Updated on 03.25.12

Shop at Consignment Shops and Outlet Stores (87/365)

Trent Hamm

While thrift stores and secondhand stores are my first line of defense when it comes to new clothes, I don’t always find what I need there. I’m very tall with a long upper torso, which means that a lot of shirts just don’t fit me well. They’re either cut for someone who weighs a lot more than I do or they simply aren’t long enough to the point that they reveal my lower back when I’m just standing normally. Neither of these things are really acceptable, so I have to be fairly careful when buying clothes.

There are similar sizing issues for our children. They each have my relatively long torso, which means that children’s sizes sometimes fit them well and sometimes do not. As is the case with me, we have to be a little selective in the clothes we buy them lest they look comically baggy or too short.

If we’ve had a dry run with Goodwill and other highly discounted secondhand shops, we’ll often move up to the next level, which is a little more expensive but adds a lot of options: consignment shops and outlet stores.

Shop at Consignment Shops and Outlet Stores (87/365)

We use consignment shops and outlet stores primarily as a follow up to stores like Goodwill. In general, prices are higher at consignment and outlet stores than at Goodwill, but it’s easier to find items that match what you’re looking for.

Let’s clarify what exactly we’re talking about here first. Outlet stores typically are an outlet for a particular clothing factory or clothing brand. Usually (and I’ll discuss this more below), they sell slightly flawed versions of normal items – something isn’t stitched right, something has a minor flaw, something has a hole, or something else like that. Because of that flaw, they can’t sell it at normal price, but the flaw isn’t bad enough to make it unusable, and that’s what an outlet store is for. They’ll sell items with minor flaws that are otherwise normal for a discount price.

Consignment shops are typically where high-quality used items are sold on a per-item basis. Usually, someone has a nice wardrobe, takes it to a consignment shop, and the consignment shop picks which items they think will sell. The sale price of the item is split between the shop and the person who contributed the item.

Here are a few tips.

For starters, some outlet stores have the same prices as normal stores – they just put the word “outlet” on the sign to get customers in the door. Sarah and I experienced this firsthand very recently when we visited an outlet center only to discover that most of the stores in the outlet center were barely discounting their prices and seemed to be selling the usual things that would be sold in one of that brand’s normal stores.

Don’t simply trust that a store has bargains just because it says “outlet” on the window. Come equipped with a sense of what the items should actually cost (and don’t be afraid to use any mobile devices you might have to check). If the prices aren’t a bargain, don’t buy.

Consignment shops are generally a good place to look for nicer, dressier clothes. My general experience has been that consignment stores generally don’t bother with items that aren’t pretty nice, though the policies tend to vary from consignment shop to consignment shop. I’ll utilize these as part of my search if I’m looking for nicer clothes for special occasions, but for ordinary wear, I rarely find good items in consignment shops.

In other words, if you’re trying to find a good price on a great dress or a suit, a consignment shop that sells clothing would be a good place to look for a bargain, though, as I mentioned above, consignment policies do vary.

As always, be selective. Just because something is on sale or has a really low price does not mean you have to buy it. Never shop for clothes unless you have a genuine need for clothes or see that need coming in the near future.

For us, consignment shops and true outlet stores are a great place to look for clothes if other resources (clothes swaps, Goodwill, and so on) don’t pan out. The prices are still usually very good for what you find and you’ll often come home with some quality items.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Steven says:

    Can’t imagine Trent wearing Hollister…

  2. Misha says:

    It’s like everyone’s forgotten that these pictures are being taken by an intern who lives nowhere near Trent, and that they don’t represent Trent’s actual life.

  3. Evita says:

    But the photo is so unattractive ! Frankly, I prefer all text as it was before…. icky photos add NOTHING to the post !

  4. Roberta says:

    Consumer Reports recently did a story on outlet stores. Many of them have a less expensive “outlet” line made specifically for those stores. CR did an item by item comparison of various clothing items. In some, the workmanship was obviously of much lesser quality; in others, the outlet store version was as well made but cost much less. As in all else, caveat emptor.

  5. Steven says:

    @Misha: Actually, I didn’t forget that. I never knew. I thought it was a family friend or some other type of close personal relation to Trent. And the photos could be a little more creative. They’re pretty bland.

  6. julie says:

    Is that really the best picture your intern could come up with? I could maybe imagine one of your kids taking that picture, but someone with photography experience could be a little bit more creative.

  7. Ryan says:

    Haha Steve I think Trent is the exact opposite of Hollister’s target customer. I would love to read how his shopping trip goes when his son or daughters asks to go there.

  8. Charles says:

    Believe it or not, my wife and I have found such incredible deals at Old Navy at the end of a season that even the thrift stores can’t compete. The only problem (and this isn’t so much with just the clothes that are on clearance) is that the quality of the clothes just isn’t what it was a few years back.

  9. Vanessa says:

    @Steven, rumor has it that the intern is Trent’s cousin.

  10. Jules says:

    I take umbrage at the suggestion that the stuff in outlet stores is somehow flawed. Very often, it’s not flawed, it’s merely gone out of rotation at the mothership, and they need to unload at some profit. That being said, I do second knowing the prices of the items beforehand. T-shirts, IMO, should never cost more than $10.

    The consignment stores in this area are EXPENSIVE. What I want to know is, if a jacket sells for €75 used, who’s paying €300 for the new one?

  11. Jackson says:

    The intern is Trent’s niece.

  12. Jak says:

    My days of shopping at 2nd hand stores are coming to an end. An acquaintance bought some items recently and ended up with bed bugs. Her family moved to a new apartment, bugs traveled along. 1.5 years later…she FINALLY feels shes BB free. Not worth it to me….regardless of the savings.

  13. I don’t agree that you should only shop for clothes when you need them. I buy things when I see a great deal. That way I don’t have to race around looking for a party dress when I get a last-minute invitation.

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