Op shops are fantastic, there’s no two ways about it. They’re a great way to avoid purchasing new and prevent perfectly good cast-offs from going into landfill, plus you’re supporting charity at the same time.
Some of my earliest memories are of cruising op shops with my dad on Saturday afternoons; his poison was vintage sci-fi novels and comics, whereas I was more interested in toys and dress-ups.
However! For people who aren’t lifelong op shoppers, secondhand wonderlands can be confusing and intimidating. Plus there’s that weird op shop smell, like a cross between a primary school and a retirement home. But fear not, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to pre-loved purchasing – and don’t worry, the op shop smell disappears completely after a thorough cycle in the washing machine.
Know the lay of the land.
Choosing which op shops to hit up is crucial. If someone close to you is a regular at Vinnies and the Salvos, get them to take you to their favourite spots. Op shops vary hugely in size, price point, stock, store arrangement and many other factors. For the seasoned enthusiast this is all part of the fun, but if you’re more used to doing a casual swing through Target then the number and variety of op shops can be overwhelming. To find your closest op shops, check out Op Shop Listing, which has hundreds of op shops around the country.
As well as proximity, here are some general tips when deciding which stores to hit up:
- The further you are from a major urban centre, the cheaper the items and the larger the variety. Regional op shops, and those in outer suburbs, are often enormous treasure troves of clothing, books and homewares priced significantly lower than those in trendier postcodes.
- Check out church or parish op shops, which are tiny in size but frequently contain more than their fair share of unexpected finds.
- Most op shops take delivery of new stock on specific days of the week, so it’s often worth it to phone ahead to your op shop of choice and ask them when they’ll get a new shipment in.
Ideally, you want to set aside at least a whole morning or afternoon to go on an op shopping adventure. There are some basic preparations you’ll want to make to ensure you get the best out of the experience:
- Bring reusable shopping bags for carrying your finds so that you don’t have to use disposable plastic bags.
- Make sure you’ve got a reasonable wad of cash, because some op shops don’t have EFTPOS.
- Go through your wardrobe or your kitchen cupboard and make a rough list of what you’re looking for so that you don’t end up wandering around aimlessly (can be a real problem in op shops.)
- Bring a bottle of water. Op shopping is thirsty work.
When you’re inside
Because op shops are organised so differently to normal retail spaces, the techniques you need to navigate them are different too. Stock is often displayed in a way that would be considered cramped in other shops, and this means there are a lot more items per square inch than your shopping eyes are probably used to. This is a recipe for glazed-over wandering – don’t let the Op Shop Dawdle happen to you.
- Manage your FOMO (fear of missing out). Only check each area once, and be strict. If you find yourself fingering through the same rack of jumpers three or four times, you might have to implement a time limit by setting an alarm on your phone.
- When going through clothing, be picky. Is your item made of nice fabric? Is it a colour that will go with other things in your wardrobe? Does it fit properly? Are there any defects? Only take the plunge if it’s something you’ll actually wear!
- Don’t get too caught up in gender-specific sections. Browse the men’s section if you’re a woman, and if you’re a man don’t reject that nice wintery coat just because the tag says it’s made by the Ladies’ Clothing Emporium for Women.
- Don’t buy something if it’s chipped, ripped, stained, too short, too long, or ‘for a friend’. If you’ve never sewn before you’re probably not going to start now, and that beautiful but too-long skirt will sit at the bottom of your wardrobe causing you guilt until you give it back to a different op shop six months later. Better to leave it for someone else to find.
- Know what clothing in style this season. Fashion goes through cycles, and often by the time something ends up in an op shop it can be on the verge of a comeback.
- Avoid single-use appliances unless you’re 100% sure you’ll use them. There are stacks of popcorn makers, doughnut irons, fairy floss machines, chocolate fountains and the like in op shops, which can seem exciting because they’re expensive at retail. But there’s a reason they end up here – most people don’t use them!
- If you’re shopping for furniture, bring a tape measure, and the dimensions of the space you need to fill. There’s nothing worse than lashing a bargain vintage bed frame to the roof of your car and dragging it home, only to find it doesn’t fit in your bedroom.
- Be very picky about accessories. Op shops are full of scarves, belts, hats, sunglasses and costume jewellery, and you can afford to put something back if you’re not completely in love with it.
Photo credit: Emily Orpin, A day in Hongdae (CC)
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