How to Buy GOOD Used Shoes at the Thrift Store

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I think everyone has a super power. One of mine is the ability to find incredible deals on gently used or like-new footwear in our local thrift shops. There was a time when I could wear any shoe, regardless of style. Heck, I even wore heels when I was younger. Now, it’s all about orthopedic comfort and not about the looks. I don’t care if my shoes look “cool” anymore. My tootsies need more support and shoe structure. But shoes which offer that are expensive! Quite honestly, I could not afford to buy new the kind of footwear my feet need.

My greatest thrift shoe purchase to date is a pair of slip on orthopedic-style shoes with Velcro closures. They have a great deal of support, and yet they feel like slippers. I can wear them with thinner socks in the colder seasons. These days, I am wearing them with very thick wool socks! New, these shoes are around $280. I got them at my favorite thrift shop, gently used, for under $32. I am actually wearing them right now, as I write!

These are unprecedented times, and many people are facing challenges with their employment and personal budget. I am sharing tips on how to buy gently used footwear at thrift shops in the hopes that it may help someone find a quality pair of shoes when they need them.

These are the tips I use, and I think you’ll find them beneficial as well…

Know the store’s refund, return and exchange policy.

When you go to the thrift shop, it is good to ask right away about their return and exchange policy. The thrift store in the big city near me does not give any refunds. They will only offer an exchange. Therefore, it is important to shop carefully in this store. You may find that the thrift stores in your area have a similar policy.

Do you qualify for any discounts (or do your friends?)

Many of the local thrift shops offer discounts. On Tuesdays, seniors get 30% off. Not a senior? If you are in need to some footwear, perhaps you could bring a senior friend with you to help you save more.

Today, I went shopping at a thrift shop that has a different kind of sale: blue and yellow price tags were 50% off. The tags indicated the time of arrival in the store. This kind of sale allows the store to keep moving merchandise. I made the rounds of the store looking for my target items. I made a point of looking for blue and yellow tags and saved big in the process.

Bring suitable socks when shopping.

Right now, it’s winter in Canada. All I wear are super thick, pure wool socks. However, if I am looking for some running or dress shoes, I make sure I bring the right kind of sock with me so that I can try on my shoes and ensure I get a good fit.

Check the sole.

The sole is the first thing I check on any shoe or boot I’m interested in. This is a quick way to gauge how worn the shoe is. I want good life from the shoes I buy, so I will only buy very gently used or like-new ones. I avoid any signs of uneven wear, as I feel this could affect my feet in a negative way. Are you looking for a running shoe? Try to bend the sole of the shoe and give it a flex. If it feels flimsy, it is likely worn out or too poorly made to give good support.

Don’t be shy! Walk around the store wearing them!

If I find a pair I like and the sole is good, I immediately try them on. Then, I continue shopping! I have never had a problem from store staff doing this. If you are concerned about how this could be perceived, you could certainly ask permission first. I have saved myself from a few pairs of uncomfortable shoes this way, and I have also found many gems.

Know your brands.

There is a big difference between a fast-fashion “disposable” shoe that you would find in a discount big box store and a high end shoe with a replaceable insole. The former may not last a season. I have high-end shoes which I have owned for many, many years that haven’t shown any sign of quitting. What kind of shoe are you looking for? A dress shoe? A sandal? You need to be able to identify which brands are higher-end brands.

There are a few ways to learn brand names in your target area. One is to go to a local high-end shoe store, either in person or online and do some quick research. If you have a memory like mine, write these down and bring the list shopping with you…..or text it to yourself on your cell phone.

Another way is to look at the pricing in the thrift store. Our local thrift store has gotten quite savvy at identifying high-end shoes. They are now pricing these shoes at right around $16 per pair. High-quality winter boots are now closer to $32. If a shoe is very high-end, they only put one of the shoes from the pair out and a sticker is slapped on it that says “Ask for mate at counter.” You could also ask the staff at the thrift shop about which shoe and boot brands are in demand and high quality.

Ask fellow thrifters for their advice.

Some of my friends and family are fellow thrifters, and some aren’t. If you have less experience with thrifting, and you live in a town with more than one thrift shop, ask around. In our small city, one thrift shop is great for shoes and boots. The other one never seems to have any quality items at all and their prices are always high.

However, that shop is the best for baby clothes, having a much larger variety and much lower prices. I loooooove to talk about thrifting and what I know about the stores. If you don’t know anyone who thrifts, start with the staff in the store and maybe even some of your fellow thrifters. You never know what you might learn.

Don’t buy anything broken.

Unless you are a cobbler yourself, just don’t do it. I recently found a pair of high end hiking boots which fit me very well. However, one of the eyelets had broken on the right boot. Oooooooo! I wanted boots like this. But they were only going to get worse. The right boot just didn’t tie up right. Don’t get attached to a brand name or a color at the expense of fit or function.

Frequent browsing and/or patience can lead to better deals.

I live about an hour away from the “best” thrift shop for shoes and boots. I go to the thrift shop whenever I’m in that city. I browse the shoe section patiently. I don’t really need anything right now, but if I see a pair of my favorite brand of shoes for a good price, I buy them in a second.

I recently bought a great pair of running shoes for my skipping workouts. I didn’t find them right away. I was patient, and it took several trips to the store. I think I tried on around 5-6 pairs before I found the perfect pair.

If the shoe fits….

Some people I know say they would never purchase footwear from a thrift shop. Have you ever done so, or could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty tips offered here? Do you have your own tip you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.

About Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!

How to Buy GOOD Used Shoes at the Thrift Store
Colette

Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. She has just launched her website, Half Acre Homestead. (www.halfacrehomestead.ca) Colette invites you to stop by and visit this work in progress! Coming soon in February 2022 is her exciting new online program. Interested in Resiliency, Preventative Health, and Self-Sufficient/Off-Grid Housing (to name a few!)? Stay tuned for more details!

12 thoughts on “How to Buy GOOD Used Shoes at the Thrift Store”

  1. I shop at a secondhand store an hour from home. A recent best buy was beautiful German leather dressy boots. Fit is comfortable. Look is beautiful. Price was just $12. A friend was with me and she bought them as a gift for me. I also buy both good jeans and like new blouses there. A good like new heavy denim pr of jeans is just $6 vs $45 or more for the same jeans new. I like the heavier weight material as they stay good looking longer and when well worn are good work pants. I don’t care for thin denim or the shabby chick worn out look. Ragged is not atractive to these 75 year old eyes.

    1. Hi Clergylady, Wow! Those boots sound absolutely divine! What a great friend to buy them as a gift for you. I’m sure those boots will last many years and you will have the memory of your shopping trip and the gift as treasures, too. Wishing you the best in the coming year, Clergylady!

  2. My approach is a little different. My suggestion is that the next time you have some shoes or boots that need repair, whether re-soling or re-heeling or “other,” use that trip to your local cobbler as an opportunity to make friends while paying the cobbler for his repair work. Ask him how to spot replacement shoes and boots that will eventually be reasonably repairable so you won’t waste your shopping efforts to get stuck with non-repairables AND that he can eventually make a buck on from his repair labor. That can be win-win for both of you.

    After that advice you’ll be much more knowledgeable when you go shopping for footwear regardless of whether you go the retail or the thrift route. I’ve done both.

    My experience has been that the book “Poorly Made in China” comes to mind when seeing footwear where both the sole and the heel are molded on … instead of being stitched on. The molded on pieces have a bad habit of cracking and then not being repairable. That’s not all that can go wrong with footwear. I have some new-at-retail work boots that even after a year with a shaping press inside still refuse to respond to that press once it is removed. The result is a pair of work boots that still rub and hurt my ankles. It would be evil to donate those to a thrift store but I’m guessing some people would still do that.

    I have some other work/hiking boots that were thrift store sourced, and eventually needed reasonably priced repair. They will likely outlast me.

    But my experience with molded-on soles and heels may not be universal, so your cobbler have some more sophisticated advice.

    –Lewis

    1. Hi Lewis, Thank you for these great suggestions. I had a hearty chuckle at your comment about it being evil to donate your painful boots to a thrift store! I am so glad you mentioned your cobbler. I have one in our local city that I adore. Here is another tip: He has a challenge that many people never pick up their boots and shoes. After a reasonable amount of time, he either donates them or sells them. If you have a cobbler that you know well, you could be one of the first to know about an upcoming sale!

      My instincts tell me you are correct in your thinking about the molded-on soles vs. stitched on, but it would never hurt to check with your newly-befriended cobbler! Thanks again for all your comments that support this community!

  3. My feet are problematic, I have very specific footwear needs. I used to buy earth Kalso heavy hiking type boots new, for a ridiculously high (imo) price because they worked so well for me. I have plantar fasciitis and very wide feet. Unfortunately, they stopped making them a few years ago and I had already resoled my last pair twice (they lasted 15 years of heavy use). One day it occurred to me to check eBay. I now have 3 pairs, which had almost no wear when I purchased them off eBay. I keep one pair in the closet as backup, one pair in the car in case I have to bug out on foot and as I live on the rainy Oregon coast the 3rd pair is usually on my feet. I guess that’s another form of thrifting shoes and I paid way less than they cost new!

    1. Hi Christie, As someone who also has very wide feet, thank you from the bottom of my soles for telling this story! Indeed, I agree that eBay can be another form of thrifting. I think, in this case, that it is crucial that you know your brand AND size/width to make it work. Thank you so much for sharing. The fact that your boots had lasted 15 years, sure gives a good endorsement to buying quality footwear. Wishing you and yours the best this year!

  4. My local church thrift store sells shoes for $1 a pair, no matter the brand, size, men’s, kids or women’s. I recently bought a pair of $260 shoes with no visible wear, a pair of Apt 9 flip flops and Coral Bay slides while hubby bought a pair of knock-off Crocs (which he said were more comfortable than the real ones he has).
    After thoroughly checking for wear inside and out before I buy them and checking fit, when I get home I clean them with disinfecting wipes paying close attention to the furthest inside areas, the soles including all the little grooves and then put them outside in the sun for at least 4 hours each side. I live in FL so sun is easy. Hubby put his not-Crocs in the washer.
    I wear a size 5 so finding shoes is difficult and while I have found a couple of pairs of kids shoes they usually have too much wear for me.

    1. Hi Bellein, What a great thrift store your local church runs. We have a small thrift shop run by a wonderful Anglican church group. They price based on ability to pay (it’s a small town, so they know everyone and their needs). The city thrift shops price for profit. I used to run a huge program to collect donations and buy quality boots for homeless and street-involved local people. Over the course of the last several years, the thrift shops priced us out of ability to buy. I like all your tips on how you purchase your shoes and then clean them. That wasn’t covered in the article and you have added some great ideas here. Many thanks! Wishing you and yours a great year!

  5. Once upon a time I thought I had a good on-line source for footwear. Their notion of a size 12 wide was closer to 11 medium. The cost and effort to return (and time to get a refund) taught me a lesson. I now never buy footwear on line.

    For (obvious) reasons I bought a new pair of G.I. jump boots at a base uniform store. I didn’t like the soles, so I took them to a local cobbler who replaced them with Vibram lug soles. Much better traction. Much nicer walking.

    1. Hi Marc, Oh dear! That sounds like a very disappointing experience with online shoe shopping! I think that unless you have an exact model and know the size, as Christie did, I would agree that online shopping would be inconvenient at best. Oh, those Vibram soles! Now you have the best of both worlds with your boots. Good for you! Thanks for sharing your comments: everyone benefits! Wishing you the best this year!

  6. I work at one of the thrift stores that offers the ‘color coded 50% off’ sales. Alas, we do not sell high end shoes. THEY get sold online, where the organization can get more money for them – the money funds the training services the organization provides to those in need of them.

    Still, when I need basic shoes I can get them (well, my size sells out quickly, and for fair sales we who work there can’t buy them until they’ve been on the racks for a day or so, so ‘real’ customers can have a chance to buy them first.)

    For high end shoes, the re-sale shops at some local churches work better for me. Their mission is to serve the community by offering higher end clothing at reasonable prices, period.

    1. OH MY, Fern! I feel like I’ve been let in on a top secret plot by the thrift stores! Thank you for sharing this interesting information with all of us. I wonder if this is the practice of the thrift store I know with the 50% off sales, as they NEVER seem to have any high end shoes, either! Our local thrift shop in a small village is wonderful. They sell for those in need in our small rural community; they don’t sell to make a high profit. Thanks so much for sharing your “insider’s knowledge.” Wishing you the best this year!

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