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Thrifty – and Stylish – Options for Back-to-School

When my tween daughter hit the age of “peer-care-awareness” I thought I was doomed. I’d been a thrift-store-mama my entire life, especially for my growing children. Being frugal wasn’t so much a choice as it was a necessity. So recently, when the kids started singing the new hit song, Pop Some Tags, with enthusiasm and good humor, I felt like writing a personal letter of thanks to pop star rappers, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Finally, secondhand clothing was hip!

Thrift Shop

Thrift Shop

Thrift store shopping is nothing new to kids who’ve been learning that the money they have for shopping and back-to-school outfits (often times with the name brands they’re looking for) goes a lot further at a secondhand store than at the department stores. Clothing items at a thrift store run on average from just $3.99 to $10.99. And places like Salvation Army and Goodwill often have their own special “tag days” (where certain colored tags are discounted) and Senior Citizen discount days. Goodwill of the Finger Lakes offers a student discount on Tuesdays with a valid student I.D. But working parents can find clothes just the same. Just a couple weeks ago I found a fantastic Clearwater Creek dress with its original price tag of $87 still attached – I got it for $14, brand new, and it looks great.

Finding Their Own Style

Sometimes being “in style” isn’t the only style. For a fashion-conscious kid the latest styles can still be found at secondhand clothing stores – but they have stuff even better than that. My older teen found that hunting for Dr. Who-inspired outfits was the perfect fit for his personality, and every time Flannel Friday makes a comeback he knows just were to go to find the greatest variety of colors, prints, and genuine worn-in softness.

Although a consignment shop might not have older styles in stock, a thrift store like Salvation Army and Goodwill have contemporary name brands combined with a variety of retro and classic looks. I love when teens find old-fashioned pieces and dress them up with in-style chunky boots or other accessories. Unlike their mom who can look rather out-of-date in yesterday’s fashions, they make retro look cool.

Sondra McFarlane, Vice President of Retail and Donated Goods for Goodwill of theFinger Lakes , says, “When everyone looks the same in the classroom, teens and tweens that shop at Goodwill will stand out, because they can put together their own distinct look at a price that won’t break the bank.” I know for a fact that my daughter often gets compliments when she is donning a clean, stylish (yet unique) item in good condition that was bought for only a few dollars at a thrift shop. Encouraging your child to find items on a rack that they find appealing – and not just because it’s a name brand – helps them learn to trust in their own individuality.


If you’ve got a creative kid, or want to encourage those self-sufficiency sewing skills most schools have nixed from their curriculum, upcycling is a great way to get started. The basic idea is to find something whose color, fabric, or other feature can be used or worn in a new way. For instance, a few years ago I found a rose patterned halter dress that was a bit too small for me, but I loved it. I decided to take it home, make a few cuts around the neck, open the back of the skirt, hem the edges, and voila! a lovely apron.

Recently my daughter wanted a new half short/half long skirt in the style everyone is wearing so I told her we’d take a look for a long swingy skirt at the Salvation Army that she could cut and sew into one of her own. She found one and set to work. Her young friends loved it and were so amazed that she made it herself – and all for less than $5.

Re-used Is Green and Socially Conscious

If you have a child who wants to make a difference in the world or has a special affinity for the environment, secondhand shopping an ideal way to take action.

Shopping secondhand saves tons of potentially useable goods from entering our landfills and can have an impact on our demand for retail clothing from sweat shops. Simply reducing our demand for continual new stuff helps save our precious natural resources and reduces waste. Even better, supporting consignment and thrift shops with donations or purchases helps not only struggling Americans, but thrifty businesses as well.

And although many larger department stores also do wonderful charity work, organizations like Salvation Army and Goodwill operate on the premise that proceeds, clothing, and household goods can be gifted to struggling families and communities at home and around the world. “All of the revenue generated by purchases made at any of our 10 local Goodwill locations goes to support the mission of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is to prepare and empower people who are blind or visually impaired to be self-sufficient and to contribute to their families and communities,” says Todd Pipitone, public relations manager for Goodwill of the Finger Lakes.

Another example is A Second Thought Resale, located in East Rochester , owned and operated by Heritage Christian Services. Over the past twelve years the proceeds from their thrift store have gone to International Ministries efforts to provide refurbished wheelchairs for people in third world countries.

We can encourage our kids to think about what they can give away too. Sometimes it may be they’ve simply grown out of an article of clothing, but you can ask them if they have an extra warm jacket, too many dresses, or accessories that might benefit a child in need. And for the teen looking for a way to make a little money, selecting and preparing good-quality used clothing for consignments shops can be a way for them to earn money for their own back-to-school clothes.

When I take my children to secondhand stores I’m sending a message about something that goes beyond just saving money in the family budget. Besides “Poppin’ Tags” to get really great deals, I hope they are catching on to the bigger picture too.

Angela Cannon-Crothers is a avid thrifty shopper and frequent contributor to Rochester Area & Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. She lives in the Finger Lakes Area.

// Upcycling Ideas

Upcycling is great way to reduce waste and be creative at the same time. Ideas for new items from old wares include:

• Make fingerless gloves out of the sleeves of old sweaters. Stitch the edges with chunky yarn.

• Make a shoulder bag out of a pair of jeans in need of retirement.

• Create little outfits for your dog or dolls.

• Look for sweaters that got felted in hot water and cut out patterns for mittens or blanket throws.

• Weave braided rugs out of old t-shirts and sheets.

• Make halter tops out of t-shirts.

• Re-make dresses from oversized ones or by shortening, adding a new front, changing the sleeves.

// Where to Go

Goodwill Stores of the Finger Lakes

422 Clinton Ave S , Rochester

and various locations throughout theRochester area

(585) 232-1111

Heritage Christian Ministries : A Second Thought Resale

349 West Commercial St, East Rochester

(585) 340-5730

Salvation Army Family Stores

800 Elmridge Center Dr ,  Rochester

(585) 720-1610

535 E Ridge Rd ,  Rochester

(585) 336-9944

Once Upon A Child

3333 W Henrietta Rd, Ste 170 , Rochester

(585) 424-6822

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