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Your Ultimate Thrifting Guide: What to Look For

With the weather getting warmer here in Evanston, it’s that time of year when we’re all thinking about a wardrobe update. As college students, there’s definitely a balance between looking cute and not breaking the bank — it’s hard to look bougie on a budget! So, a lot of us turn to “fast fashion” websites, usually with overseas vendors. For example, the Chinese company Shein has exploded with popularity among younger buyers this past year because of its seemingly endless selection of trendy clothes at an amazing price. This is partially because of how popular Shein hauls have gotten on TikTok: creators will show dozens of super cheap swimsuits and other clothing items to millions of viewers. But even though the clothes are both cute and affordable, they’re not sustainable. The company has come under fire before for allegedly using sweatshops and child labor. Looking at the bigger picture, fast fashion in general creates so much unnecessary waste. When clothes are cheap, there’s a high turnover rate of trends, leading to lots of clothes that both create waste in their fabrication process but also end up as waste themselves once trends have changed. Finally, many of the chemicals released from the process of making the clothes, and to a lesser extent with the shipping involved, contribute to global warming. Fire fits, but Earth on fire. No bueno.

The good news is, there are so many other affordable alternatives to fast fashion websites like Shein. Current fashion trends seem to be a hodge-podge of vintage trends — from the 60’s and 70’s all the way to the “Y2K”/early 2000’s era. Because these clothes already exist, why not buy them secondhand? Instead of just having the vintage look, you can find super cool pieces that are actually vintage — both in thrift stores and on secondhand websites (some of my favorites are Depop and Thredup). There are so many beautiful vintage clothes that are back in style. You just need to know what to look for. So, to make your thrifting process easier, I put together a list of ten thriftable essentials — both trendy items and “staple” pieces that you’ll be able to style for years to come. 

  1. Wavy/marbled pieces - a really big trend coming up this summer. From jackets to pants to hats, the wavy pattern is a staple for your wardrobe this year. Use your wavy item as an accent piece to spice up an otherwise boring outfit.

  2. Sweatshorts - another big trend, especially with the pandemic — everyone wants to be cute and comfy! There are tons of oversized pairs of sweatpants floating around both in thrift stores and secondhand websites — just cut them to the length you want, and you’re all set! You could also tie-dye them for an extra twist.

  3. Solid-colored tank tops - a classic, but another summer staple. Try to find a tank top or two that matches the rest of your wardrobe so you can pair together outfits — for example, in black, white, beige or navy. If you’re unhappy with the length, you can always crop it for a more trendy look!

  4. Cutoff denim shorts - another classic that never goes out of style. You can find already-cut shorts, but you can also cut your own pair of jeans. With so many different styles out there, you’re sure to find a cut that works for you.

  5. Bucket hats - super trendy and fun, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time outside this summer! Pair it with shorts and a t-shirt to spruce up a casual fit.

  6. Black string bikini - another staple that’s never out of style. What makes this piece so great is that there are a million different ways to tie/style it! Pinterest has a ton of ideas for inspiration; you’re sure to find a few different looks you really love.

  7. Scarves - there are so many unique vintage scarves out there! Depending on the size of your scarf, you can also tie it in your hair or even wear it as a top! There are so many different ways to style it both ways — again, Pinterest is a great resource for inspiration on how you want to style your scarf!

  8. Oversized button-downs - this is another wardrobe staple, not just for summer but year-round. These are great as cover-ups for the beach or as another layer over shorts and a tank top for summer nights when it’s too cold. Like the tank tops, try to find colors that go with what you already have.

  9. Chunky gold jewelry - this has been popular for a while, but there’s no need to buy it new! There are so many unique pieces, such as chains and hoop earrings, that are still around from years ago. You could even ask your mom if she kept any jewelry that she wore in college. Add a little bling to up the ante on your fit.

  10. Tortoiseshell sunglasses - these are a great staple piece because they always go in and out of style every few years, and right now, they’re super on-trend! Find a style that fits your face shape and pair with any outfit on a sunny day.

So this year when you’re updating your closet, avoid the temptation of all the cute and affordable clothes on Shein. It’s so easy to find the exact same clothes for the same price without hurting the environment!

Happy Earth Day & happy thrifting :)

Cat Pace

Northwestern '24

Cat is a second-year student at Northwestern University studying Voice Performance & Communication Studies. Though she is a Chicago-area native, she loves to explore both Evanston & the city with her friends. When she is not writing for HerCampus, her other hobbies/interests include fashion, travel, and fitness.
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