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Beginner’s Guide to Thrifting Menswear

Ethan Wong has already shared his love of thrifting menswear with our community. In this piece, he details how he chooses the pieces worth saving, and lays out a guide for thrifting that any men’s clothing hobbyist can follow.

We created a downloadable PDF guide with a checklist that you can consult whenever you’re out shopping for thrifted goods.


It’s no surprise to anyone that I can’t afford to always buy bespoke or MTM clothing, considering how much I love menswear. Instead of buying cheap knockoffs from fast fashion retailers, I almost exclusively buy thrifted and vintage pieces for my wardrobe. With a good eye and some education, I’ve found that it’s a great way to acquire quality garments for an extremely affordable price. Here’s some a brief guide that I live by when I go thrifting.

  • Check your local thrift stores

    • You never know what you’re going to find!
    • Wealthier places may have better pieces (contemporary, designer/brand), but they may already be popular with other pickers.
    • Not all thrift stores operate on donations; some receive general shipments of clothing.
  • Stay cognizant of promotions and holiday deals

    • Some stores have rotating promotions around certain colored tags or item categories.
    • There’s almost always sales during holidays that can apply to clothing!
  • Put your education to Use

    • The amount of stuff you see at a thrift store can be overwhelming; use the “touch test” and run your fingers through the racks. If something feels familiar (wool, flannel, tweed, cotton), it’s worth inspecting!
    • Your knowledge of brands and manufacturing can come in handy. A Purple Label RL suit will be much different than a Lauren by RL one.
  • Check interior labels and tags

    • Fabric labels will let you know if there is a semblance of synthetics (ie; polyester) within the garment, as well as any other blends. I typically go for 100% wools.
    • If you’re in America, union tags will be present on anything made pre 1980s. Different union tags correspond to different years, so this can be helpful when encountering vintage suits and sportcoats!
    • Font can play a difference. “Artsy” labels are usually earlier while stiff, corporate ones usually denote the 1960s-1970s era.

 

  • Consider the design and cut of the piece

    • Shoulder padding varied throughout eras and especially from designer to designer. Make sure that the jacket you get has the right amount for you, because that is something you cannot fix later.
    • Vintage and quality made garments usually have half-lining or less; most mass produced stuff post 1970s will be fully lined.
    • Always look at button stance and configuration. If the last button on the suit is below the pocket line, the overall buttoning point will be too low and results in an extremely dated look.
    • Trousers with a long fly (11in or more) will usually mean that they feature a high rise.

 

  • Focus on Unique Pieces, not Workhorse Stuff

    • Keep an eye out for cool details like patch pockets or belted-back jackets!
    • You can always find a quality navy suit at any store, so try to find pieces with great patterns like herringbone or houndstooth since they’re pretty common in thrift stores.
  • Be Aware of What You Can and Can’t Tailor

    • Make sure the shoulders fit!
    • Inspect the garment carefully for extra fabric allowance.
    • Sleeves and chest can always be taken in, but letting them out/down depends on how much fabric is available.
    • You can shorten a jacket by less than 2”; anything more will ruin the balance and proportion of the garment.
    • Trousers are the easiest to alter, provided that you take in the waist and taper the leg. Like jackets, making them bigger depends on the fabric allowance.
    • Tailoring will always cost more than the purchase price, but it can be worth it to make something wearable!

thrifting menswear thrifted menswear guide to thrifting styleforum

  • If you like it, buy it; if you don’t, pass on it.

    • Buy it when you can, since someone may take it when you put it down!
    • They add new things everyday, so you can always come back if nothing catches your eye.
    • Normal wear and tear is expected with thrifted pieces, but pass on anything with holes or major non-seam rips.

This is typically how I approach thrifting. It takes some time to get used to, but it’s really fun if you have the education, eye for detail, and a great tailor. It’s how I’ve gotten great stuff like a 1960’s olive green ivy jacket, the infamous 3PC brown chalk-stripe suit, or even a Camoshita suit. Whether you want to build a wardrobe or find some statement pieces to experiment with, it’s always worth it to check out your local thrift store from time to time!


You can keep up with Ethan’s thrifting and vintage adventures on his Instagram (@ethanmwong) or on his blog Street x Sprezza.

 

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7 replies »

  1. Very nice write up. The only thing I would add is that you must be willing to walk away without buying something. Probably seven out of ten times I go to a thrift store I leave without buying anything because nothing is “just right.” Patience goes a long way toward limiting needless purchases that will eventually get donated.

    • Thanks! I definitely agree with that. When I first started, I’d pick up anything I could bring to my tailor. Now I’m much more selective as to not overcrowd my already expansive wardrobe. It may not cost much initially, but boy does it add up.

    • I somewhat agree, but I’ve found bespoke suits at the thrift store for $7. An extra $20 for alteration and I look like I spent $500 at least. Definitely worth it at such prices.

  2. Most grateful!
    One question though. About the the necessity that shoulders should fit. I do know that taking in shoulders (let alone letting them out) is very difficult, but nevertheless my two old school tailors have done absolutely amazing work on the shoulders of a few jackets I had bought. Of course the margins are very small, but nevertheless they managed admirably. I too know of other people who experienced the same. Therefore my question is, if you could please clarify a bit your position on this. I am keen follower of your blog, and think you are the authority on matters such as these, so that’s why I am asking. (Apologies for my English; it is not my mother tongue.)

    • Personally, I wouldn’t just because the cost is usually very high. Perhaps if it was some insanely rare or cool garment, but because there’s always other stuff out there, I would pass on it if it had large shoulders. I might recommend buying it then selling it here or on Ebay though!

  3. Not so sure on the bottom button comment. A lot of my upto date suits and sport coats have the bottom button slightly below the pocket line. I buy 95% of my cloths at thrifts or rarely EBay. Have to say my wardrobe is AAA rated!

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