Style Files: The secrets to secondhand shopping in Columbia

Columbia is full of used gems just waiting for you.

Whether you’re looking to beat the summer heat by refreshing your hot weather wardrobe or you’ve already turned your attention to fall fashion, resist the urge to head to the mall the next time you’re looking to add to your closet. For unique finds that can be huge money-savers, instead try your luck shopping secondhand.

While it may be tempting to lump every used clothing store under the blanket term “thrift store,” secondhand shops identify themselves by using unique terminology. While the difference between “thrift” and “consignment” might not seem significant, knowing how to distinguish such stores can help you shop more effectively.

If you’re on the hunt for the perfect pair of broken-in boots, you’re probably best off at a different kind of store than someone who is searching for a worn-once party dress. Here's a detailed breakdown of different types of secondhand stores and specific suggestions in CoMo:

The thrift store: Generally, a thrift store’s selection is determined entirely based on donations it receives. If you’re looking to stock up on men’s shirts (short ladies — these make great dresses once belted), schoolgirl skirts or slightly wacky but certainly unique '80s dresses, you’ll certainly be satisfied, but finding more conventional pieces can be a hit-or-miss process.

Though thrift stores’ variable inventory makes it hard to shop with a list in mind, the low prices easily excuse the days when the pickings are slim. Expect shirts and shorts for less than $5 and dresses and shoes for less than $10. As an added bonus, thrift stores are sometimes run in conjunction with a charity, so you might be able to justify your too-frequent shopping trips if they benefit a worthy cause. Nearby thrift stores include the Columbia Goodwill Store (1405 Grindstone Parkway) and the Salvation Army (1304 Parkdale Blvd.).

Consignment shops: At first glance, these might appear deceptively similar to thrift stores, but in reality, consignment shops are the thrift store’s classy older sibling. Consignment stores are pickier about their selections than thrift stores — to stock their racks, they purchase gently used pieces from people who recently purged their closets.

Consignment stores buy and sell clothing at a fraction of its retail value, but their prices are noticeably higher than thrift stores' prices. You can expect to find a nice selection of sundresses, party dresses and various shirts and tops from brands you recognize. While most items will be in the $10 to $40 range, the quality of the available selection tends to be more reliable than that of thrift stores.

If you’re looking to make some quick cash, many consignment stores might be willing to buy your gently used clothing, provided it is still in style. Just don’t expect a huge payout — consignment stores will likely offer you about 10 percent of an item’s retail value. Nearby consignment shops include New Beginning Consignment Clothing (7 S. Tenth Street) and Plato’s Closet (2609 E. Broadway).

Vintage stores: These shops are frequently reviewed in glowing terms in a variety of fashion magazines, but be warned — vintage fare is the least budget-friendly of all secondhand clothing. Although offerings might vary, frequent finds include dresses manufactured from the '20s to the '80s, leather jackets and cool old hats and scarves.

Selection here is easily the crème de la crème of all secondhand shopping, but vintage pricing can be enough to make you cringe. Shops vary widely in pricing practices, but the central dogma of vintage store pricing is fairly straightforward: the older the product, the higher the price. High-quality old dresses can easily boast triple-digit price tags. Though vintage stores’ inventory is often comprised of the best thrift store finds sold at a marked-up price, they are still worth checking out if you’re in search of a perfect period Halloween costume or if you don’t mind paying extra for the more reliable selection. Check out Maude Vintage (818 E. Broadway) or Absolute Vintage (923 E. Broadway).

No matter where you go, always remember to shop smartly. Don’t let low prices or unique styles tempt you if you know a piece will end up in the back of your closet. But if you’re set on updating your wardrobe with a few unexpected pieces, secondhand stores might have just what you’re looking for.

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