A beginner’s guide to op shopping.

What’s not to love about op shopping? Between the chance of finding designer pieces at bargain prices and the joy of knowing you’re supporting a charity to help those in need, I can’t think of a more satisfying way to shop for clothes. Now, chances are that many of you don’t require any convincing about the benefits of op shopping, but if you’ve yet to brave the world of the frugal fashionista, here are a few tips get you started.

Pre-op!

Like any worthwhile mission, it pays to be prepared, and you can set yourself up for success in just a few steps:

Do your research on nearby op shops, then draw up a mental map of attack. There are likely to be several within easy driving distance and a plan of attack can mean you don’t miss any bargains.

If possible, plan your expedition for midweek. Most people donate goods on the weekend and by Wednesday the shop’s staff has had a chance to sort and display all the new clothing. Weekdays are also a quieter time for shopping than weekends and Tuesday is a great option for concession holders, as discounts may be available.

Set aside a full morning or afternoon and prepare to get your hands dusty. Not having to hurry will set you in the right frame of mind for rummaging – and that’s the key to success in any secondhand wonderland.

Wear separates and shoes that are easy to slip off for ease of trying on your finds. A large tote bag, cash and water are also necessities to avoid trips between the car, the ATM and the corner store.

But the most important thing to bring is an open mind. By all means have an idea about what you’d like, but half the fun of op shopping is stumbling upon that unexpected gem! You might not find that leather belt you had your hopes on, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you come away with an amazing denim jacket and printed silk scarf.

Ready, set, op!

Once you’ve arrived at your op shop of choice, it’s just a case of keeping your wits about you:

It’s easy to be overwhelmed in op shops as the amount of stock per square metre is much greater than a standard retail store. My advice is to pick a starting point, grab a basket and work your way around systematically to save time and avoid dawdling.

Thoroughly investigate every section regardless of your size, gender or age. Staff do an excellent job sorting stock but there are always overlooked or mislabeled items just waiting to be discovered.

Think ahead, and be prepared to try on clothes that are out of season. While the high turnover of stock means that you can shop regularly and always find something new, it also means that gorgeous winter trench won’t be there next week, let alone next season.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different genres of clothes. If you have an interest in vintage fashion op shopping is a fantastic way to try styles from different eras. Even if you don’t find something that suits, you’ll gain an appreciation for the evolution of fashion. And that’s sure to help develop your personal style.

Keep a look out for quality fabrics and check the care instructions closely. Just because you’re buying secondhand, doesn’t mean an item of clothing can’t last you as long as a new one – it might just need a little TLC.

Carefully inspect clothing for any faults, including the hardware. Zips can be repaired and buttons easily replaced, but that mark probably isn’t worth the risk. Always ask yourself, is there an obvious reason why this item was donated in the first place?

Do you genuinely love it? Or is it just the best thing you’ve found so far? I believe in clothing karma, so if that dress isn’t quite right, leave it for someone else and you’ll be rewarded with something around the corner that’s just perfect.

Post-op!

With any luck, your shopping results speak for themselves and you’ve added an entirely new dimension to both your wardrobe and your next fashion expedition. If you’ve purchased any items with the intention making alterations, be sure to act quickly before your vision fades. It’s also worth making a note of which op shops had the best bargains, so you have a go-to for next time.

Didn’t find anything? Fear not, like anything in life practice makes for pre-loved purchase perfection. I guarantee that stamina – along with a little bit of good luck – is all separates those who leave empty handed from those who leave with a bag of hidden gems.

You can find lots more great articles on the Verity Kingston Styling blog here.