Finding the best deal: thrift stores versus consignment stores

By Tauni Hopkins

The new funky hit single Thrift Shop by rapper Macklemore has done more than just provide a hot beat for everyone to sing along to. It has celebrated a now common pastime, hobby and means of dressing for many Americans: thrift shopping. Twenty dollars won’t take you far today at the local mall, but it can do damage at your local thrift store.

Ditching expensive labels for thrift shop clothing hasn’t always been as socially acceptable as it is today. Recently, however, the idea of buying used has taken on a new identity. No longer done under the radar, thrift shopping is now blogged, celebrated and even sung about.

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Buying used is nothing new to me. Growing up I can remember making Saturday visits to both the mall and local thrift shops to find new threads. I can even recall a few of my favorite pieces, such as my first silk black blouse and a pair of designer boot-cut jeans, being second-hand.

Since the early 2000s, the game of finding the best deals has evolved with the emergence of new-era consignment shops such as Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor. The Plato’s Closet website claims to offer “a huge selection of trendy, designer styles as well as those everyday basics you can’t live without—all at up to 70 percent off retail price.”

I have sold my clothing to Plato’s Closet in the past, but I had never paid much attention to the clothes that grace the racks. When I brought in a bag of threads, the buyers quickly laid hands on items that were popular teen and ‘tween brands, such as American Eagle, Hollister and Forever 21, but I never knew the prices placed on the tags after they left my possession.

For this reason, I decided to make a trip to see if prices at the consignment shops could match up to those of thrift stores. My visit to a local Plato’s Closet screamed the answer loud and clear— not hardly!

Avid thrift-shopper Chandra McCleskey says that although she has shopped at the two consignment shops before, she prefers to visit thrift shops as she gets more bang for her buck.

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A goldenrod satin blouse at Thrift City comes in at only $2.50 while a similar blouse by Forever 21 rings in at $7 at Plato’s Closet. Items that are already fairly cheap brand-new are sold at Plato’s Closet for close to new prices and the lack of “designer styles” leaves much to be desired.

“Honestly, $20 at the Goodwill can get me pretty far. I can buy multiple items instead of just one or two. I just don’t consider the other shops to be “thrifty”,” says McCleskey.

Playing devil’s advocate—I will admit that Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor do not claim to be thrift shops, but this does not take away from the notion that the stores are selling used clothing at close to original prices. There isn’t as much variety in terms of style and the men’s selection is also pretty scarce.

There were a few good finds in the midst of the racks at Clothes Mentor as the clothing seemed to be targeted toward a slightly older consumer, but the prices also left me disappointed. Just like Plato’s Closet, prices paled in comparison to those found in thrift stores.

“Plato’s closet and Clothes Mentor just don’t offer the variety I’m looking for when shopping. I haven’t seen anything worth buying in the men’s section,” says thrift shopper Lee Butts. “I don’t only go for the clothes, but also the random items like old VHS’s. Plus, I get better clothes for better prices at thrift stores,” Butts continues.

If you’re looking for trendier pieces for teens or young adults and don’t mind spending a little more than standard fare for used clothing, Plato’s Closet or Clothes Mentor might be the store for you. If you’re searching for a larger variety of styles and brands within a tighter budget, visiting your local thrift store is probably your best bet.

I, however, prefer the variety of styles, bargains and excitement that thrift store have to offer. I can buy vintage and newer styles, while also seeking out gems. Therefore, I will be sticking to my regular regimen in hopes of “popping tags with $20 in my pocket.”

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