Thrift Store Hunting Guide for Buying Natural Fabric Clothing

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Woohoo! Clothes shopping! Wheeeee!
Ahem. Okay, so I have been in the process of replacing my maternity wear (STILL, I know!!) and replenishing my closet with natural fabric clothing. While I’m a seasoned thrifter myself, I discovered that shopping for natural fabrics had a couple extra little steps here and there. So, why not share with you guys?! You might find it interesting. Or something.
(Also, forgive the Instagram quality photos for this blog post. I didn’t feel like lugging around my digitial SLR and scaring all the little old ladies at the thrift shop. So I used my phone instead, hence the fugly pictures, lol!)

What Are Natural Fabrics, and Why Wear Them?

I blogged about this topic in length in my blog post: The Health Benefits of Wearing Natural Fabrics (click here to read) but for a quick refresher –
Natural fiber clothing is created from the naturally occurring fibers of plants and animals, while synthetics are man-made and usually chemically derived.
The inherent characteristics of natural fibers offer breathability, natural temperature regulation, superior durability, water absorption, antimicrobial properties, and more!
Meanwhile, synthetic fabrics tend to offer low breathability, low water absorption, and poor thermal regulation. A side effect to synthetic fabrics that have low breathability, is that your skin reacts by creating a barrier and encourages a favorable condition for bacteria growth, which can cause or worsen skin disorders like acne and can exacerbate allergic reactions.
Check out my blog post for more on the individual health benefits of most major natural fabrics! It’s actually all quite fascinating!

Seven Tips on Thrift Store Hunting for Natural Fabrics

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1. Decide what fabrics you are okay with.

Fabrics break down into four categories:
– Natural Cellulose Fabrics (Cottons and Linens)
– Natural Protein Fabrics (Silks and Wools)
– Synthetic Fabrics (Nylons, Polyesters, Spandex and Acrylics)
– The Oddball Synthetic-Natural Fabric (Rayon)
Are you trying to go 100% natural? Are you open to natural and synthetic blends? Or how about natural synthetics, like rayon?
Rayon feels and looks just like cotton. While it is technically made from natural cellulose product, it is synthetically manufactured, making it the red headed step-sibling that neither natural nor synthetic fabrics want to claim as their own. Rayon is readily accepted by those concerned about eco-friendly cloth manufacturing, and is in many natural fabric wardrobes since it carries all the benefits that cotton does.
I, personally, am open to rayon if it is a clothing article that I particularly like, or if it is bamboo rayon, which is almost always harvested in an eco friendly manner (and usually found paired with organic cotton, yum!) Also, I am open to a TINY bit of synthetic while natural fabric hunting. I’m talking 5% content. Usually you will see 95% cotton and 5% spandex blends on clothes requiring stretch, like tank tops or leggings.
Figure out what you want before-hand, it will make shopping much easier – plus it kind of feels like a treasure hunt when you have specific guidelines!

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2. Give yourself plenty of time to shop.

Roughly two-thirds of clothing in America is made with synthetic or synthetic blend fabrics. Soooo, this means for every three pieces of clothing you pick up and inspect only ONE will be a fabric blend that will qualify for our natural hunt. Needless to say, this increases normal thrift store hunting .
When you’re rummaging not just among the racks of fabric, but pawing through the clothes themselves to investigate fabrics, weave, designs and fit.. well, it can get pretty dang time consuming. My husband, who LOVES thrifting with me, kind of gives a “Oh dear God no” sigh of exasperation when I mention I want to go to the thrift store for “real clothes”, knowing how long that process can take now that I’m being a bit more discerning in my purchases. (I say “real clothes” because we’re generally going for cosplay props or pieces, haha!)
So make sure you have plenty of time to shop, and make sure whoever you drag along with you is patient!

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3. Look for fabric content tags.

This one seems like a no brainer. It kind of is. Kind of. Those damn tricky tags can hide ANYWHERE. But there are usually three main places to look:
Back of the neckline. This is the most common location for fabric content tags. Sometimes there is a double (or even triple) tag, one with the brand on top, and care / content tag underneath.
On the side seam. Put your hands on your hips. Now, if you take your shirt and turn it inside out, there’s a good chance there’s a fabric content tag sewn into the side seam of your shirt, where your hands rested.
Hemline. For skirts and dresses, and occasionally sweaters, you will sometimes find clothing tags on the very bottom hemline.
Eventually, after feeling and checking tags long enough, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll begin to spot fabric by touch and feel!

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4. Consider everything and think creatively.

A shirt that just reeks of old grandma may be something you’d not give a second glance. But one you discover it’s vintage and 100% high quality handloomed worsted wool from Huddersfield, England, you may be tempted to consider rocking some retro fashion. Not to mention – high quality fabrics can ALWAYS be repurposed.
For instance, you may ignore that XXL 100% angora wool sweater since, well, it doesn’t fit. But why not buy it to make your own slippers? Or beanies? You could even make a couple tiny sweaters for your toddler with all that fabric! For the record, I very rarely buy fabric new at fabric stores – I usually buy something from the thrift store and repurpose it. Recycling, people, recycling!
Also, don’t stay stuck in the women’s clothing section, venture out to mens – or even bedding! – and see if you can rock some unique fashion or find some fabric to play with for something completely original.

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5. If there’s no tag, burn it!

This one is kind of tricky, and requires a bit of forethought. LOTS of clothing – especially old and vintage pieces – have either had their tags removed, never had a tag to begin with, or have completely illegible tags due to frequent wear and washings.
If you simply MUST know what kind of fabric it is before purchasing, you can always burn a couple threads to check the fabric content. NO, I am not advocating you take a match to a piece of clothing on the rack. (Please don’t do that!)
But if you turn the clothing inside out, there is almost guaranteed to be a stray thread on the inner seam allowance that you can pull or discreetly cut off. It doesn’t damage the clothing, and you only really need a single thread to run your test. Click here to read more on my blog post The Fabric Burn Test: How To Identify Fabric Like a Pyro.

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6. Check closely for stains, tears, mended parts, and marks.

Are beads or buttons missing that you don’t care to replace? While natural fabrics are awesome, they are only good finds if they are in good condition or capable of an easy repair. I would advise that you never buy anything with perspiration stains – they just will NOT come out. Check everywhere thoroughly for any other imperfections that you don’t care to work around or deal with.

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7. Only buy what you will actually use.

It’s easy to go overboard. And if you get really lucky and find some amazingly high quality fabrics for just a few bucks, it’s easy to get all pack-ratty and want to buy ALL DA THINGS! But be discerning. Set a budget or ask for advice from a trusted friend. Buy only what you’ll actually wear or use, and narrow your findings down to the BEST!
Happy hunting everyone!

Do you like to thrift store shop? Are there any general tips for thrifting that I’ve missed? Share below!

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Gingi Freeman
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Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls.

Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

7 thoughts on “Thrift Store Hunting Guide for Buying Natural Fabric Clothing

  • 6 March, 2014 at 5:12 pm
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    Thank you for this. I will be more conscience while thrifting!

    • 6 March, 2014 at 5:26 pm
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      Yeah, I find it makes it easier for me to narrow down my selections when I strive for natural fabrics!

    • 7 March, 2014 at 3:32 pm
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      Its fun! You never know what you’ll find! 😉

  • 22 April, 2014 at 4:57 am
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    Great tip for the summer

Comments are closed.

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