How I thrifted (almost) my entire wardrobe

Reinventing my style, one Value Village trip at a time

Being fashionable doesn't need to be trendy, wasteful, or expensive.

I’ve never thought of myself as a fashionable person. I prioritize comfort and ease above all else, and would wear sweatpants everywhere if it were socially acceptable. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself wanting to understand fashion more and how I can apply it to my own clothes.

Before I started reinventing my wardrobe, I would look at the clothes in my closet and realize that none of them matched, complemented one another, or even looked good in the first place. I bought clothes without taking the time to think about whether they could be put into a cohesive outfit, and my wardrobe became a mismatch of items with no rhyme or reason. 

This past November, I started to actually care about what I wore. That isn’t to say I began dressing like everyone else, sacrificing my personal style for trends. Instead, I thought about how I wanted to dress, did some research, and built my wardrobe from scratch using almost exclusively thrifted items.

Here’s how you can do it, too.

Decide on an aesthetic

I’ve always had pretty eclectic tastes in clothing, but I knew I wanted to reign that in and focus on building a wardrobe with complementary pieces that were also comfortable and stylish. I decided that I would try and collect pieces that felt vintage, specifically inspired by the 1990s.

With a vague sense of the vibe I wanted to emulate, I consulted Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube to see the kinds of outfits I could build with certain items. When it comes to looking in my closet and creating an outfit in my mind, I’m hopeless. Online inspiration enabled me to see the creative ways I could use certain clothes and accessories. Watching YouTube creators like BestDressed, Alexasunshine83, and Haley’s Corner clued me in on the ways I could thrift or repurpose clothes to suit my style, too.

My research helped me realize that when it came to shopping for new pieces, I should focus on buying items in neutral colours like black, white, beige, and brown so most of my items would work well with each other. I needed a lot of basic items, as well as some vintage-looking pieces that would let me live out my 90s-inspired dreams. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I went shopping. 

Hit the thrift stores

I’ve already talked about the best tips for thrifting in another article, but there are some key things you should do to ensure a successful thrifting trip. Set aside a few hours to visit the store of your choice—Kingston’s biggest shops are Value Village and Talize—so that you don’t feel rushed. I recommend setting aside enough time that you can meticulously go through every aisle and look at every item in your size. You never know when a gorgeous item is going to jump out at you, so take your time.

Before you go, make sure you know your measurements, dress comfortably, and bring a list—mental or physical—of the specific items you’re hoping to find. It’s easy to get distracted in the rows and rows of beautiful clothes, but keeping your personal style in mind will help you decide if an item is worth trying on, or leaving on the rack. I usually browse Pinterest and Instagram the morning of a thrifting trip, so ideas for certain outfits are still fresh in my mind as I browse. 

I’m also a huge supporter of breaking down gender roles in the thrift store. To my fellow women: the men’s section often has higher-quality, more timeless items than the women’s section. All of my pants and half of my tops were discovered in the men’s section. For men who prefer a slimmer fit, the women’s section can be a source for awesome basic pieces and pants. Leave your comfort zone, and you may be surprised by the treasures you uncover. 

Get basics first

Last fall, I made the mistake of buying one of those black sherpa jackets that every Queen’s student and their mother owned. Not only was it terrible quality, but it just wasn’t my style, and I only wore it a couple of times before retiring it to the back of my closet forever. Plus, it was already out of style by the time I’d bought it—probably replaced by the next fast-fashion trend to hit the shelves.

The first step to building a quality, timeless wardrobe is learning that you can still be stylish without latching onto each and every trend. I stopped paying attention to what everyone just started wearing, and instead started focusing on what everyone had been wearing all along: basics.

There are certain items that create the foundation of wardrobes for people of any gender. It all comes down to buying good-quality, stylish basics and building your wardrobe from there. I started by buying white and black tops that suited the kinds of outfits I knew I enjoyed wearing. For me, I prioritized high necklines (that would show off my necklace collection) and thick fabric (that a bra wouldn’t show through). Then, I bought three pairs of mom jeans—light blue, dark blue, and black—as well as a couple of pairs of skinny jeans for the rare occasion I wear something like an oversized sweater.

Most of these items, like sturdy tees and mom jeans, I found easily at thrift stores like Value Village. However, when it came to finding good-quality women’s tops in basic colours, I made multiple thrift store trips without finding anything that suited me. After a few attempts, I made a couple of purchases at department stores because I wanted to ensure I was buying well-made, unstained items I could wear for a long time. 

Find some showstopper items

Once you have some of the basics, you can focus on finding the items that showcase your personal style and draw people’s attention. For me, that means keeping an eye out for cool-patterned crew-neck sweaters, high-waisted vintage pants, and oversized men’s T-shirts and flannels. By pairing those items with basics like black or blue mom jeans or crisp white or black shirts, I can show off my aesthetic without clashing.

Whereas shopping for basics might seem boring and prescribed, shopping for these showstopper wardrobe items can be an exciting adventure. This is also why pinning down your “style” or “aesthetic” before buying anything is so important, because you can consider how each item will contribute to that style. 

I’ve also realized that half of the “trendy” items being sold for upwards of $20 at Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters can easily be found in thrift stores for more than half the cost. You want cardigans? Mom jeans? 90s- and 2000s-inspired pieces? If you really enjoy keeping up with current styles and want your outfits to reflect that, head down to Value Village and half the items there will fit the vintage trend of the day.

Rock your new wardrobe

After spending a couple of months finding thrifted and new items for my wardrobe, I can confidently say that my style is finally reflected in the clothes I wear every day. I went from standing cluelessly in front of my closet every morning to picking my outfits the night before. While most of my clothes are basics in a certain colour palette, I’ve also found some eye-catching items I love to show off. I started this school year with no idea what my style was, or how to show it, but after a little research and a lot of thrift store browsing, I finally understand what it means to dress fashionably. My confidence in what I wear has skyrocketed.

If you want to build a wardrobe without harming the planet or contributing to the fast-fashion industry, hopefully these tips can help you find your style.

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