I thrift shopped on Instagram for a whole year

Tips, tricks, store suggestions, and then some more in my one year of shopping off the stores on 'gram. All the stores, items, feedback is basis the shopping I have done over a year since my initiation in this world and my piece here. All the experiences I have shared are mine alone and have been paid for by me in their entirety. Reader discretion is advised when shopping from the stores listed and then others. If you have other suggestions on stores and better ones, please write to me on my socials. I'd love to hear from you.

The world has changed since my initiation into “online” thrifting stores on the ‘gram. In India alone, we’ve faced two whole waves of Covid, begged for resources online, mourned the loss of our social lives outside of Zoom hangs, and counted cobwebs in our nether area instead of the sheep we were promised in our dreams. If I had to explain the surge of these stores aka “smol” businesses online, I’d broadly think of two reasons—with Shein and Ali Express banned in India, there are fewer options for affordable fashionable outlets for students and young working professionals in the country and then there’s a whole fucking global pandemic outside that has been putting our panties in a bunch. Sarojini hangs have been cancelled and instead, we’ve allowed thrift stores to sell us stuff.

The biggest grouse I’ve heard (from friends) and personally lived through one year of thrifting clothes, shoes, and other stuff online is the pricing. Thrifting may call itself affordable or as a popular Indian fashion magazine described the approach to have “throwaway prices”, it’s important to observe that the stores selling pre-loved t-shirts and shirts for an upward of Rs 500 are in no which way “affordable” for a college student on a budget (or even others who are on a lookout for steal deal) despite online portals gaslighting you into believing otherwise. If you have ever been to a local market (Sarojini, for instance), a killer sequin dress fit for a nightclub in L.A. can be scored for as little as 100-150 rupees and a t-shirt fit for a beach hang in the Maldives for 50 rupees. Those who have grown up on Sarojini shopping with high street fashion will feel the pinch paying 700+ shipping for a t-shirt (but not as much when you’re buying lingerie from Marks and Spencers or otherwise.)

Thrifting online can be a bit of a game of trial and error. When I started out, I was okay paying 700-900 for shirts because that’s the pricing I saw across the board. The online market wasn’t as populated and you were always looking at stores curating an experience. Buying a one-off shirt (the infamous essay I wrote) and paying for it, felt like it was worth it. However, a year later, now when Instagram is saturated with stores and every third person is selling what you’re buying (from toasters to Balenciagas), there are more options to pick from and definitely sweeter pricing options to discover. One of my biggest regrets (that I won’t ever talk about especially to my mom or my BFF) is that this one time I paid close to a grand for a t-shirt, only to be followed by another thrift store an hour later and they had the SAME FUCKING T-SHIRT FOR HALF THE FUCKING PRICE. This shit hurt and how. But we learn, and we move on. Long story short, pricing can be better, and I have seen it come under 500 with shipping, which means there are more options to pick from now, than ever.  

If you’re new to this business and want to get in on shopping on the ‘gram, I’d suggest having a budget in your mind. Mentally, vet your options when you’re virtually window shopping through these stores and make sure you surf a lot, a lot, a lot because what you think is so cool and amazing for the pricing, is most definitely available across other stores online for possibly lesser. This hasn’t happened to me once, but a few times, and hence I no longer act on the impulse to buy.

One thing that hasn’t changed in this duration is the deal of asking questions and requesting more information, especially if you’re interested in something. No matter how popular the store and how enthusiastic the other customers are, do your recce and ask questions to the seller about the item you’re interested in. Ask away if the item you’re purchasing is defective in any manner, does it have stains, does it come sanitized, does it need washing, ask for a video of them measuring the size to show you (if you’re unsure), ask them for more pictures of just the garment or with someone wearing the garment. If you’re buying lingerie tops, do ask if the boning is intact and/or if it comes padded and the size on the label. Whatever the item and whoever the seller, it’s always a good habit especially while thrifting online to check and get your answers in the DM, regardless of whether the seller has or has not addressed this in their highlights or captions. Most honest sellers will not mind your line of questioning and will happily address and answer your queries.

One of the other takeaways I have is to avoid stores and shopping from the ones who will paint you in a patronizing tone before and after purchase. Maybe it’s a personal quirk or maybe it’s a filter of a sort, anyone who starts talking to me with “love”, “dear”, “honey”, “baby” or any such gets a resounding no from me. I have learned this the hard way, considering I went ahead with the purchase and was royally fucked by the store when they sent a stained item and had no remorse when they turned their “love” to calling me names, when I asked them to clarify on why they sold items less than advertised. This brings you to learning, asking questions, and trust your gut feeling. This includes being wise and checking the store for their uploaded reviews, and comments (including the ones where the item is sold). If a product doesn't seem like it's worth the money or doesn't look fine or even seem like it's filtered and doesn't look convincing, better to drop it than to pick that item from the drop.

Sometimes, the answers are all clarified, and yet you feel something is off with the vibe of the store/store owner or the pricing is steep, trust that and skip it. If the store is scrupulous, and people have left comments as feedback, which the store has deleted or removed the comment section, it should appear as if there are comments but the minute you click on them, they are gone. If this is something you witness with their comment section, run the fuck out.

The only thing you need to do as a responsible customer is to politely decline or pass the product if you’re not interested, especially if you have interacted with the seller and they have answered your questions. Ghosting, especially during online thrifting, is never cool (unless the seller is your ex’s present partner, in which case, who am I to say anything). I think you owe the seller the dignity especially if they have responded to your questions.

As parting words from someone who is still terrified of shopping in-person (despite being partially vaccinated), I would say I’m sticking to this, for as long as the stores I like continue to offer me stuff my size, in pricing which I can’t resist. I cannot ask someone who’s never once thrifted to do this, since on the day of the publication of the piece Shein returns to India. For all the talk on sustainability and circularity and environmental concerns, the thrift stores online charge for Shein pieces, what an original garment from Shein would cost, I would rather get the new garment. At least, Amazon won’t call me “love” when I’m shopping from them (without reminding me of the traumas of being called that by people who clearly don’t “love” you lmao).

Here are my top store picks for thrifting online when on a budget (and by that I mean, when you earn less than 10k a month and have a shopping problem)—

1) Caughtaged Thrift: when I first saw their store and the collection, I was amazed at the follower count cause they had some of the chicest shirts online and a few takers. This is my best-kept secret for unisex garments that I’m happy to share now. Karan, the seller, is helpful to the point he will ask you to be mindful about size, instead of you asking him the same. Highly recommend!

2) Strawbabies: last year when I did my piece, I hadn’t shopped from them but had recommended them. Over the year, I’ve gotten some of the dopest outfits (including a coat, faux snakeskin boots, a bralette) among others. Sukku is compassionate and an ethical seller who hand makes the jewellery in the store and curates only the best kinda drops using pieces she collects from her friends' closets. They will help you out with the sizing and additional information and send you Bubbles’ photograph on a day when other stores scam you out of your money. They sell out rather quickly (to the point of crashing external sites), be on time especially since they are size-inclusive and affordable.

3) Midsummer’s Night Dream: one of my favourite online thrift stores to shop from— I have bought countless garments from them and they have never once disappointed with the quality, size, or even pricing. The best part is their shipping, and how they’re prompt af with their orders. They largely cater to plus sizes and have more stylish options across sizes than any other store I’ve seen.

4) Kikii Kloset: custom jewellery for folks obsessed with the aughts. Krishna is one of the best in the business and ensures she drops a collection taking her own sweet time, and not rushing into it the way other store owners do. Y2K but make it relevant, even when it comes to other items including shirts, t-shirts, socks, bucket hats, and more. Celebrity influencers are her regular customers and if there’s anything that I have seen, all her clients are treated the same way, whether you have 1M followers or 10. Look out for the stories on the account and the vibe she creates, she really has fabulous taste.

5) Vintage Laundry: one of my old favourites, Riya has made her way to most listings for the top thrift stores online and for the most part, it is because she sells an experience and not just a piece of clothing. Her weekly drops are great to see, even if you’re not buying the garment, to observe her style a particular look and make the trickiest of shirts and jeans work. While other listings about the store tell you the usual, she has a secret stash available for her regulars. You can access that collection if you consistently shop from her and request more over DM. Vintage Laundry is easily one of the more ethical stores around. On occasions, they’ve cancelled the order and refunded it in full when they found the piece was defective, not just with me but also with my friends. There’s a reason they do well and that’s the consistency in the work.

6) Shop Boombastic: new kid on the block, Shop Boombastic has affordable lingerie pieces (bikini tops so far). I was one of their first customers last week and I’m writing this wearing the swimwear I bought off them. Other than pricing (299 for a bikini top, boning intact, in an xl size), their collection is size-inclusive, and shipping is prompt. They were also very helpful in assisting with sizes and providing input when needed. New stores which are good tend to get big real soon, and my money is that this will go places if they are consistently at their game.

7) Thrift store by Gayatri: how I wish I had found them a month ago when they had the raddest t-shirts on sale, going under 500 bucks (with shipping). I got Mean Girls merch and I couldn’t have been happier with the fitting, price, and the colour. Gayatri was forthcoming and helpful with assisting on the size and guiding through, even though I was very skeptical. Highly recommend shopping here without feeling bad about spending Forever 21 kinda money on used garments.

8) 20 Century Thrift Store: some of their pieces are dreamy and some are breezy. In between those, watch out for sales because items go for as little as 299 (shipping inclusive). The store owner is helpful and takes feedback as well as ensures she is communicative regarding shipping. Always a plus, when you’re shopping for something cheap and constantly wondering where is the red flag. With 20 Century Thrift Store, I don’t think there’s any.

9) Thrifting Humans: unisex and no-nonsense, you can pre-book an item here. Extremely helpful and responsive folks running the show and have a pretty straightforward way of dealing. Every single day you’ll see 1-2 reviews and customer feedback on the stories. They sorta delve into brands as well and there are totes and t-shirts to pick from. I have somehow missed out on all t-shirts that I have liked which is why, this can't be a personal recommendation but regardless, they have pretty solid stuff.

Products to avoid across stores: plushies (grossly overpriced, stained, rude sellers), corsets (broken boning, broken straps, incorrect sizing, and rude sellers), bralettes (anything over 400-500 rupees is not worth it, no matter if Karl Lagerfeld himself comes for the fitting with the garment), used items from Shein, Urbanic, Forever 21 and H&M (poor quality and never value for money), briefs (I don’t know what compels people to buy used briefs but if that’s you, go you).

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Anisha Saigal

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Pop-culture omnivore. Survived publishing, academia, film school. Struggling with the pandemic.