The L train at midday will give you a pretty good idea of the kinds of things you can find in a thrift store.
Yes, I'm joking, that’s a bit of a generalization, but Williamsburg and the East Village are hotbeds of thrift store chic. We’ve come to that point in time when we’ve realized that spending $1,000 on a brand-new designer coat just doesn’t feel as good as nabbing a similar or cuter one from the thrift store for 50 bucks.
The Stats on Thrift Stores
As we all know, numbers don’t lie. And these numbers are screaming with an estimated revenue stream of $14 billion generated from secondhand clothing stores in 2018, according to IBISWorld, a marketing research firm.
As we become more environmentally and financially conscious, thrift stores become much more appealing for the planet, your wardrobe, and your wallet. Sure, it may seem like everyone who lives in NYC shops on Fifth Avenue and spends thousands on attire, but that’s simply not the case for most average joes like myself.
As a tourist, you don’t have to spend all your money on clothes to feel like a New Yorker.
The trend seems to appeal to women more, with one in three buying clothes in thrift stores in 2017, according to thredUP, an online secondhand clothing store.
They also report that 70 percent of their customers were first-time secondhand buyers. We’re all starting to catch onto the fact that you don’t have to be the first person to have worn the clothes to look amazing.
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Just because it says “secondhand” doesn’t mean you’re getting the best deal ever. Use these tips from Ashley Perez, manager at L train Vintage, to make sure you get the most for your money.
- Don’t get so excited by a deal that you miss the tiny hole or little tear or the bad scuff marks on the heel. Inspect each item carefully before you commit to buy: Are there any stains? A tobacco smell?
- Try it on! Thrift stores have changing rooms for a reason. Just because it’s $5 and looks like it might fit doesn’t mean it will.
- Bad purchases do happen, so check the store’s return policy. Some offer no returns; others offer store credit. Be savvy.
- If you’re buying furniture, inspect for bed bugs by looking for rusty brown or red stains (caused by crushed bugs!), any tiny eggs or eggshells, or excrement that looks like a marker stain. Gross, I know, but better safe than sorry.
- Making a donation to a thrift store can gain you store credit or coupons, so shop around before you get rid of your old stuff!
- Shop in January. There’s an influx of items in December as people donate to help with their taxes and get rid of some unwanted stuff after it’s been updated over the holidays.
- Compare prices online. If you’re not sure if the item is worth it or not, see what it’s selling for brand-new online. That way, you’ll know for sure if you’ve made the right choice.
- Wash the clothes before you wear them. Some stores will do this already, but you never know what could happen while in-store!
On average, buying used instead of new for one year can save you $2,420, according to the same thredUP study.
So where exactly can you find the best thrift stores in NYC? I’ve found some New York staples and some of my personal favorites just for you. It’s expensive enough to live in this city without having to spend hundreds on a new wardrobe each season.
1. East Village Thrift Shop
186 Second Ave., Manhattan
This Second Avenue must-shop is unbelievable for a good bargain. Each week, it has different colored labels applied to its items, and each color represents a further discount. Sometimes this is 50 percent off, and I have left this place spending as little as $2 for a shirt!
While it carries mostly clothes, there’s a collection of CDs and books, as well.
The store looks small from the outside, but it’s long. It's also a little packed — not necessarily with people, but with clothes, which is a blessing and a curse.
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2. L Train Vintage
204 First Ave., Manhattan; 654 Sackett St., 1277 Dekalb Ave., 106 Knickerbocker Ave., and 629 Grand St., Brooklyn
These guys have a few stores spread between Brooklyn and Manhattan, but my personal favorite is the one on First Avenue in the East Village. Why? Because it’s so much smaller and more manageable than its sister stores.
I have absolutely no patience, and I can do clothes shopping only when the store is basically empty, or I’ll get stressed out to bits. This smaller location has some amazing finds, and it’s so nicely laid out.
This holiday season, I managed to snag myself and my boyfriend Christmas sweaters for $8 and $6 respectively! In regular retail stores, the same sweaters were running over $20. I feel like I saved a whole arm and a leg.
3. Monk Vintage Thrift Shop
496 Driggs Ave., Brooklyn
This is a treasure trove of junk and brings the phrase “one person’s trash is another's treasure” to life.
Like most thrift stores, it’s jam-packed at all times with clothes of all descriptions and for all genders. It has awesome costume jewelry on display and vintage furniture to boot.
Make sure to give yourself time for this one. It’s a doozy and takes some digging to find that treasure.
4. Buffalo Exchange
Various locations such as 504 Driggs Ave. in Brooklyn and 332 East 11th St. in Manhattan
Not only can you buy some incredible stuff, but you can also sell your unwanted items and make a decent buck!
Remember what we said about one person's trash? Just make sure your “trash” is decent and, of course, clean.
I’ve heard these stores stock designer apparel for a fraction of the price, such as Marc Jacobs, Burberry, and even Chanel. That said, I’ve never been lucky enough to find it. Then again, I have no patience. You get what you give.
5. Salvation Army
Various locations such as 937 Broadway in Brooklyn and 112 Fourth Ave. in Manhattan
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but I had to add it to my list just in case. Not only are you getting quality clothes for a fraction of the price, but money from your purchase is going to help those less fortunate this holiday season all throughout the year. Plus, they have a serious haul. You’re bound to find something that suits.
Also, by donating here, you’re helping those families who need it most.
Bonus: If you'd prefer to shop online, but still want to give to a good cause, check out Greater Good. You can opt to support a wide variety of causes, from ending hunger to helping veterans.
6. Beacons Closet
Various locations such as West 13th St. in Manhattan and 74 Guernsey St. in Brooklyn
This is another buying, selling, and trading store for the books. It deals in designer clothes, too, and accessories are a big plus here, with pieces you won’t find anywhere else.
And if you’re selling, in-season clothes can get you 35 percent of the resale value in cash or up to 50 percent of the value in store credit. Help yourself by decluttering yourself.
7. Mother of Junk
567 Driggs Ave., Brooklyn
This is a gigantic warehouse full of vintage and secondhand wonders. You’ll definitely have to go digging, but there are some fun finds, from clothing to furniture to ornaments, as well as old-school electronics, if that’s your game.
It also has a ton of vinyl records and a wall of artwork, in case your apartment is looking embarrassingly dull. Don’t be that guy or gal.
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Final Thoughts on the Best Thrift Stores in NYC
Rethink your next purchase now. You know you can save up to $2,500 a year by switching to secondhand ware. Sure, that Burberry coat looks amazing, but the $800 price tag ain’t so sweet. And honestly, once you've left the thrift store, who's any wiser? There’s no shame in saving money. Shop around at these stores and you may find something incredible for as little as $50.
Personally, I’m guilty of forgetting secondhand stores are a thing. It’s only after I’ve spent $30 on a new shirt at Forever 21 that I realize I could have gotten five shirts for the same price at L Train. Now, after seeing how much money I could save at some of the best thrift stores in NYC, I’ll be looking into it a hell of a lot more.