Ten tips to bag a bargain

20 March 2014

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When was the last time you walked through a clothing store and picked up a really cute dress, or that jacket you’ve been searching for the past three months, only to look on the price tag and have a minor aneurysm?

Ever had your grand entrance at a party ruined because someone sitting on the other side of the yard wearing the same baby blue off-the-shoulder scoop neck jumper as you?

Op-shopping is the perfect way to avoid shock induced brain damage and awkward outfit copying with strangers. Opportunity shops are notoriously cheap due to the fact they are usually run by volunteers and support charities, only selling second hand donations. The latter is the main reason these kinds of stores are great for building a unique, exciting wardrobe.

So if you’re new to the second hand shopping experience, here a few tips to help make the transition as smooth and natural as possible.

1)      Size doesn’t matter

The fact op-shops are an amalgamation of different brands, materials and styles from not just Australia, but all over the world, means you have to take the sizing written on the piece of clothing with a grain of salt. It’s not uncommon for Australian stores to have different definitions of small, medium, and large, and the same is true for international brands. Even foreign number sizing can be confusing and misleading as they may be measuring in inches, centimetres or some bizarre European scale. Some places even section off clothes into size areas, but that is not always accurate. Don’t let the size deter you, find what you like then try it on.

2)      Avoid peak hour traffic

There is nothing worse than trying to shuffle through racks of clothing with people elbowing you in the ribs because the store is so busy. Get in early if you want to be able to stalk out the new stuff without the competition greasing you off.

3)      Take your own bag

Most op-shops don’t give out bags or, if they do, they are flimsy little plastic ones. If you are going for a big shop, take along a large backpack or reusable grocery bag.

4)      Don’t let ‘high’ prices deter you

Among $6 price tags, a $40 item can seem out of place, but not unwarranted. Certain materials are more expensive than others and op-shops will capitalise on this, but don’t screw your nose up and walk away! These items, usually leather jackets or something similar, can still be three to four times cheaper than they are new in brand stores.

5)      Be slow and thorough

Rushing through the racks will get you nowhere. Op-shops are a treasure trove of cute little things, but they can be easily missed if you do not take your time to search through everything. Quite often things have been picked up and put back in the wrong area so it pays to be vigilant.


Here are some of Campbell’s favourite finds


6)      Keep alterations in mind

It can be really disheartening when you find the perfect pattern or colour, but the item just doesn’t fit right. It’s not the end of the world, however, because you can simply take those pants up for $10 at the local tailors, and you’d still be paying less than if you bought them from their original store.

7)      Shop around

A true op-shopper has a repertoire of stores which they visit frequently. Relying on one store will hinder your efforts because a store that relies on donations can have fluctuations in stock availability. Do some research and locate the little, obscure places hardly anyone knows about; that’s where the best stuff is. Also, remember that the location of the store matters. A shop in the more ‘hipster’ end of town will have a quick circulation of goods, while shops in the ‘high-end’ areas will most likely have fancier items.

8)      Go with friends

During your op-shopping experience you will, more often than not, come across clothes you probably would not have considered wearing before. Having someone with you to bounce ideas off really saves you from making any disastrous purchases while your decision-making is clouded by the thrill of the hunt.

9)      Don’t get carried away

It is super easy to get overwhelmed by the affordability of everything and subsequently go a little crazy. Try to avoid the temptation to buy everything in sight just because it’s cheap. The damage to your wallet will add up and you don’t want to get to the register and have that aneurysm you’ve been trying to avoid.

10)   Remember the knick-knacks!

Op-shops are not just clothing stores; they stock everything from furniture to books, electronics to bobble-head dogs.  You can find the most peculiar objects when you actually pay attention to them and if you’re living life on a budget, these types of things can make excellent birthday or Christmas presents, especially when they look more expensive than they are.

Campbell ElmerTHUMB


Campbell Elmer is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and one of upstart’s staff writers. Follow his Twitter: @CampbellElmer.