Surival Guide to Second Hand Shopping

Originally posted on January 1st, 2016.

As I have been actively rummaging through Helsinki’s second-hand stores for over five years, I have almost developed second-hand shopping into an art form! Today I will share the wisdom I have gathered over the years to you, my dear readers. These tips are mainly for a hard-core full day of second-hand shopping mayhem, but if anyone is new to second-hand shopping, it may be easier to start small. Like, you know that second-hand store you pass every day? Take a minute to go inside and look around for a bit. You may find something nice.

As I’m clearly into lists, here’s another post for you in list form!

1. Dress comfortably. It’s the best if you have easy clothes on that are easy to take off, so trying on clothes is much more comfortable. Second-hand stores don’t usually have return policies so you really have to try on each piece of clothing before you buy it. The very best is if you have clothes on that allow you to try on some clothes on top of the clothes you already have on (that’s not really an elegant sentence, but you might get my point), so you won’t even have to bother going to a changing room. And outdoor flea markets don’t normally even have changing rooms, so it’s easy to just try a shirt on if you’re wearing a tight (comfy) top that allows you to do so. The most important thing is to have easy shoes! There’s nothing more annoying than trying on pants when it takes you forever to get your shoes on or off!

2. Carry a backpack and have extra tote bags with you. You will most likely end up buying a whole mass of clothes, so be prepared. It’s much more comfortable to carry a lot of stuff in a backpack, so that’s what I always do. And extra bags are definitely a must! You have them lying around your house anyway, so there’s no point in buying a new plastic bag each time you go out to shop.

An example of a good outfit for a day of second-hand shopping

In the picture I’m wearing one of my favourite skirts that pretty much everyone who knows me will recognise as something I have been wearing way too often for the past 5 years (from Kierrätyskeskus). Wearing a skirt allows you to try on pants easily, cause you don’t even necessarily have to take it off for that. The shoes are really comfy and easy, and cost just a couple of euros at UFF. The blue top and the grey shirt are also from UFF. The bag is also one of my favourites. It got it (or ok, I sort of stole it) from my mom.

3. Try to plan a route with many second-hand stores on the way. Since you never know what you’re going to find in a second-hand store, it’s good to plan to go to a few. Don’t forget about the small second-hand shops or the ones that look a bit dingy, you may very well find great stuff in those! Helsinki people, if you don’t know where to go second-hand shopping, don’t worry: I’ll make a post soon about the best second-hand stores in Helsinki.

4. Take your time. It’s difficult to shop at second-hand stores in a hurry. To find the best stuff, you really need to go through everything (and you have to have time to try the clothes on). I always take a friend with me, because that way it’s much more fun. You get to spend a whole day with a friend and it’s so much fun to laugh at some of the most horrible clothes ever with a friend. Doesn’t look too good if you’re just cracking up on your own while checking out someone’s 80’s Christmas sweater. Another tip, especially if you’re going to an outdoor market, is to go early. When people are only selling stuff for one day, the best stuff always goes first, so you want to be there before anyone else has the chance to nick your favourite shirt to-be from right under your nose.

5. Don’t go crazy (as worded by my sister). Second-hand stuff is cheap. You could buy out a whole store if you wanted to. But you don’t want to. Keep in mind what you need and really think if you’re going to wear what you buy. Even though it’s cheap and it isn’t adding to pollution or slave-like labour, it’s just not smart to own too many clothes. Fitting them in your wardrobe will be super difficult. Trust me, I have gone crazy at second-hand stores multiple times. I once bought a big bag full of 80’s clothes that I literally never wore, and ended up just taking them to a second-hand store again. It’s not like it really mattered, but it would have just been easier to leave them in the store in the first place.

6. Most importantly: have an open mind. Some of my favourite clothes are ones that didn’t look amazing on the rack, but once I tried them on, I fell in love. Dare to try on stuff you’re not sure about (cause what are you going to lose?) and muster the energy to look through more stuff, even if you haven’t found anything all day. The perfect piece of clothing may be waiting for you at the other end of the store, but you’ll never find it if you don’t look.

Special thanks to my sister, Sinikka, for helping with this post, because she gave me some of the ideas for the tips. She’s also a second-hand guru and one of my most usual companions at thrift stores. She’s probably also one of the reasons I got into second hand shopping, since I’ve always been handed down her clothes, so I’ve been wearing someone else’s clothes since forever. And her wardrobe has always been an extension to mine, even when we were teenagers and she would scream at me for taking something she wanted to wear. So thanks for all your clothes, Sini!


Photos: Valtteri Lehti


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