I was thrifting waaaaaay before Macklemore “what what’d” his way in with twenty dollars in his pocket. The song “Thrift Shop” may have inspired a craze a few years ago, but savvy consumers have always known that a great secondhand store is the best secret in their pocketbook. Thrifting not only saves you money on clothes, shoes, home decor, and accessories (although it definitely helps!), but it is the green way to acquire cute new-to-you stuff in a culture becoming continually aware of the wastefulness and toxicity of the garment industry. They say that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, and I have found that to be 100% true. You wouldn’t believe the deals I find. I dress great in labels that I couldn’t otherwise afford, and my apartment looks lived-in and chic rather than the prevailing “IKEA vomited everywhere” aesthetic.
Center City is a hotbed for great secondhand and vintage stores, as well as the Philly metro area as a whole. The following are some local businesses that will help you save some money, up-cycle your wardrobe, and usually contribute to a good cause.
Fishtown, South Philly
Circle Thrift is a ministry-focused thrift store that is aimed on getting affordable clothes to people who need them, creating jobs, and keeping perfectly good items out of landfills. Donations are always welcome. While the store boasts some pretty impressive vintage finds if you are willing to scour the racks, the main goal is to clothe people who need help, so you may need to do some significant fishing if you are looking for labels or trendy items. This store is a member of the MCC Thrift Shop Network, a Mennonite-based non-profit that collects funds for families who require a hand up. The store is small, but the atmosphere is described as “mellow” and most customers are regulars. Items are priced by type – all long-sleeved shirts for $3, for example, regardless of brand or style.
Once Worn is a trendy boutique focused on both recent and vintage clothing that’s beautiful and “groovy,” in their own words. They aim to bring great clothes to you at bargain prices. Consignments are taken by appointment only, and consignors may bring only one large bag or two paper bags of goods in for consideration per appointment. Items spend 60 days on the shelf: 45 at regular price (generally 30 percent of retail as a general rule) and 15 on sale. The consignment split is 40/60. Visitors rave about the curated selection of unique and one-of-a-kind pieces, as well as the great organization, the sale rack (bargains!), and the fair pricing. This is a must-see stop if you are in NoLibs for the day.
In Philly boutiques, there’s a great tradition where hand-selected vintage fines are arranged on perhaps just a couple of racks in the back of the store. Vagabond is one of this species. Up front, the boho selection of pretty dresses have names like “Marge” and “Ida” and seem to all be made of simple linen shapes that brush the floor and drape off the body like an afterthought. The four racks of vintage, on the other hand, offer much more exciting selections. Vintage Wrangler mom jeans will have the VSCO kids all over the place like mayflies, and there are usually a few delightful pieces of leather in the mix. Prices average about $18 for the racked stuff. Don’t miss owner Megan Murphy’s collabs with local brand Riverside Tool & Dye, which resulted in treasures like vintage Levi’s with tie-dyed patches and vintage wool coats given a new life by hand-dyeing.
Rumor has it that, during a stint living in Philadelphia with her then-boyfriend, Liam Hemsworth, Miley Cyrus “found her style.” They say that she tracked it down at Philly AIDS Thrift, one of the biggest and highest-quality thrift stores in the whole Philly area, not just Center City. The hype machine has made the store extremely popular since then, but there are still hidden treasures to be found if you come early and are persistent. New donations are coming through the door literally all the time. As the name suggests, all proceeds go towards funding HIV/AIDS programs and research. The store is playfully decorated and divided into rooms that serve as means of organization. The selection of vintage dresses is especially noteworthy, having been singled out by Billy Penn as the best in the area.
Raxx is something of a thrift/vintage superstore, having combined two different stores (Sazz Vintage, plus Briar’s Vintage) into one juggernaut of amazing fashion. The vintage section focuses on clothing from the 1940s through the 1980s, and is all-encompassing. There’s original ugly Christmas sweaters (not contemporary, ironic knockoffs), pinup dresses, disco wear, and an amazing assortment of denim. Gentlemen looking for a sharp appearance that isn’t so cookie-cutter will go wild for the selection of ruffle-front tuxedo shirts, plaid wool suits, and funky pocket squares. Kitsch comes at a bit of a premium here, as prices are higher than your average thrift shop, but most customers find themselves quite willing to pay for the cleanliness and originality of the merchandise.
This place has a near-perfect score on Yelp, reflecting the adoration that the customer base has for this Spring Garden Street institution. The store trends upscale, with brands like Tahari, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor being plentiful. The occasional high-end label like YSL and Tory Burch slip in from time to time as well. The store is run by and benefits Career Wardrobe, which offers client dressing programs as well as education and skill-building programs for multiple counties around Pennsylvania. Clothes aren’t the only game here – ample selections of handbags, belts, hats, jewelry, and shoes will ensure that you are decked out from head to toe. Prices are moderate to high, but the sale section is full of hot finds. The selection of formal wear is noteworthy, and it should be mentioned that many a thrifty bride has said yes to the dress at The Wardrobe Resale.