6 Ways To Make The Most Out Of Secondhand Clothes

​According to Tei Shi.

January 22, 2015

Brooklyn singer Tei Shi has a preternatural eye for adventurous outfits, the kind that'll have you asking, "Where did she even get that?" So it wasn't that surprising to hear that her stylistic grace is, in part, genetic. "I went through a phase as a teenager where the only things I wore were my grandmother's dresses and shoes," she told FADER. "Once I was older, my mom started pulling out great old pieces that she'd made for herself when she was younger." More recently, Tei Shi copped hand-me-downs from her boyfriend's mother that she calls "the most beautiful, wonderful clothing." Does Tei Shi find great secondhand clothes, or do the clothes find Tei Shi? Either way, we wanted to know her secrets. So we asked.

1. Check the silhouette first

When it comes to mapping out her vintage shopping strategy, Tei Shi usually sticks to either black or white. Next, she looks at silhouettes. "When I'm thrift store shopping I usually tend to gravitate toward the black or white sections, just because I feel like it's easier to process," she told FADER. "But then I look at silhouettes, and I lean towards items that are oversized or flowing: either more masculine fits, or the extreme end of very feminine clothing. If you're looking for color—I've been into green lately—look for striking cuts.

2. Try on every little thing

It's easy to get discouraged when you're faced with the overwhelming mass of thrift store stock, but Tei Shi preaches patience. "I really love Beacon's Closet," she said. "I know that's not a surprise—everyone does. For the first half hour you'll be like, "Oh there's nothing here for me, everything sucks." But if you really search, you'll find the gems. You have to sift through and look for those unassuming things that you think won't fit that well, or that you think won't look that good, and then try them on. Those are the things that other people pass over, too."

3. Hunt for matching separates

Suiting or matching separates open up tons of new possibilities for wearing vintage, and often only require a nip and tuck to update. Tei Shi waxes poetic about one hot pink coat and skirt combination in particular. "My mom made that combo when she was, like, eighteen," the singer-songwriter told FADER. "It's a very '60s sort of hot pink. I feel like people don't wear matching sets anymore. They're so cute; they feel from another time, but not dated."

oh, this old thing?
A photo posted by grump (@tei_shi) on

4. Pair statement pieces with something simple

For embellished pieces, Shi recommends a solid uniform underneath, like slim-cut black jeans and a sweater. "I like to wear one really colorful or bold thing, and keep everything else very minimal," she said. "With coats, I usually wear something very basic underneath: all black and very minimal cuts. A lot of vintage pieces are colorful, elaborate, and flamboyant, so it's important to wear something basic with them."

5. Don't overdo it

When it comes to taking care of delicate pieces, the best rule of thumb is restraint. "I have this coat that my grandma made. It's this beautiful brown fur coat with gold clasps that goes down to the knee. It's not actually fur, it just has that aesthetic. I was always obsessed with it when I was younger, and my mom gave it to me a year and a half ago when my grandmother passed away. I always have it in my closet, but I don't wear it very much. For older items, or anything handmade, it's good to resist wearing them as much as possible."

6. Remember that clothing has emotional value, too

Keeping a garment's history in mind can be half the joy of owning it—or more. Tei Shi especially cherishes the pieces in her closet that have a familial connection. "When something's passed down to me by someone close to me—like my grandmother or my mother or my boyfriend's mother—there's always that association. I think about this less when it's something I've gotten from a thrift store. There's a respect for the thing, and a special meaning in that gift. You can't just treat it like any other article of clothing."

Lead Image: Eric White.

6 Ways To Make The Most Out Of Secondhand Clothes