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How To Encourage Your Kids To Shop Secondhand for Back-To-School Outfits

With fall on the horizon, we’re approaching another season of back to school shopping. Forego the fast fashion frenzy and help your kids fill their closets with fresh secondhand back to school outfits that are fun and fashionable. Read on for 10 tips to encourage your kids to shop secondhand for back to school outfits, or any time of year.

I remember as a preteen and teenager looking forward to back to school shopping. I never bought a lot of items, but my mom always let me get a few new things to start off the year. Back then, when we walked to school uphill both ways in the snow (just kidding…), buying secondhand clothing did not even cross my radar. I’m not sure many of us really thought about it, at least in my social circles. 

In the throes of the back to school season and with so many resale and secondhand alternatives on the market now, it’s the perfect opportunity to instill in our children the importance of looking to secondhand alternatives to restock our closets.

For the most part, my boys wear only secondhand clothes. They occasionally receive gifts of new Philadelphia sports paraphernalia. That aside, I’ve bought almost everything in their wardrobes secondhand. They’re still young and not incredibly particular about specific brands, but they do have strong preferences about styles and fabrics they’re willing to wear. Despite these limitations, we’ve found just about everything we need from online resale sites and brick-and-mortar secondhand shops.  

As our children pine for back to school outfits to add to their wardrobe this fall, consider encouraging (or requiring) them to purchase items secondhand. There are so many options to find great stylish clothes for kids and teens from thrift shops, consignment stores, and online resale stores, that they’re sure to find great additions without feeding the fast fashion frenzy. 

10 Tips To Encourage Your Kids To Shop Secondhand for Back To School Outfits

Here are a few ways to help your kids find great secondhand style options to satiate their back-to-school (or any time of year) shopping cravings. 

Don’t Visit The Mall

Simply head to secondhand shops instead of the mall. Steering clear of the mall is my number one tip for procuring a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe. The mall has too many temptations. 

Start at consignment shops like Plato’s Closet for teens or Once Upon a Child for elementary-aged children and younger. These stores are national chains, but there are also many local consignment and resale shops for kids clothing. Search online for “kids consignment shops near me” or “kids resale shops near me” to find the best spots in your local area. 

The timing might not work out perfectly, but you can also take your older elementary kids to a Just Between Friends sale. They don’t have a ton of clothes for teens, but they have a great selection for babies through elementary-aged children. The checkout lines can be insane, so bring an activity for the kids to do while waiting in line or have them get picked up by a spouse or friend after shopping. 

Set a Budget and Remind Them Money Goes Farther on Secondhand Pieces

Any child old enough to go to school and able to pick out their own clothes should be introduced to the basics of budgeting. Set a limit for how much they can spend, and explain that secondhand items are much less expensive for the same brands, current styles, and great quality.

In other words, they can buy more back to school outfits for the same price if they choose secondhand back to school clothes. No one will know the items were secondhand (if that’s a concern, though vintage and resale clothes are increasingly more mainstream).

Help Them Find a Few Great Secondhand Back To School Outfits

Shopping secondhand doesn’t have the same allure as perusing beautifully curated and styled racks at big box stores and malls. Secondhand shopping may require a bit more patience working through the racks, so help them sort through and pick out pieces they might like. Work together to create fun and trendy back to school outfits with the large variety of pieces available. It may be a bit more time-consuming, but it’s worth the savings. 

Shop Consignment Shops, Not Thrift Shops 

Particularly if you or your kids are new to secondhand shopping, skip the thrift shops (like Goodwill and Salvation Army). Opt instead for consignment shops or local resale shops that curate their collections with more restrictions.

Because consignment and resale shops pay for their product, they tend to attract better quality pieces. They also do much of the work sifting out pieces that you probably wouldn’t want to buy anyway. A great consignment store has styled outfits and displays that are almost as aesthetically pleasing as the fast-fashion giants. 

Consignment and resale shops tend to have more current and on-trend items as well, which should help make it easier to find great back to school outfits for kids.

Use Online Resale Sites

Sites like thredUP and swap.com make it really easy to shop by brand, color, size, and style using filters on their site. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many individual items at brick-and-mortar stores and do not have enough time to peruse through them, start shopping online resale for your kids. Your kids will find all the mainstream brands for far lower prices, and they can search for exactly their size and the items they want to create great back to school outfits. 

Encourage DIYs to Capture Current Trends 

If your kids are creative, encourage using secondhand clothes to DIY their favorite styles. Have you seen distressed denim lately? I’m an offender, so I get it, but most denim on teens and tweens (especially girls) have all sorts of holes, tears, and frayed hems.

Why pay a ton of money for something they can buy for cheap at a thrift shop and DIY themselves? Not only will this save a big portion of their budget avoiding pricey denim, but they’ll have a one-of-a-kind pair of pants or shorts that no one in school will replicate. 

Get a Rescue Box from thredUP 

If you’re feeling adventurous or have a creative kid, consider a Rescue Box from thredUP. They fill a box with tons of items for a fraction of the price relative to individual items. The contents are a mystery, so it’s like a giant surprise when the package arrives on your doorstep. You’re sure to find at least one or two gems. And if you have the right mindset or creativity skills, you can probably work some serious magic on many of the pieces in the box.

Create a Competition

Have a friendly family competition to see who can create the best back to school outfits with only secondhand items. Shop together and spend an afternoon dancing and prancing in and out of the dressing room creating different outfits from whatever you find in the stores. Maybe the winner gets to choose a dinner or dessert outing as a family?

Shop With a Phone But No Money

Head to the mall without your wallet. Take photos of things they love and gather inspiration. Then head to the consignment shops or resale sites to look for similar items. They still get to experience the energy of the mall during the back to school season and identify the latest fashion trends. Maybe they can even DIY some of their favorite trends using secondhand items.

Don’t Give Them A Choice 

Your kids don’t necessarily get to choose where they shop. In the end, we are the parents, and we make the rules. I saved this for last because it’s the least fun suggestion on the list, but it’s also the most important. 

We convey to our children our priorities more through our actions than our words. We have to be role models for them. The best way to show them that we prioritize caring for our environment, supporting fair labor practices, and being efficient money managers is to lead by example. We must teach them how to practice what we preach. 

Buying clothing secondhand saves money. It reduces textile waste languishing in our landfills and lessens the demand for slave labor that produces fast fashion. Shopping secondhand reduces the burden of yanking even more virgin materials from our dwindling supply of natural resources. It reduces carbon emissions, a major catalyst for climate change. 

Secondhand shopping just makes sense. 

More and more young kids and teens want to protect our Earth and be responsible citizens. They want to be champions of the environment and humanity. Older children, in particular, understand that their future depends on it. 

Invite them into this journey with you and help them learn how to live a more sustainable lifestyle by leading the way. Maybe learn together? You might be surprised just how excited they are to be part of an important and growing movement. 

If You Like Shopping Secondhand For Back To School Outfits, You Might Also Like

9 Reasons to Shop Online Resale for Your Kids

Secrets to Scoring the Best Secondhand Style from thredUP

6 Reasons Not to Shop Sustainably … Solved!

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  1. I don’t think children should be made to wear 2nd hand clothing to school. Especially with how cruel other kids are.

    1. Hi Rochelle – Each person is definitely entitled to set their own boundaries about what their children do and do not wear. But your comment seems to imply that secondhand clothes are second-rate, and also that another child could identify secondhand clothes. Given the vast amount of clothing we purchase, there are many stores and online marketplaces with secondhand clothing in like-new or nearly-new condition. Many of the secondhand clothes I purchase for my boys look nicer than the new things they own that have been washed a time or two (especially when purchasing secondhand affords us better quality garments). I agree it’s helpful to do our best to protect our children from unnecessary cruelty and bullying, but I suspect most children couldn’t identify secondhand clothes on others. I think there’s a lot more to secondhand markets than just unwanted or inferior clothes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. -Jen

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