Building an Academic Wardrobe Secondhand

May 28, 2022

By Rebecca Rice

Bio: Dr. Rebecca Rice is an assistant professor who blogs over at PhD in Clothes, where she discusses professional clothing, thrifting, and academic productivity. You can also find her outfits on Instagram.

The jump from graduate student to post-doc or professor is a big role shift in many ways, but it also comes with a very practical concern: what to wear to work! Professor job interviews can feel like the first time this hurdle arises when you suddenly find yourself with a shopping list that includes an interview suit, dress shoes, and a nice work bag. If you don’t already have those items and you’re on a graduate student, instructor, or new professor budget, shopping can feel stressful.

Enter: shopping secondhand. I bought every single item I wore on the academic job market secondhand, and I didn’t stop there–my professor wardrobe is largely made up of secondhand or thrifted items. This shopping habit has allowed me to build a work-appropriate closet at a fraction of the cost, full of unique items, and it’s eco-friendly, so, why not?! Today I’m sharing my best tips for building your professor closet secondhand.

My closet full of secondhand finds!

Where to shop

In-person thrifting can be really hit or miss, depending on your location. When I lived in a super small town in grad school (and a town where few people wear suits to work) I doubt I would have had any luck at the local Goodwill. When I lived in an affluent town later in grad school, thrift stores were a gold mine full of brand new items that I couldn’t believe had been donated. It’s worth checking out several stores in your area to see if any work for you, however, if they don’t work may I suggest online thrift and secondhand stores? Here are a couple of my favorites:

Poshmark: Poshmark allows you to buy directly from other people on the platform (think Ebay). There are so many business clothes on Poshmark. If you find an item you like and the price isn’t quite right, I often see the exact same item listed for less from someone else. A couple of common etiquette tips: you can only return an item on Poshmark if it is “not as described” (e.g., stained, ripped). If something doesn’t fit you are stuck with it, so don’t be afraid to leave comments asking for measurements on items!

Oh, and it’s typical on Poshmark to offer 20% less than the listed price. So, hit that “make an offer” button and watch your closet fill up!

ThredUp: ThredUp is another favorite I hear mentioned frequently by other professors. People sell their items directly to the company, which lists and photographs items. The con is that they don’t appear to own a steamer so you’ll have to use your imagination to visualize the items once you’ve de-wrinkled them. But the prices can be more reasonable than Poshmark because they take the personal attachment out of listing old clothes for sale. ThredUp also accepts more returns, but you are subject to a “restocking fee” unless you accept store credit.

Tips for online success

The main hurdle to buying secondhand online is, of course, that you can’t try things on.

One of the best tools in my thrift kit is a soft tape measurer. I highly recommend taking your measurements and then comparing when browsing online. Many websites post the measurements “flat,” meaning across, so double that number to get roughly the size of the garment.

A second option is to find brands you really like by taking a field trip to the mall (if you live near one). I know my sizes fairly well at stores like J. Crew and Loft, which makes it easier to filter for correct sizes online. Take an afternoon to try clothes on! Bring snacks! I also highly recommend photographing your try-ons in the fitting room. I know that can feel awkward but I often find it easier to assess if an item is fitting me well when I look at the picture, versus myself in the mirror. Then, start a phone note of brands that fit well and what sizes fit best.

Finally, when your items arrive, be sure to unbox them right away and check for any quality issues. I also recommend popping everything in the washing machine before you rock it. But if your hesitation with thrifted clothing is cleanliness, I promise I have had overwhelmingly positive experiences, and very few issues, buy secondhand items!

My first online secondhand purchase was my job interview suit. I got it for $45. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed building my teaching wardrobe with secondhand finds. Do you have other secondhand shopping tips or sites you like? A favorite thrift score? Please share! You can see my other tips for shopping Poshmark here and some of my favorite brands to thrift here.

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