Thrift vs. Consignment: What’s the Difference?

October 15, 2018

Two fun alternative shopping options to satiate your desire to shop ’til you drop while being conscious of both the environment and your wallet!

A quick background: At the time of publishing this, I am new to the second-hand shopping scene.

As a slight germ-a-phobe, the handful of times I had to go through a thrift shop in my life left an unpleasant taste in my memory. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland, OR and got a job managing the cutest resale shop* that the second-hand world had re-opened to me and at last become a pleasant shopping option!

Grace Kim Portland Consignment vs Thrift Shopping

Now let’s break this down plain and simple:

Both thrift and consignment shops provide used items for sale. Although each shop differs from the next, these are the 3 biggest differentiating factors.


Since thrift shops are usually donation based there is a broad range of items you will find in a broad range of qualities. Thrift shops are generally lenient on what they take and even accept flawed items where as at a consignment shop you will usually find items that are in gently used condition or even new with tags.


Along the same lines as the 1st point, thrift shops will accept a wide range of items from vintage to modern and everything in between, providing you with a much wider range of options. Most consignment shops sell hand-selected pieces to curate more of a retail shopping experience. There is usually a general aesthetic to the store and their merchandise, similar to how a retail store has its own distinct style.


Items at a consignment shop are generally priced higher than thrift shops because they are selling on behalf of another person and then paying them a portion of the sales (the procedure differs from shop to shop), whereas thrift shops are usually purely donation based items. This doesn’t mean that you won’t find steals of a deal at a consignment shop or that you won’t come across a few over-priced tags at a thrift shop.


(General Guidelines)


  • You’re pinching pennies

Generally speaking, you will find more for cheaper at a thrift shop.

  • You love a challenge

The inventory at a thrift shop is constantly rotating and everything is in abundance everywhere–Finding something you like can be quite chaotic, but also very rewarding.

  • You’re looking for casual, wear once or twice, items.

Because of the condition of the items and the lower price tags, this would be a realistic option.


  • You’re new to 2nd hand shopping

This new type of shopping experience can be exciting yet chaotic, especially at a thrift store. Starting at a consignment shop is a great place to ease yourself in without feeling overwhelmed.

  • You’re looking for something specific

Because of the smaller, more curated inventory, you can narrow down the shops that are most likely to have a variety of what you’re looking for.

  • You’re short on time.

The ever-rotating inventory of a thrift shop is unpredictable and could end up wasting all the time you have. Starting your search at consignment shop would probably be your better option–you would even be able to call and ask if they have what you’re looking for. 

  • You prefer mid-market clothing

Again, because of the more curated inventory, you will be eliminating the hassle of rummaging through clothing you don’t care for and get to the point in shopping within what you love.

This is probably the simplest breakdown of what I have come to gather in the past 2 years. If you are a second-hand shopping queen, help a sista out and comment below adding your 2 cents to any of the lists based on your own experience!

In case ya missed Part 1:  Cheap Fashion: What is fast fashion and what does is it really cost?

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I'm Grace Kim,

a fashion designer-turned-career strategist, [mis]adventurer and your biggest believer.

I'm a girl who dropped out of college, was told I would fail in fashion, then went on to create my 6-figure design career before the age of 30.

Now, with my 11+ years of experience in the corporate world, I'm here to guide, support, and connect other designers so they can build a flourishing career despite all odds set against their success, and experience more freedom in & outside of work while getting paid what they deserve.

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