Alright, I get that secondhand clothing is not for everyone. Some people cringe at the thought of wearing clothes previously owned by strangers, while others simply think it’s beneath them. (That’s okay; I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.) For me, though, living in a country where temperatures rarely go below 20°C, “pre-loved” clothing was a no-brainer — there was just no way I was spending a fortune on clothing I would never be able to wear at home. (Also, come to think of it, after blowing my travel fund on two KLM tickets, I didn’t have a fortune to spend on winter clothing.)
If you’ve got a fall/winter trip on the horizon, here’s why you should consider a side trip or two (or ten) to your local ukay-ukay.
1. The quality can be pretty good.
My favorite thrift store find is probably the BCBG Max Azria trench coat I spotted in the PHP 50 (USD 1.15) rack. Honestly, it was a size 0 and a little too tight for comfort around the shoulders but I wore it anyway because my niece said it made me look like a detective. (Hah!)
Not all thrift stores are created equal, so you’ll have to look around, but where I shop, each batch of clothes — there are new arrivals every 2 weeks or so — usually has a generous sprinkling of decent brands like Zara, Mango, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Forever 21 and Uniqlo. And it’s not even about the brands themselves; you can tell the clothes are well-made by the fabric, the cut, and the stitching.
2. Ukay-ukay clothes are really cheap.
This is stating the obvious, of course, but sometimes it isn’t obvious just how cheap. My go-to coat on my last trip was a versatile, double-breasted trench that I got for only PHP 20 (USD 0.46). Considering it was water-repellent, well-made, and roomy enough to accommodate any number of layers underneath yet still figure-flattering (as far as my figure could be flattered, anyhow), it was a downright steal at that price.
As for footwear, my Uggs admittedly look worn to death, but they stood between my feet and frostbite for only PHP 100 (USD 2.30) a pair.
3. The variety is great.
Puffer, quilted, trench, chic, sporty, preppy, edgy, black, white, neon, wool, faux leather, faux fur — whatever floats your boat and keeps you warm, you’re likely to find it at the ukay-ukay.
Moreover, dressing for the cold is all about layering. You can get your base, middle, and outer layers from one shop, and because they’re cheap, you can buy more. (Several thin layers can keep you warm better than 1 really thick layer.)
4. You can leave them behind without a second thought.
Winter clothing tend to be bulky (duh) and heavy, and it’s no fun carrying bulky, heavy things around. Solution? Wear ’em and leave ’em. I left stuff I wouldn’t need again at the hotel/hostel/B&B/train/airport, and because they were all cheap things I got from a thrift store, it didn’t feel like throwing money away. Plus: I got to free up space in my suitcase for souvenirs. (I did feel a little sad leaving my ubiquitous white puffer at Schiphol — we’d been through so much together, after all — but sometimes you just gotta do a Queen Elsa and let it go.)
Here’s what you should get at the ukay-ukay
Snug tops that can make a great base or second layer (over thermals). These don’t have to be in mint condition, but do keep in mind you might have to strip down to this layer when you go into temperature-controlled places like museums, so make sure they’re not too worn out either.
Slightly looser clothes that can be worn over a base layer but can still fit under a coat if necessary. These can be cardigans, pullovers, shirts, even dresses. If it’s warm(ish) outside, you’ll want to take off your coat, so pick some nice-looking pieces.
Coats that can protect you from both cold and condensation (i.e. rain). I got a white puffer coat and a black fleece-lined quilted coat for my trip. One is enough, really, but you might want to get two, too, just to have variety in your photos. (Instead of looking like you wore the same thing over and over again, you’ll at least look like you wore the same two things over and over again. World. Of. Difference.) (Not really but hey…)
Some thrift shops also sell scarves — go for colorful ones if the rest of your wardrobe has more classic leanings — and shoes. Boots are worth buying new, but if you spot a pretty good pre-owned pair, make sure they are wide enough to accommodate several layers of tights, leggings, pants, and/or socks.
Last two tips:
- A lot of ukay-ukay shops nowadays send out SMS alerts when they have a new crop of clothes coming in, so don’t forget to sign up before leaving the store.
- Don’t give up if you don’t find anything right away. Patience is the key to finding great stuff (in the ukay-ukay as in life). Good luck and happy travels!