If I had £1 for every time someone's said to me 'Ooh I'd love to be tall like you!' I'd be retired to the seaside by now. Alas, life isn't quite that fair. I used to be able to give a scathing response along the lines of 'Sure, until you had to buy clothes, because nothing ever fits right!' Of course, that's hardly a valid argument nowadays - even though we're still nowhere near winning the fight over Petite and Plus on the high street, we CAN find clothes all over the internet that will fit just fine. But what about those of us on a tight budget? Or the ones who like to try before we buy? Or even the ones looking for something that little bit different than whatever fashion tells us is in trend this season? That's where the second hand stores come in. It's still not as simple as having the run of the whole shop, but with a bit of imagination it can be just as satisfying as shopping anywhere else. I've put together a few tips I use when I'm out shopping and they've served me well up til now.
1 - Shop the Menswear
If anyone's been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll know that menswear is a key part of my wardrobe. I'd hazard a guess that around two thirds of my knits come from that section of the store, and with good reason. Men's clothing gets added length. Sleeves and body are designed for practical coverage. Have you ever seen a men's sweater with short sleeves? Me neither. (That's not a thing, is it? Although I'm betting they likely exist out there in the world somewhere...) Obviously, they're not cut to be fitted to us ladies, but I like a bit of over-sizing in my tops anyway, so I tend to look out for anything from a Medium up in base layers. For coats and jackets, I'd aim for the smaller sizes for a more cosy fit.
It's not just top-half clothing that we can steal from the boys either. Back when I was doing a physical job and had to wear black work trousers, I wore men's cargo trousers after reaching a dead end in my search for a long enough ladies version. In terms of sizing, I just went up a waist size and bought the longest length (34' inside leg) and they fit fine. In fact I still wear them for camping and the odd outdoor adventure.
|some of my favourite menswear bargains|
For the ladies that want to stick firmly to their side of the store however, my next tip is an extra useful one. You see those long rows of jeans, skirts and dresses? Don't look at coat hanger level - train your eyes further down to hem height. I learned to do this when I was on the hunt for jeans in TK Maxx years ago (their longest ones always skimmed the floor) and when I worked in retail I'd arrange our stockrooms by garment length to keep things tidy. Chances are, any long length trousers will be dragging on the floor or at least hanging longer than the others surrounding them. There also seems to be a lot of mini dresses in the second hand stores I frequent which means this tip gets put to use often! It really does speed up the search process.
The same rules apply for tops and coats and, if you're feeling extra vigilant, it can even be used for spotting the longest sleeves too. As I said before, men's tops are my preferred style but I might have a quick browse through the tshirts if I have time - the odd long one sometimes appears! I even have a couple of plus size ones too - when I say scan the rails, I mean ALL the rails, right up to the biggest garments. Sometimes going up a couple of sizes can make all the difference.
3 - Try it on!
I'm about to really blow everyone's mind here with my most important piece of advice, so listen up! If the option is there, TRY EVERYTHING ON. That skirt that looks long enough on the hanger may not cover your butt when you're kneeling down, or that oversize coat could still have standard length sleeves. This is especially useful where vintage clothing is concerned (mens and ladies) since sizing seems to change all the time, depending on brands and time periods etc. Although I'm not too bad at judging my body shape, something could still fit oddly when it's actually being worn. I've probably rejected about half the garments I'd planned to buy after being able to try them on, so it's worth taking the time to save money in the long run. Second hand clothing may have a lower cost than new but if it doesn't work for you, it's still money wasted!
4 - Ask yourself 'Can it be altered?'
This is a fairly well worn rule of thrift shopping no matter what size you are, but it's a good one to keep in mind nonetheless. Have you ever found an item with potential but something about it is slightly...off? The sleeves are hitting you above the wrist but the waist fits perfectly? The length makes your legs looks stumpy? Consider if making a small alteration will make things just right. I've often shortened midi and maxi length skirts if they fit well otherwise, and all the dresses below had adjustments done to the sleeves - some basic sewing skills are all that's required. If it's a more complex item but you still can't leave it behind, consider if a tailor could transform it for you. I'm a pretty competent sewist, but I don't think I'd feel comfortable messing around with a coat, for example, so I'd pass it on to someone with better skills. Even the cost of alterations is usually still cheaper than buying a new item.
If all else fails, and clothing is just not to be found to fit those lovely long limbs, then head to the non clothing area of the store and go nuts. Extra height means we can get away with extra big adornments - a wide brimmed hat, a huge tote bag, a loooong necklace, a chunky scarf - so go nuts.
The only thing I've never had much luck with in second hand stores is shoes, although I'd say my size 7s are a slightly odd one, in that they're bigger than average (if I was a 5 I'd have the run of every shoe in the shop, I swear) but not so big that they're the ones left at the end of every sale. This is where being long in limb AND foot comes in handy - the bigger sizes are out there and they're waiting for the tall ladies to claim them!
6 - Luck.
That's right, my final tip involves...being lucky. I'm really selling this, aren't I? I'll stand by it though. Sometimes (and by that I mean, once in a blue moon) something wonderful will happen, all the stars will align and you'll enter a store to find that a fellow tall girl has donated part of her wardrobe. AND SHE WAS YOUR SIZE. And all the searching will have been worth it. I can say with certainty that the number of Tall specific items I've seen in charity shops is definitely in the single digits, and the number of times I've found something in my size was once, but it was glorious. So hang in there! (I briefly told the story of the glorious find here)
Did I cover everything, or is there a top tip that I missed? I really enjoy writing useful posts like this and I thought it might be fun to make it into a little series, so if anyone wants to guest post for me and share another perspective of second hand shopping, feel free to email me or let me know in the comments.