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Thrift Shopping: How to Spot the Real Deal



Ever since I was given a fistful of dollars and a ride to the mall to buy my own school clothes, I was a thrifty shopper. I liked the new stuff too, but once I discovered that, by looking in the right places, I could find better quality things for WAY less money, I was hooked, and thrift stores became my new shopping mall. Now, when I say thrift store, I don’t necessarily mean Goodwill or Salvation Army, though I have been known to find some killer stuff there too. (I happen to live in New York, and I’ve gotta say, people get rid of some top quality clothing.)

A step above that are second-hand stores like Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet; really excellent spots for finding top notch clothing at a fraction of its boutique price. The great thing about these places is that they have very high standards of quality, so you’re not going to find anything with rips, stains, holes, or anything else like that. The key is being able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Just because something has a designer label stitched into it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the genuine article. Here is what to look for in your quest for honest to god designer clothing.

The biggest indicator of designer work is quality of material. It seems simple, but it’s an oft-overlooked factor in the clothes hunt. A rule of thumb: if it feels cheap, it probably is cheap. If it seems thin, rough or coarse, that’s a big red flag. Designers use really lovely fabrics in all their work, so anything else is likely a fake. Pattern can also be helpful in catching counterfeits. If the fabric has a pattern on it, the pattern will line up at the seams, making one, uniform print all the way around. If you see a flower cut in half on a seam or something, I would think twice about buying it.

Stitching is a dead giveaway in knock-offs, especially in jeans. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE fancy jeans. I really do. But I can’t spend upwards of $150 on a pair, so I have found all my most beloved denim in second hand stores. Fakes are not even worth the price of the boxes they are shipped in, in my opinion. In true designer wear, all the stitching will be tight, even and uniform. Turn the garment inside out and check the stitching there as well, where counterfeiters are less careful. Sloppy stitching will often overlap on itself, go crooked from time to time, or be unevenly spaced. I call fake!!

Look at detail work. Buttonholes are a good indicator of quality. If the stitching in a buttonhole is sloppy, and has strings sticking out, that ain’t designer. Same goes for hooks and eyes, snaps, anything like that. Designer work is often hand-finished, so everything will be clean and tight, just like the stitching.

Trying the garment on is important, because fit is crucial to all designers. If a seam twists anywhere, or there is any unusual puckering, chances are the garment was poorly made in a counterfeit factory somewhere. It’s possible that it was a designer factory reject, in which case you should check out some of the other factors, but generally speaking, designers do not let rejects into circulation. They have reputations to keep up, after all!

Tags do not a designer garment make. Come on, if you could sew in a Marc Jacobs tag, so could anybody else. If you have particular designers that you like, read up on them, so you know what their hallmarks are. MJ, for example, loves his hardware, so all buckles and buttons, etc., have a logo stamped into them. On his things, a plain button means a fake garment, pure and simple. Find out what your fave designers go for, and you’ll have some really helpful hints when you go hunting for them.

Believe me, I’ve accidentally bought enough baaaaaad knock-offs over the years to have learned my lesson well, but I’ve also cultivated a pretty awesome wardrobe at the same time. Come on, who doesn’t want Citizens of Humanity and Diane von Furstenberg draped on them all the time? If you’ve got the patience to sort through second-hand racks, it is SO worth the time and energy spent. So learn from my mistakes, and get shopping! It’s a recession out there people, and if there was ever a way to score some great stuff AND stimulate the economy, this is it!!