On a recent family trip to San Diego, my 17-year-old daughter begged for a back-to-school shopping spree at the Brandy Melville store. There’s no brick-and-mortar location where we live (in Georgia), so my kid is one of those poor, neglected teens who have to buy their oversized sweatpants and tiny crop tops online. (The horror!)
Upon our arrival at the jam-packed Pacific Beach store, it was immediately clear that there was not a single sale sign or clearance rack. I get it, of course: Would you offer discounts when a cult of teen girls are willing to travel thousands of miles to buy your merchandise?
The week after we returned home (with my daughter’s suitcase bulging at the seams), I was poking around the Internet when I found an online thrift store — with an entire Brandy Melville section. My daughter gasped and started scrolling through it.
“This sweatshirt is only $16!” she cried. But her budget was already blown, which disgruntled us both. Me, because I could have saved money, and her because she could have bought more items for the money.
Why am I always learning these lessons the hard way?
Regardless, I’ve now done my due diligence and curated a list of the best online thrift stores. Each of these sites has something to commend them, whether it’s budget-friendly (Swap), vintage cool (Retro and Me) or aimed at Gen Z (Depop). Please read on and enjoy the fruits of my labor — especially if you have some back-to-school shopping in your future.
My heart warmed to Swap immediately, as this site has truly low prices and sections for “new with tags” and clearance. When I visited, you could buy a brand new faux fur jacketand several sizes of trendy Dickies pants, each for $4.99. They feature all your favorite men’s, women’s and children’s brands from the mall (Ann Taylor, Birkenstock, Patagonia, etc.) and have ongoing promotions (like 15% off $50).
You can search for items based on size, color, brand, season and condition. With free returns (within two weeks of purchase), there’s not much risk involved — and if you give them your email, they’ll take 30% off your first order.
This site for women’s and kids’ clothes has basic brands like J. Crew as well as swanky designer duds like Halston. I searched for jeans using filters for size, cut, brand, price and condition. I felt comfortable pulling the trigger on buying a pair since returns are free (aside from a $3.99 restocking fee).
ThredUP also has some very cool promotions. For its Shop Their Closet events, the site asks celebs and influencers to offer their cast-offs for sale, giving buyers the chance to snatch up wardrobe items from, say, the cast of “The Real Housewives of New York.” (I didn’t say they were A-list celebs — but it’s still pretty cool!)
ThredUP is also known for having lots of sales. In fact, right now you can get 35% off plus free shipping on your first order.
Poshmark is like eBay in that you deal with the seller directly. You can either click on the listing and pay the offered price, or make your own offer. (Haggling is encouraged.) In terms of what you can buy, Poshmark has all the categories you’d find in a department store, from clothes and accessories to electronics and pet supplies.
If you’re interested in an item but not sure you want to pay the list price, you can “like” the listing and get notified if the price drops. Poshmark is one of the most popular online thrift sites, and with over two million items on sale, it’s doing a brisk business. But there are no returns allowed, which is a pretty significant downside, in my humble opinion.
If I wanted to dress like I did in high school (aka late 80s) or college (early 90s), I’d go to Retro and Me, post haste. This site’s sweet spot is classic cool clothes from those decades, with some 50s through 70s duds thrown in for good measure. The site also offers handbags, shoes, accessories, art, collectibles and even nostalgia-sparking books (like 80s-era copies of Judy Blume’s “Superfudge”).
The site has free standard shipping on orders over $60, and returns are accepted within a 15-day window (though you do have to pay the shipping fee in that case).
My daughters love to scroll through the items on Depop, which is designed to feel like you’re on Instagram, but then you also end up with cool clothes on your doorstep.
Head to this site and you’ll immediately get your first hint that it’s for Zoomers: At the moment, its landing page starts with “Festival Edit: Balletcore.” I’m not sure what that means, but my daughter knows, and that’s all that matters to Depop.
Whatever Gen Z wants, this site has a gently-used, low-cost version of it: men’s clothes, women’s clothes, accessories, water bottles, phone cases, bobblehead figures, you name it. Shipping costs depend on the seller, but prices in general are pretty cheap.
Nuuly is known as Urban Outfitters’ clothing rental service, but it also has a section called Nuuly Thrift, which is a clothing resale marketplace. Not surprisingly, the clothes tend to look like the ones you see at Urban Outfitters or its sister brand, Anthropologie. This site is new but becoming increasingly popular. It’s growing fast.
I found lots of bold and fun pieces, like these flared, floral jeans, but the prices aren’t as low as I’d hoped. (Those jeans are selling for $70, and I found the same pair on Poshmark for $50.) That said, if you like that edgy, trendy, hip style, you will love this site.
Do you have a friend who always looks like she just stepped out of a Henry James novel but is simultaneously chic and cool? She may be a ShopOlga enthusiast. This site features vintage gems from the 50s through the 90s and includes clothes, accessories and statement jewelry.
There are lots of fun and unique dresses — with pleats and lace and buttons that your friends will gawk at during the next cocktail party. “Where did you find this?” they’ll ask. It’s up to you if you want to share your secret.