If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

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Man weaving Harris Tweed fabric
Marion Carniel / Shutterstock.com

Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the … well, junk?

As a professional reseller who’s been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in this series qualifies as a BOLO (Be On the Look-Out for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Harris Tweed clothing

In thrift stores across the country, something special is hiding in plain sight. Among the racks of faded jeans and forgotten sweaters, there are clothes with some serious pedigree. Harris Tweed is the brand name of a pure-wool fabric woven by hand exclusively in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands.

For more than a century, Harris Tweed has been a favorite fabric of designers from Chanel to Brooks Brothers because of its durability, classic look and practical luxury.

And I’m happy to report that vintage Harris Tweed clothing is surprisingly easy to find secondhand.

Why buy it?

Simply put, Harris Tweed garments last. Seriously, if you’re 30 or older, check your grandparents’ closet. You just may find a much-loved Harris Tweed coat or blazer carefully tucked away.

Still going strong today, Harris Tweed is a wonderful oddity in our current age of fast fashion and disposable clothes. Whether you’re paying a premium for new pieces at Saks Fifth Avenue or buying used at Salvation Army, quality like that is hard to find these days.

For those who thrift-shop for profit, Harris Tweed is a “bread and butter” item that consistently sells well. And it often appears in the clothing of high-end designers. That means when you find the Harris Tweed label, you may have just found a bespoke item with an additional layer of resale value.

But even without their couture associations, Harris Tweed pieces still have strong resale value. A few months ago, I bought a men’s trench coat for $6.99 and flipped it on eBay for $65. A men’s Harris Tweed two-piece suit recently sold for $147 on eBay, and on Etsy, this vintage newsboy-style cap is selling for $49.99.

What to look for

Quickly spotting a Harris Tweed garment by the fabric alone is an art that’s easy to master.

It commonly appears in:

  • Hats and caps
  • Scarves
  • Skirts
  • Blazers and full suits
  • Neckties
  • Trench coats and hunting jackets

Look for tweeds in herringbone, houndstooth, checks or plaids that are slightly courser and heavier than other woolens. Once you get a few finds under your belt, you’ll be able to ID authentic pieces from 5 yards.

According to the Vintage Fashion Guild, the Harris Tweed label hasn’t changed much over the past 100 years. It features an orb with a stylized cross and the words “Harris Tweed.”

Remember, the label refers only to the fabric and is separate from the clothing designer’s or retailer’s label. On blazers, Harris Tweed labels are almost always found on the interior left-hand side.

As with all wool clothing, carefully check for moth holes before you buy. Hold each piece up to a bright light or window. When backlit, even the tiniest moth nibble will show.

Pro tip: When searching for vintage Harris Tweed pieces to resell, focus on the details. Buyers pay a premium for garments with:

  • Buttons made of Bakelite or woven leather
  • Brass zippers
  • Satin lining
  • Leather elbow patches

Now, hit those thrift stores and discover for yourself why Harris Tweed has clothed generations of families around the world. And as the Scottish would say, “Lang may yer lum reek.” (“Long may your chimney smoke.”) Or put more simply, good luck and good fortune!

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