Buying Second Hand

Thrift stores and consignment shops offer great bargains for parents.

Buying Second Hand

Photo: Gerri Photography


I’ve become a fan of local thrift stores and consignment shops for many reasons. The first is economy. For just a few dollars, I can find good quality outfits for the kids as they sprout. And because they are inexpensive, I care less about the normal wear and tear from the kids jumping in mud puddles and eating blueberries.

I also appreciate the fact that buying second hand is both better for the earth and my children’s health. Being thrifty helps reduce over-consumption of the resources used to produce and package new clothing. Reusing items that still have a lot of life left in them also diverts potential landfill waste. And since new fabrics contain chemicals (from pesticides, flame-retardants, dyes, bleaches and VOCs), it makes sense to buy used because many of these chemicals will have finished off-gassing, which curbs the level of exposure your kids have to them.

But the best thing about buying at thrift shops? It’s fun! I’ve found some wonderful, unique things, like the genuine Hawaiian shirt for my son and an adorable hand-knit sweater for my infant daughter – for a grand total of $4. (Not to mention a cashmere sweater for myself for $18!). Great finds like these make second hand shopping an adventure.

Get kids involved

Why not share that adventure with your older children. Encourage them to look for items for their costume trunk. Where else can you find feather boas, sequined shoes, three-piece suits and super-hero capes under one roof? Or let them indulge in a tacky trend – it’s easier when you’re aren’t paying retail prices. For serious shopping, help your kids develop an eye for good quality and classic pieces.

Many large scale thrift shops, run by well-known charitable organizations, are clean, bright and well organized. Another option is buying at consignment shops. Most towns and cities have at least one store that is exclusively for kids’ clothing, toys and other gear. They select gently used items, and feature better quality brand name labels.

Take in your own used items to sell, and you can gain store credit towards purchases you make there. If you are after a certain garment, let the shop manager know what you are looking for. He/she will usually be happy to contact you when the item comes in.

What to look for

Follow these tips to get the most out of your next trip to a thrift shop or consignment store.


  • focus on the 6- to 12-month age range (most new parents receive a lot of newborn to 6 month sized clothes as shower gifts). When babies start eating solid food, having extra changes of clothes will come in handy.
  • avoid “fancy” outfits that are difficult to put on and get off. Undershirts and sleepers are more practical, so stock up on these. Check snap button closures to make sure they do not pop open easily.
  • choose moccasin-style baby shoes. They get scuffed and dirty in no time, so few people will notice if they are second-hand.
  • look for hand knit items – to keep baby warm and cozy in the cold seasons.


  • select denim or other durable materials. These stand up to toddler mayhem and don’t show dirt/stains easily.
  • search for lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants in summertime – these will protect kids from sun and insect bites.
  • make sure the pants you choose have elastic waists – to make it easier for a toddler to pull up and down during toilet training and when dressing himself.

Preschoolers & up:

  • stock up on mittens. Mittens have a tendency to get lost or wet, so having extras is essential.
  • check for sunhats and snowsuits – these are usually plentiful and in very good condition since they are worn for only a few months.
  • look for holiday dresses or formal suits – usually worn once or twice, these items are cost-savers.
  • choose pants with fleece or flannel linings – they will help keep kids warm while playing for brand-name labels – good for fashion-conscious kids or if you want a higher-quality item without the higher cost.

No time?

Despite all these reasons to shop second hand, you may still feel you don’t have the time to devote to hunting for all the bargains out there. Consider then swapping kids’ clothes with friends and family. Let them know you’re interested in hand-me downs, and can save them a trip to the clothing drop off bin. I’ve had some great items passed along to my son, thanks to a neighbour of Grandma’s – snowsuits, ice skates, jeans, sweaters, and more.

Author: Michelle Watson

Michelle Watson is a thrifty stay-at-home mom who lives near Millbrook with her husband and two children.

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