, contributing to a relentless cycle of waste and overconsumption. 

The more I learned, the harder it became to look the other way. My shopping sprees to Gap, H&M, Forever 21, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, etc., which I once thought of as harmless retail therapy, were unfortunately reinforcing a system that just didn’t sit right with me anymore. 

The documentary True Cost explores the injustices and environmental waste in the fast fashion industry far better than I ever could. I highly recommend giving it a watch. 

How to Thrift

My journey into thrifting 

Starting my thrifting journey was similar to the overhaul I made in my skincare routine – it didn’t happen all at once. Shifting to a slow-fashion wardrobe was a process, one that took some adjusting. 

Not to mention, I had so many questions at first. How on Earth was I going to make time for thrifting? Which online thrift stores best reflected my style and budget? How do I get started?

Today, I’m exploring these questions with you because my guess is, if you’re reading this, these questions have crossed your mind as well. The silver lining? Once you get the hang of thrifting and understand how your choices make a difference, it becomes tough to go back to supporting fast fashion brands without a second thought.

Are you ready? Grab a cup of tea for this one – it’s a long (but good) read.

Where to Start

Step 1: Audit Your Wardrobe

When was the last time you sifted through every single item of clothing you owned? I’m talking about that old Juicy Couture tracksuit from freshman year (I am dating myself, ha), those pants you’re aiming to fit into again, or that top you love but somehow never wear. I know I am not alone in hoarding items in the back of my closet, thinking that “someday,” I’ll wear them again, knowing full well I won’t.

Before you even worry about thrifting, my first tip to you is to get a better idea of what’s already in your wardrobe, like EVERYTHING you own. 

There are two ways you can approach your closet audit — do it all at once or separate it into multiple days. Whichever you choose, commit to going through it all

I personally prefer doing it all at once but there have been times when I don’t have time for a complete wardrobe audit so I break it up into days and focus on certain categories of clothes (tops one day, pants and athletic gear another, and so on). 

Next, it’s time to start your piles. I personally like to organize my clothes into three categories: Daily Wear, Occasionally Wear, and Haven’t touched in ages/will I ever wear this again? At least twice a year, I empty my entire closet and dresser, throw everything on my bed, and sort each item I own into one of these specific piles. I love doing this because 1) it helps me see what I actually own and want to keep vs. what I donate or recycle, and 2) it helps me explore different ways to style it, which leads me to step 2. 

Step 2: Create a mood board to help style

How many times have you looked in your closet and thought, “I have nothing to wear?” I still have moments like this! My favorite way to get out of this funk without buying a slew of new pieces that most likely will end up at the back of my closet (again) is exploring fun new ways to style pieces I already own. 

One of my favorite ways to do this is to create a mood board on Pinterest where I pin styles and outfits I love and want to recreate using the pieces I have in my closet. I recommend making this a fun activity for yourself: pour yourself a cup of tea one night, light a candle, play some music, and enjoy creating new looks. 

Step 3: Consider a capsule wardrobe

Once you’ve audited your wardrobe, consider challenging yourself by exploring your style with a capsule wardrobe.

What is a capsule wardrobe? Essentially, it’s a streamlined collection of clothing pieces (often around 15-37 items) that you love and already own, and that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. The idea is to simplify your wardrobe to a core of versatile, high-quality pieces.

I loved doing a capsule wardrobe challenge because it forced me to get creative with what I already owned and also made me realize that I naturally gravitate towards wearing the same few items most of the time anyway. Basically, it helped me realize what pieces are truly essential versus what pieces are just taking up space. Someone once told me we wear only about 10% of our wardrobe on a regular basis. This definitely felt true. 

Capsule Wardrobe Challenges to Try

  • Project 333 This is a popular challenge by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less. The idea is to choose 33 items to wear over 3 months. It’s an awesome way to get creative with limited options.
  • 10×10 challenge Created by Lee Vosburgh, this challenge encourages you to select 10 items and create outfits from them for 10 days. It’s a shorter challenge but still super insightful.

Step 4: Create a list of items you need

Obviously, there are going to be times when your wardrobe may need a bit of a refresh, especially after major life changes like starting a new job or having a baby, which was my case.

Rather than just going out and impulse buying everything and nothing, which is how I used to shop, consider creating an intentional list of items you actually need. I like to create a note for myself on my phone listing the pieces I need to help me stay on track. 

Step 5: Secondhand first

If you need to buy something, consider secondhand items first. You can find gently used (and sometimes new!) clothing for sale in local thrift stores, consignment shops, or online. The best part is you can get great deals on some of your favorite brands, including designer items, for less, if that’s your thing, which is excellent for your budget! Plus, you’re giving these clothes a second life. Check out my list of 10 online thrift stores below. 

Three tips to help you thrift like a champ: 

1. Shop with intention

My first tip is to know what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for something specific, go to the section you know it’s most likely to be in rather than browsing all the aisles. For instance, if I am looking for a dress with spaghetti straps, I head to the dress section first, then, if I have time, I’ll browse the other sections.

2. Become a thrift store connoisseur

It also helps to know which thrift stores in your area are more likely to carry what you’re looking for. One day when you’re not rushed, if you haven’t already, just go check out some of your local thrift stores. You’ll get a feel for which stores are more likely to carry clothes and accessories that align with your style. This has also helped me realize which stores are more likely to sell furniture and home goods vs. clothes. 

3. Thrift online

If the idea of thrifting in person makes you cringe and you really don’t want to spend time hoping to find what you’re looking for, I highly recommend online thrift stores like ThredUp and Nioshaf. I approach online thrifting the same way I do in-person thrifting — with a plan. I have a list of a few items I am on the hunt for, and I focus on those so I don’t get distracted. 

One of the things I like about online thrift stores is that if I am looking for a specific item from a particular brand, I can easily search for the item. I often do this for pieces I really want from brands that are sometimes out of my budget. I will patiently wait until the perfect item becomes available. 

Two questions to ask yourself before buying new:

Do I really need it? 

Buying only what you need is easier said than done. It requires changing the way you think about what you already have! If you stop and think about what you’re shopping for, you’re giving yourself more time to consider the necessity of your purchases. It’s a challenge if you tend to treat yourself to new clothes and accessories. For many, the act of shopping — with our moms, our friends, or even alone — can be soothing or rewarding. It’s fun, but we end up going home with things we didn’t really need and things that will eventually end up in the landfill. 

Fun fact: In the 1930s, the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today, the average American woman owns 30 outfits — one for every day of the month. If not more!

Do I already own it? 

Chances are you do. Our taste in clothes remains pretty consistent throughout our adulthood so often you find yourself buying the same styles and colors over and over again. If you have an item that’s maybe feeling a little tired for you, try styling it differently. The goal is to figure out how to get creative and style it differently. For me, this is the fun part of dressing up!

But Madeleine, I can’t find what I want in online thrift stores or in person! What do I do now?

Here are a few alternatives to consider: 


If you find yourself in need of a new outfit for a specific occasion, such as a special dinner or event where you anticipate wearing it just once, consider renting! Le Tote and Rent The Runway are great resources.

Support an ethical/sustainable brand. 

If your budget permits, consider supporting an ethical/sustainable fashion brand. If it’s not in your budget, then friend, you gotta do what you gotta do! You tried your best! Just buy something you know you’ll love and will wear a lot. 

Not every single item has to be thrifted

Is my entire wardrobe thrifted? Nope. There are certain items, such as underwear and jeans, that I prefer buying new. I tried thrifting for jeans, but I struggled to find pieces that fit. So, I stick to a few brands that I know fit and presumably have more sustainable manufacturing processes and are within my budget. I usually wear these jeans till they can no longer be mended- I make sure to get as much usage out of them as possible. 

It’s not about perfection.

If you’re relatively new to thrifting, give yourself a break. Start with small changes. Start by editing your shopping cart before you make a purchase (ask yourself “do I really need it?“). If you do, consider opting for more sustainable materials and textiles, such as cotton, linen, hemp, etc. Even if fast fashion, these fabrics are more environmentally-friendly than materials such as polyester, etc. 

Remember, shifting to a conscious wardrobe takes time. It’s all about gradually moving away from old habits to embrace slow fashion and mindful consumption. Think of it as a journey, not a race. Small, steady changes add up, so be patient with yourself – perfection isn’t the goal here.

In short, to avoid fast fashion…

  1. Buy less, wear often.
  2. Invest in clothes you love, and don’t buy more than you need.
  3. When you do buy, buy quality over quantity. I prefer opting for classic, timeless pieces so I don’t have to re-invest in a whole new wardrobe every season. 
  4.  Embrace the clothes you already own. Take a look at your closet and enjoy what you already have.

Final thoughts…

If you’re a fashionista and you think you can’t stop shopping altogether, maybe start with small changes. Consider buying and selling your clothes at a local consignment store. Use your trendsetting powers to encourage others to make eco-friendly changes and to avoid fast fashion as well!

10 Online Thrift Stores

1. Poshmark 

Poshmark presents a dynamic and varied marketplace where shoppers can find an extensive array of items, from budget-friendly everyday wear to exclusive high-end designer pieces. Primarily catering to adults, this platform is a popular choice for those who appreciate both value and luxury in their fashion selections. Poshmark distinguishes itself by offering a unique social shopping experience, where users can follow favorite sellers, join virtual shopping events, and engage in a community-driven atmosphere. This feature not only enhances the buying and selling process but also fosters a sense of connection among users. In addition to clothing, Poshmark extends its offerings to include accessories, beauty products, and home goods, making it a comprehensive destination for a variety of shopping needs. 


2. ThredUP 

ThredUP has established itself as a leading online consignment and thrift store, focusing primarily on women’s and children’s clothing. It stands out as a budget-friendly option for those seeking both variety and value. The platform offers a wide selection of clothing items, ranging from everyday casual wear to more upscale and designer labels. Additionally, ThredUP’s innovative approach includes a Clean Out service, where individuals can send in their unwanted clothing to be sold or recycled, making it convenient for people to declutter their wardrobes while contributing to a sustainable fashion cycle. Another unique aspect of ThredUP is its ‘Goody Box’ feature, where customers can receive a box of handpicked items tailored to their style and preferences, adding an element of surprise and personalization to the shopping experience. This is one of my favorite online thrift stores! 😉


3. Goodwill Online (GoodwillFinds)

GoodwillFinds extends the classic thrift store experience to the online realm, offering a variety of items for both adults and children. The platform features reasonable prices, though occasionally higher than in physical stores. Every purchase made on the platform contributes to Goodwill’s broader social objectives, such as job training, employment placement services, and other community-based programs.


4. DePop 

DePop is known for its unique and trendy offerings, ranging from vintage to more contemporary pieces, even handcrafted pieces. The platform strongly focuses on trends and appeals to those looking for distinctive styles at various price points. What makes DePop particularly appealing is its strong focus on youth culture and emerging fashion trends. The platform not only provides a space for buying and selling but also fosters a dynamic community where users can engage with like-minded fashion aficionados, discover new style inspirations, and even follow popular influencers and designers.


5. Noihsaf

Noihsaf offers a carefully curated selection of high-quality, secondhand fashion. The store presents items ranging from moderately priced to more premium offerings, offering a carefully selected range of designer labels and high-quality pieces that you won’t find in typical thrift stores.


6. Patagonia Worn Wear Shop 

This shop provides an opportunity to purchase pre-owned Patagonia clothing and gear for both adults and children. It is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts seeking more affordable, sustainable options. It’s not just about buying and selling; it’s also about reducing environmental impact and extending the life of gear, aligning with Patagonia’s ethos of sustainability.


7. Swap Society 

Swap Society operates on a unique model of swapping rather than buying, which is cost-effective and eco-friendly. Members earn points for the items they swap and can use those points to get” new” clothes, making it a circular and sustainable shopping experience.


8. Swap

Swap is an ideal destination for budget-conscious shoppers looking for a wide range of secondhand clothing and goods. It primarily caters to families, offering a vast selection of items for men, women, children, and even babies. Known for its affordability, Swap.com stands out for its user-friendly platform and a commitment to making thrift shopping as convenient and cost-effective as possible. The site frequently updates its inventory, ensuring there’s always something new to discover.


9. The Real Real 

The Real Real is a distinguished online consignment store that caters specifically to the luxury market, offering a meticulously curated selection of authenticated, pre-owned fashion items. This platform stands out for its exceptional range of high-end products, encompassing everything from renowned luxury brands to rare and exclusive designer pieces. One of the key strengths of The Real Real is its rigorous authentication process. Every item listed on the platform undergoes a comprehensive evaluation by a team of experts, ensuring the authenticity and quality of each piece. 


10. Grailed

Grailed is a unique and specialized online marketplace catering primarily to men’s fashion. The platform offers a wide variety of men’s clothing, from more affordable streetwear and contemporary brands to high-end designer and rare vintage pieces. Grailed stands out for its focus on rare and sought-after pieces, including vintage and limited-edition items.


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