Half my wardrobe costs less than $5 a piece because I thrift shop — here's how you can get started

PHOTO: Facebook/Lucky Plaza Bazaar

Like most women, I have a wardrobe that contains probably more clothes than I need. However, more than half of my items cost less than $5 because they are preloved.

I’ve been thrifting since 2014, after chancing upon a flea market at Scape and being stunned by the cheap prices people sold their preloved items for. As a broke student, getting clothes for less than $5 a piece certainly helped me stretch my dollar.

Although I am now a working adult who has more purchasing power, I still try my luck at flea markets or thrift stores. While there is still the thrill whenever I find a hidden gem, I've also continued to thrift as there are other upsides to it other than cost.

For one, it's definitely more sustainable. In 2019 alone, Singapore produced 168 tonnes of textile and leather waste, and only six tonnes of it was recycled. Buying secondhand pieces means reducing the numbers of items that go into our landfills.

Some feel that secondhand clothes are "dirtier" since they've been worn by other people before, but I have no qualms about wearing used items. If wearing preloved clothing doesn't irk you but you are clueless on how to get started, here are some tips and tricks that I have for those who are thinking of breaking into the world of thrifting.

1. Go in with lowered expectations

If everything you know about thrifting comes from social media, you may think that it's a fuss-free, fun and glamourous activity. However, the reality is very different and thrifting can be quite a tedious process.

Clothes can be found hastily hung up on clothing racks. PHOTO: Facebook/Lucky Plaza Bazaar

Clothes aren't nicely curated and displayed for you like they are in a regular shop. While thrifting, you must be prepared to get your hands dirty and sift through racks and piles of dusty clothes that may or may not have funky smells.

Even after all your effort, you might not even find anything worth buying. I've walked away empty-handed after hours of digging a number of times and it can get quite frustrating.

Pre-social distancing, you would also have to jostle with swarms of bargain hunters looking to snatch the best deals, and it can get quite chaotic. But these are all part and parcel of the thrifting process, which makes it even more rewarding when you snag a gem. 

2. Have a list of clothes that you are looking for 

It can be hard to find anything good unless you invest the time and effort to get down and dirty. It can also be rather overwhelming, as more often than not, you'll be going through large quantities of clothing.

PHOTO: Pexels 

One trick I've learnt is to have a general list of things that you want to look out for to narrow down your search at the store. For instance, I sometimes go into a thrift store to look specifically for dresses or shorts. This helps me do the first round of filtering, before I examine each item and consider if it fits the style I'm looking for. Alternatively, you can consider filtering through the many clothing items by preferred patterns, colours or textures.

If I have a bit of spare time on hand after ticking off what I had on my list, I'll look through other types of clothes to see if there is anything else that I like. It sounds simple but it helps a great deal, especially if you're not sure where to start.

3. Wear a mask and bring gloves

PHOTO: Pexels 

Not all clothes at flea markets and thrift stores are in the best condition, and more often than not, they can be pretty dusty and at times, grimy. In such situations, a mask is pretty useful, especially if you're sensitive to dust and dirt, and plan to rummage through a lot of items.

You may also want to consider wearing gloves to further protect yourself while thrifting. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry.

4. Bring a reusable bag to store your loots

PHOTO: Pexels 

While plastic bags are usually provided, it can be a struggle to lug home multiple bags in your hands. After a few trips, I realised that it would be easier for me to pack them all into one big reusable bag instead to give my arms some relief. As an added bonus, it's good for the environment too, which is one of the reasons I'm thrifting.

5. Know your measurements and bring a measuring tape

PHOTO: Pexels 

Most flea markets and thrift stores don't allow people to try on their clothes. Even if they did, donning an unwashed, dusty piece of preloved clothing is not appealing to most, me included.  

However, no one wants to purchase something that doesn't fit either. Get around this by taking down your measurements at home and bring along a measuring tape when you thrift to check if an item would fit you before you bag it home.

6. Don't get too carried away

Given how cheap items are, it can be pretty tempting to buy almost everything that you come across. I'm guilty of making multiple impulsive purchases that I've come to regret.

PHOTO: Pexels 

These have become a part of the pile of unworn clothes that I have sitting in a corner of my wardrobe, making it both a waste of space and money. This also defeats the purpose of sustainable shopping as the clothes could have potentially gone to another home.

So now, before I fork out the money for anything, I make myself think about whether I will wear the item. Some questions I ask myself include "can I foresee myself wearing this piece often?" or "do I already have something like this?". Doing this extra step has helped me to cut down on any unwanted purchases.

Where to thrift in Singapore

While Singapore's thrift scene is still small, there are a number of places that offer a decent selection of apparels.

Shopping situation at New2U. PHOTO: Facebook/New2U Thrift Shop (SCWO)

My go-to place is Lucky Plaza Bazaar as they have the widest variety of clothes and styles for both men and women. For working women, I suggest checking out New2u and The Salvation Army William Booth Corps as you can find a fair amount of office wear there.

For more hip, trendy pieces, you can head to Refash. However, as Refash's selection of clothes are more curated and tend to be from blogshops, slightly steeper prices are to be expected.

• Lucky Plaza: 304 Orchard Rd, #06-14 Lucky Plaza, Singapore 238863

• New2u: 96 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187967

• The Salvation Army William Booth Corps: 500 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 678106

• Refash: 304 Orchard Road, #06-14, Singapore 238863)

All thrift stores restock their shops differently — some do so every few days while others only do it when their racks start to dwindle. I suggest going every other week when you'll more likely to have a fresh set of clothes to go through.

But if you're free and want to pop in more often, you may still come across things that you have missed out previously.

melissateo@asiaone.com