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Menswear Thrifting: a Smart, Ethical Way to Shop

My menswear journey is much more recent than most people. I caught on to the #menswear pretty late and soon realized my tiny wardrobe was not going to leave me satisfied.

There’s nothing wrong with being a minimalist (in fact, I am jealous of those who are able to keep essentials only), but I knew that it wasn’t for me. Instead of buying fast fashion for the easy way out, I decided to build my wardrobe by buying through eBay and thrift stores. A lot of menswear guys don’t like the idea of buying old or second hand, but I still think it’s one of the best ways to fill out a wardrobe. Whether you’re a newbie who wants to dip his toes into high rise or a seasoned guy looking for something new, the thrift store always delivers.

IT’S EASIER TO FIND GOOD QUALITY ITEMS AT A THRIFT STORE THAN AT THE MALL

Firstly, there’s the aspect of vintage. I briefly talked about it on in my brief guide on thrifting, but the fact remains that a large part of clothing made in the 1960s and earlier were made with much more quality than most stuff made today.  Jackets (unless they were completely unstructured) contained canvassing and fabrics were almost always made of natural fibers like wool and cotton. Obviously, there are some designs that are more “dated” than others, but I’m certain that many posters on Styleforum will be able to judge a classic garment from one that looks too vintage. Stuff like ivy style sack-jackets from the 1960s-1970s are extremely versatile in classic menswear no matter the style and can be found pretty easily in thrift stores or eBay. Trousers are probably the best bet, as most stuff pre-1990 will have a high rise and/or pleats. Just make sure your finds don’t contain synthetics!

While it can be possible to thrift contemporary pieces from big name brands, it’s also important to remember that there were also small tailors that made some great garments. For example, not all of my sack jackets are old Brooks Brothers; it appears that local California haberdasheries caught on to the ivy trend and made their own suits and sportcoats. This even extends on to the early iterations of modern designers, as I’ve seen old J. Crew, Banana Republic, and GAP pieces that had pretty classic designs, made of decent fabrics. This doesn’t’ just apply to suiting and jackets; long collar OCBDs and even classic foulard ties can be found at Goodwill, all lacking that desired brand name. In any case, I always think it’s worth it to actually try on any garment that has a great design rather than just hunt for a label.

THRIFTING AS A WAY TO EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR STYLE

One other aspect of thrifting that I’ve really enjoyed is that it lets you experiment with different styles in an affordable way. I distinctly remember coming across pleated trousers from Ambrosi and B&Tailor online and wishing that I could try my hand at incorporating them into my wardrobe. At the time, all I had was skinny, flat front J. Crew pants, and I wasn’t about to spend hundreds on something I wasn’t sure about. Instead, I looked through my local thrift stores and used my honed skills to find quality pleated trousers for a cheap price. I brought them to my trusted tailor, where he was able to slim them down enough to make for a classic look. My latest experiment took the form of pleated brown cords. I’ve never worn cords before, but now that I’ve had the opportunity to try, it opens myself up to experiment further.

This use of thrifting for experimentation even applies to jackets!  As Simon Crompton said, wider lapels and a 3-roll-2 stance have been “a trend” for classic menswear. While it may be easy to get these details on something from a brand like Ring Jacket or customizing them on MTM, it’s still a little aspirational for younger guys. Thankfully, most classic menswear trends aren’t anything new, and you can find these details on garments found in thrift stores or online. Like with the trousers, the money you save on the purchase price can be used to alter the garment to fit you!

Thrifting also allows you to find statement pieces for a great price.  Obviously, while everyone should have a navy blazer and grey flannels (which are pretty easy to find), I think it’s important to have a few garments that are interesting and one-of-a-kind to spice up your attire. Most old garments have fabrics and patterns that you simply can’t find anymore, especially not at the mall. It’s much easier to try out a colorful checked tweed from Goodwill rather than go straight to bespoke for something you may not wear often.

THRIFTING IS A SUSTAINABLE AND ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY CHOICE

Lastly, I think it’s important to keep the cycle going. As I move forward in my journey and career, I’ve been able to afford quality items in a “slow fashion” rather than having an exclusively thrifted wardrobe. Instead of throwing away my old clothes, I end up giving them to my friends and acquaintances who were also getting into classic menswear. The only difference is that these thrifted pieces have now been cleaned and altered from their found state so that they can be added confidently into someone’s closet. I’ve already given some of my old thrifted suits to my friends as I graduate onto different pieces, and they accept them knowing that they will one day pass them on as well.

I know that classic menswear is “slow” when compared to other sects of fashion, but we aren’t immune to the impact on the environment. Countless suits, shirts, and trousers, flood thrift stores and eBay, waiting for their new owners to save them from the landfills. You should pass on things that are damaged or really dated (1980s fashion suits, yuck) but it’s always worth looking at your local thrift store, whether you want to build your wardrobe economically or experiment with something new. Although Classic Menswear has that odd stigma against buying things that are old or pre-worn, I hope more people will start considering thrifting an acceptable avenue to take in their menswear journey.

 

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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.

7 Comments

  1. David

    April 29, 2018

    Hello Ethan!

    First off, being a menswear enthusiast, I just LOVE your site! Well done!

    Secondly: It has been my experience, over many years building my wardrobe, that thrifting is the way to go! I have very often told friends that, most especially in this time of poorly-made clothing made by poorly-paid workers, thrifting is a MUCH better way to spend your money, both economically, and ethically. Not only that, but the THRILL of finding a piece in your size, with handwork galore; knowing it cost, originally $4K, and hanging on a rack for $20…well, there’s nothing to rival it. I was fortunate enough when I was a young actor, to run across a costume designer who was most helpful. I wanted to buy an early-60’s, black mohair suit, and asked where she thought I could find one. (Being an aficionado of vintage clothing stores, I figured she’d know of some…WRONG!) She said, “You won’t. (I’m a 44L) Everything in your size was either made for movie stars, or is in some costume department, never to see the light of day. HOWEVER, if you have the time, go to every thrift store you see. After a while, you’ll get the hang of it, and be able to walk in and walk out in a matter of minutes, as you learn the fabrics, etc.” Well, would you believe, THE NEXT WEEK, I walked into a Salvation Army in Reseda, and there, IN MY SIZE, was a hand-made, BEAUTIFUL, black mohair suit. I had to have it altered a bit, but I’ve worn it ever since. In our house, we call it the “Dean Martin Suit”; hell, the thing almost glows in the dark!

    At any rate, I am happy to read that someone eyes thrifting as I do: With a bit of ethics, as well as excitement. It really burns my ass to know that somewhere in Pakistan, or wherever, some little kids are sewing pants for Old Navy, only so we can buy them for ten bucks, instead of paying a fair-market rate to labor, as well as for the garment. Thrifting is a way to protest, and a way to find things that are made SO very much better!

    Keep up the great work!

    David.

  2. Ron

    April 29, 2018

    You are wearing your trousers much much too high. I am shocked you and the editors cannot see this as it is blatant. It looks terrible and very uncomfortable. The rest of your style is great, except for the cuffing on the trousers, but this may be due to your region being behind the current long lasting trends. Please adjust your trouser height before writing any further articles as it is lowering the credibility of Styleforum.

  3. sssperf

    April 30, 2018

    This is the way I roll. Been thrift-ing basically all my fashion conscious days. Some recent finds; 2 weeks ago at GoodWill for $6.99 (not half price Saturday) a Hickey-Freeman “Boardroom” from Neiman Marcus dark blue blazer in new condition. Pockets still sew shut and cool dark bronze coin buttons along with a perfect fit. Also, same store awhile ago Allen Edmonds Numark blue with white stitching wing tips(wanted a pair for years) with no heel wear just needed a clean and polish in my size $4.99. One more, was talking to a friend about how fantastic it would be to find a Donegal plaid green suit. Truth, one week later found a Harris Tweed in that color (not herring bone) sport jacket from Harrods in London in perfect fit and condition for $$3.49! So give it a try. It’s major fun with tons of good stuff to be found for less than 5 cents on the dollar.

  4. NycLondon

    May 1, 2018

    When I was young and poor I bought lots of second hand clothes, especially in the Covent Garden market (best was an 8 GBP 3-piece suit that fit perfectly!), as well as some amazing shops around London (King’s Road, etc.). When I moved to the USA I continued this, but all those shops have gone, as rents have increased tremendously. What is apparent, if you want to hunt, places such as theealreal offer some good stuff (my best buy was a $3000 Jil Sander jacket for $200). But the reality is hunting physically requires much time. I do not have that these days. Just to note, “thrifting” is a North American phrase. But since “step on the gas” is used all the time in the UK, who knows…..

  5. Rich

    May 1, 2018

    Ethan,
    This a quick note of appreciation for your insights into classic men’s style and tailoring.

    I too have found great success with vintage trousers, ties and overcoats, as well as better, very current men’s shoes and boots. Of the latter, it is no trick to find a excellent pair of Alden, Trickers or Allen Edmonds shoes on eBay for a fraction of their current price.

    Please, keep up your outstanding work!

  6. Caustic Man

    May 2, 2018

    Ethan, you are consistently one of the more thoughtful and interesting writers around here. “Ethical” shopping is a tough subject because it’s open to so much interpretation. You indicate that for you it is an environmental concern, but there are a lot of other concerns that could be taken into account. For instance, even if it’s second hand, is buying sweatshop made clothing ethical? What is the thrift or consignment store you’re shopping at doing with your money? It’s a rabbit hole in a lot of ways, but good on you for tackling it. Well done and please keep it up.

  7. Hal Freeman

    May 4, 2018

    Impressive write out mate! I can totally understand that ‘cycle’ and I think your choice of words is incredible. As a student myself, thrifting always seems to be the best way to goo. Funnily enough, majority of my favouite pieces are my thrifted ones compared to the one’s I’ve had made/bought in the recent years. Keep up the good work. You are truly an inspiration to the younger guys out there.

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