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.


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.


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.


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.


Member Focus: SprezzaTrash on Embracing Vintage Style

SprezzaTrash is a relatively recent newcomer to Styleforum. Even so, he’s proven to have a style and sensibility that fits right in with Styleforum’s emphasis on (or obsessiveness with) details. In his particular case, inspiration comes from a wide variety of sources – here, he talks about what drew him to vintage clothing, and the enduring charm of styles long-past .

I didn’t get into “fashion” until about 5 years ago. Even then, I dressed as the poster child for #menswear, wearing floral shirts and skinny suits and ties.  However, whether it was from reading Tintin as a child, or from watching the inaccurately-costumed Great Gatsby movie of 2013, I felt as though vintage style was my true calling – and, through a chance Facebook meeting, I began to make contacts and friends in the vintage community.

Eventually, I began actually purchasing  garments that looked like what I had only seen in images and illustrations. It was so different than what I saw on Tumblr or Instagram.  The basic details of my new purchases were all there: the wide lapels, the high rise, the “correct” double breasted configuration.  

I was only a student (still am), so I purchased as many full suits and tie lots from all eras as I possibly could.  I still have a modest true vintage (my term for 1920-1940s) collection, but I made do with what I had to create as many outfits as possible.  As I went to more vintage events and talked with more people, I learned a lot about what made true, Golden Era style.  None of it involced the clip-on suspenders, wacky bowties, or tweed jackets that everyone touted as “vintage” (or dapper) style.  I began to see the real, specific details: the drape cut, the horizontal peaks, spearpoint collars and collar bars,  the wide lapels with  blunted edges and low notch, “exploding pocket squares;” I saw that tie prints differed from each era, and that many men used advanced pattern mixing within one outfit.  Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to buy vintage for the sake of buying vintage.  This meant no more low buttoning 1950’s suits and no crazy swing ties from the late 1940’s. No, I wanted to dress in the 30’s.

member focus sprezzatrash styleforum

By the time I started posting regularly on social media, I was torn between my two sides: my desire to remain modern and my love of vintage clothing.  The main thing holding me back was how rare and pricey vintage clothing was.  Even though I obtained most pieces “on the cheap”, I couldn’t bring myself to wear these nearly-100 year old garments everyday. It also didn’t look right; I liked the aesthetic but I was still conscious of wearing an “old” look in the modern day. It wasn’t until I discovered the guys from The Armoury, Drake’s, and Bryceland’s that I learned that it was definitely possible to dress with 1930’s vibes while wearing modern clothing!  They had the wide lapels, the foulards and print ties that I loved, and the striped shirts.

Obviously, I don’t have enough money to go with bespoke or high end RTW, so I made some concessions.  I started to thrift and find 60s-90s clothing that still had the wide lapels, half-lined jackets, and high rise that I was looking for. Soon, I began to retire my super slim, low rise fast fashion pieces, and started to thrift exclusively; my keen eye for detail has helped me come across some great pieces at extremely low prices. Thanks to developing a close relationship with two different tailors, I was able make my finds wearable and similar to modern tailors’ work.  I mix eras all the time, but I think my style still comes across as “old school” due to simple styling; particularly in the ties I choose to wear, as certain tie prints and designs are incredibly specific to various eras.

I’ve now become comfortable and confident in my style.  Even if I’m not always wearing true vintage, I’m able to have the vibes and aesthetic that I like.  If you compare me to my two original sources of inspiration, I’m much too modern (in terms of fit) to be vintage and too vintage to be modern (in terms of style).  As a friend has told me, I dress “like a man from 1938 came to the modern day and spent his life thrifting.”  That said, sometimes I do a modern interpretation of a 30’s outfit or I do a vintage version of what I see on the Armoury.  It really proves that nothing is new under the sun.  I’ve even recently “discovered” ivy style, and it’s dominated my non-suited looks for the past 6 months.

Many people have misconceptions of what vintage style is and often get it wrong; no one back then dressed in zoot suits or like what you see in Goodfellas.  I think that’s what drove me to start a blog – I definitely want to prove that people can dress with vintage vibes in the modern era – you just have to study carefully and have a good eye for detail.  There are plenty of nuances that come from each distinct decade, and pulling what you like from each one with careful accuracy is important if you want to develop a vintage style and pull it off well.

You can follow Ethan’s vintage adventures both on his blog, and on Instagram at @ethanmwong.