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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Guide to thrifting (shoes part 1): finding new or barely worn shoes

Awhile back (like now about a month ago), reader Marirob asked if I'd be willing to share some thrifting tips on the blog. Well, I didn't forget. In fact, I have had photos taken for part of this guide for a while now. I just hadn't gotten around to writing it! I knew there would be a lot of info I'd want to include with (hopefully) helpful pictorial guides. In fact, there is enough info that I'm going to split these posts up into several parts. Some of the stuff I'll say will probably make you go 'duh Lori!' But I thought it might be helpful to show you what could be in store for you should you venture into the world of thrift. And, hopefully, these will be useful to someone :)

The first guide I wanted to do is on shoes. Why would I start with shoes? Well, honestly, I think it's an item most people overlook when thrifting. Heck. I NEVER looked at the shoe section until the past few months. The idea of used shoes didn't really appeal to me, and I've heard that it's really bad to wear shoes that have conformed to someone else's feet (e.g. it can strain your knees or back).

But after taking a look in the shoe section of my local thrift once, I found I kept going back! It turns out you can find a TON of new or practically new shoes at thrift stores!

At first I was really surprised by this. But, then I thought about it some more, and even I have shoes in my closet that I bought on sale or on a whim and wore once only to find that it ran a little too big, or a little too small. Or I just never found an outfit to wear them with. Or you buy a pair of shoes for a specific occasion/outfit, and then never end up reaching for them again. That's my guess about why I've had such good luck with thrifted shoes. That, and the fact that the Goodwill I frequent handles such a ridiculous volume of items that they might do a lot of presorting of used shoes and only put out the better ones?

So here's a guide of what I look for when I look for shoes at a thrift store.

1) Look for new shoes.
You can find a lot of shoes new with tags. Some thrift stores, like Goodwill, get new overstock items or last season items donated from retailers. From what I've seen, Goodwill in Washington state and California gets these items donated from Target. So you'll see a bunch of the same pairs of shoes in various sizes and colors with the tags still attached, and the shoes still bound together with those plastic ties.

For example, when I went down to California last, I stopped by a Goodwill and found a bijillion Merona Madalena Suede Ballet Flats going for $7.50 a pair. The same shoes were still selling online at Target's website for $20 a pair. So I bought three pairs for the winter in some colors I'd been really wanting to integrate into my wardrobe (worn here, here, here).

At another trip to the Seattle Goodwill, I spied these great Xhilaration shoes:

I picked them up to look closer, and I saw that one shoe still had the plastic tag holder on it, but no tag. If you were wearing these shoes out, would you leave the plastic loop on?

You can also find shoes that still have retailer price tags or size stickers inside the shoe or on the sole. That's another good indication that it was bought and never worn, but see tips #2 & 3 for other cues that the shoes are new.

2. Look at the soles
The sole of a shoe will show its wear. Imagine just a brief walk outside from your house to your car. You walk over pavement, loose gravel, some twigs, etc. All that leaves little scratches on the bottom of your shoes. So taking a look at the underside of the shoe can tell you a lot about whether a shoe has been worn a lot.

Let's take a look at the bottoms of those Xhilaration shoes:

Spotless. These don't look like they've been worn. The plastic on the heel doesn't have any dings either.

Here's a pair of brown Seychelle pumps (worn here and here) I found on that same trip to Goodwill:

These also look really clean and unmarred. You might pay special attention to the grooves and patterns in the bottom of a shoe. Thin grooves will collect dirt and debris readily. They can also show the impact of the shoe hitting pavement more.

Now let's take a look at a pair that looks like it has some light wear. Here's a pair of Colin Stuart sandals (worn here):

These have some dirt so you know they've been worn before. But there isn't a large amount of wear here.

Now take a look at the soles of those same Seychelles pumps now that I've worn them twice:

Big difference, huh?

Still, even if the soles of shoes you're checking out are clean and unmarred, the shoes may not be new. People can get their shoes re-soled and new heel tips put on to extend the lives of their shoes. So you'll also want to use tip #3 :)

3. Look inside the shoe
When you wear a shoe a lot, your weight distributes through your feet and your feet make impressions in the shoe bed. You don't want to see indentations or compacted padding. Stay away from shoes like that! Those are definitely ones that could lead to the afore mentioned back and knee problems!

You do want to see clean and even shoe beds.

On sandals, sometimes you'll see spots where toes would be since they're often worn outside. These Colin Stuart sandals didn't show any foot impressions:

For comparison, take a look at my Tom's shoes that I've worn quite a bit since I got them. You can see the impressions of my toes and heel. You want to avoid wearing buying shoes that have impressions like these:

4. Buy shoes from a person rather than a thrift store
A person can tell you how many times if ever they have worn the shoes. Also, knowing the person also might give you a hint of how clean and well taken care of the shoes are :), but I'll cover disinfecting and cleaning thrifted shoes in another post.

And that's it for this first installment! Do any of you who've bought used shoes or thrifted shoes have any other advice on what you look for to tell if a shoe is in good condition?


Don't forget to enter the Betsey Johnson Swag Bag & Anthropologie Gift Card giveaway here



vintageglam1234 said...

Hey Lori,
Great post. You are one clever shopper. Good to see you stocking up on cheap flats! i can't believe how cheap they are. I will have to go back to america one day just to shop!
I have certainly taken in some of your advice and will no longer look at a pair of shoes the same way again!
Oh, and btw, its 12.20AM here in oz, and guess what i just did? put through an Anthro order!

marirob said...

I love it! Thank you so much for doing this. As Jen says, I will never look at a pair of shoes the same way again. And I'm glad to know that you have good finds at Goodwill - that's one thrift store I definitely know how to find!

LilMissSeamstress said...

I love this type of post. I have two Goodwill store near by and seems like I do not find any goodies there... maybe I am always there on a wrong day? or it's just too much of a competition going on during hard times like this... I love yard sale, estate sale, thrift store hunting, but sometimes it's a bit discouraging when you don't see anything you can value.. I should keep trying and learn from you!

This is definitely a great post idea~

BonBon Rose Girls Kristin said...

What an amazing PSA! I've only ever bought one pair of vintage shoes...I totally need to score more!

Meagan said...

I love this post! I go to thrift stores all the time and actually recently wrote a post about thrifting tips. I didn't get this specific though and I enjoyed your shoe tips and seeing your great finds!

Kathleen said...

Great tips. I always get intimidated by thrifting and I'm really not sure why. I think it requires a bit more effort than I'm used to putting into shopping and that freaks me out. Great tips on the shoes though - that might be enough to give me the kick in the pants that I need to start thrifing!

Lisa - respect the shoes said...

Good post! I am the worst thrifter ever and have turned myself off from it so much that I just don't do it anymore. All I ever find are really old, plain dirty or just bad things. Maybe your Guide to Thrifting will turn me around!

Anonymous said...

This is some very good advice! Really makes me want to go thrifting...

Enter to win a $35 gift certificate to CSN stores now through October 31st!


TaraMixandMatch said...

What great tips! I've always been hesitant to thrift shoes, but I guess its worth a try, I just have to know what to look for!


Matt said...

I have never really successfully thrifted anything, but I am one of those people guilty of taking like-new and better shoes to consignment stores, and it was mostly due to fit issues. I love these tips though, I certainly learned some things! :)

Laura said...

I would love going thrifting. But not in Bakersfield. There is nowhere to shop, so the stuff in GoodWill is really, really bad.

Lucky for you, some people don't know how to shop carefully. Like the shoes with the tag still on it. What's up with that?

Thank you for the Polyvores. Now I need to enter a bunch of giveaways. Including yours. I am so far behind on comments it's not funny.


Elaine said...

Great tips! I have a thing about wearing used shoes too. I've had luck with finding new shoes as well.

CLOTHED MUCH, a modest fashion blog

Cindi said...

OK I have never wanted to go to a Value Village or a Goodwill more in my life!!! My coworker shops there and she sometimes finds really great stuff. I never even think about going...not that it's a bad thing...but I just never think of it! Thanks for this!

thatdamngreendress said...

oh yeah! My favourite Salvation Army finds- a beautiful pair of cognac Miu Miu loafers (5.99) and mustard patent Manolo Blahnik flats (2.50!)- the leather was a bit marked up outside from poor storage, but they're so gorgeous!

Lifeasahoosier said...

Wow what great shoe finds! My thrift shops never have anything as stylish....but I don't live in a swanky town like you!

Lori said...

@vintageglammz I know I felt guilty buying so many flats until my bestie was like 'you know the three of those flats cost maybe the price of 1 pair of shoes normally, right.' Still, it felt indulgent. :) Congrats on the Anthro order!

@marirob glad this was helpful. I really really like the Goodwills up here in Seattle. The ones I've gone to in Cali are hit or miss, but obviously a hit this past trip with the shoes, lol.

@LilMissSeamstress my Goodwill is huge, so it's possible that it just has more inventory? But I also like going when there are fewer people. I get really anxious when I have people battling me for aisle space. Thrifters on the hunt are an intense bunch... I've had people follow me and try to edge me out of aisles, but that is a whole other post :) Because my hubby likes thrifting we tend to do it for fun, like on a Thursday night when it's less crowded and maybe items are less picked over.

@Kristin thanks, and get thee to a thrift store! :)

@Meagan Thanks for popping by my blog! I popped over to yours too! You've got some amazing jewelry you've found at thrifts!

@Kathleen &
@Lisa oh yah, no doubt thrifting takes a lot more effort than normal shopping. But it's partly a joy of the hunt and the buried treasure :) You could also try a level easier than a place like Goodwill and find a nicely curated consignment store. I have a couple of those around my hood too. There are a lot more hits on name brands and beautiful clothes, but the prices are also higher than Goodwill (but relatively cheap for the brand/quality of clothes).

@Melanie Thanks!

@Tara great! I had hoped posting pics would help people if they thought about looking at shoes :)

@Matt I've probably also dropped off a few pairs of shoes that were only worn a couple times. But of course, if it didn't fit me well in the first place, it's prob good I donated them :) or that's how I choose to look at it.

@Laura too bad about the thrifts in Bakersfield. I have heard that thrifting is somewhat hit or miss in smaller places away from big cities? But I think I tend to hear more about the hits (awesome scores) since people like sharing those stories, lol.

@Elaine yup. Once you get out there and look, it's pretty amazing how many new shoes are out in the thrift stores!

@Cindi True thrifting just really isn't on everyone's radar. And it is a completely different clothes shopping experience. It's not the pretty curated displays at Anthro for sure!!

@thatdamngreendress WOW!! I would swoon if I ever found those types of shoes at a thrift for those prices! nice!

@Carrie thanks! Yeah I guess I didn't realize people in Seattle dressed up that much, but it's a large town and although a lot of people wear fleece and flip flops all year round, I guess there's a significant stylish population. I just like that they keep pouring their clothes into my goodwill :)

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