To Thrift or Not To Thrift: Wool sweaters priced to move

Thrift shop sweaters For years, the only way sweaters made it into my wardrobe was because some woman -- sister, wife, Mom -- put them there. At $75 and up, sweaters never seemed a justifiable expense -- I was living in the South, the only cold I really dealt with were walks to the car in January, which I managed just fine in a coat and short sleeves.

Then I discovered the Goodwill -- where the sweaters were FOUR BUCKS. Four dollars for a sweater? Suddenly I couldn't own enough sweaters. I'd drive forth and back among the area's thrift shops, flipping through sweater racks for thirty minutes, hunting for that jackpot combination of size and fashion (I'm not that fashionable, but I know what I wouldn't wear). I'd run home with my woolen loot, throw 'em in the dryer with some Dryel or Dry Cleaner's Secret, and I'd be good to go.

So let's go sweater hunting! Some tips:

Size. This is rudimentary stuff -- don't just hold it up to your chest, try it on. Check the waist length, see if the sweater can comfortably accommodate whatever inner layers you'll be wearing, make sure the arms are roomy enough to let you move freely but not so long that you can't find your hands.

Stretching. Often the reason that someone gives up a sweater in the first place, stretching will only get worse while the sweater's strung up on a hanger and handled in the shop. Women can pull off that off-shoulder look; gentlemen, put it back on the rack and try again. And the neck isn't the only vulnerable area -- see how the sweater works with your figure. Do you look like Grimace the McMascot? The waist is blown, junk it.

Search for stains and tears. Another reason an otherwise perfect sweater might wind up on the thrift shop rack. Search the sweater -- and any other clothes you're considering, really -- for stains and discoloration, as well as tears or unacceptably worn areas. Go over the seams for any holes, look for any unraveling.

Pills. Those little inevitable balls of fabric that form on the surface of your sweater. We each have our own threshold of how "pill"-y we'll accept our sweaters, just make sure you're not so blinded by color or pattern that you ignore the condition of the fabric altogether. Once you've begun wearing your sweater, cut pills out with scissors instead of pulling them loose, or invest in a fabric shaver. A shaver will wear down your sweater more quickly, but you can always trade it in and begin the thrift cycle all over again -- one man's trash, etc.

This post was written as part of a series on how to thrift shop smarter. Read more on what to buy, and not to buy, at thrift stores.

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