5 Worst Clothing Items to Buy at Thrift Stores, Stylists Say

Buying these pieces secondhand could actually pose hygiene issues.

Whether you have a tight budget for clothing, you prioritize sustainability in your lifestyle, or you pride yourself on maintaining a unique wardrobe, shopping at thrift stores comes with all kinds of advantages. The best part? Unlike with fast fashion, the chances are low that you'll see anyone else wearing the same outfit. Not to mention, Tom Yates—style and grooming expert and founder of Cut Throat Club—points out that some thrift stores are also associated with charities, so you can feel good about your purchases supporting a cause.

But experts agree that not all items are worth buying preloved. Some pieces are more likely to deteriorate in quality over time, while others pose a hygiene risk.

Yates recommends always thoroughly inspecting anything you buy to make sure seams, buttons, and zippers are in good condition, and there aren't any stains, pilling, or other issues. Still, in some cases, it's best to just skip the thrift stores altogether and splurge for something new.

Here are some items experts recommend steering clear of at a thrift store.

RELATED: 8 Clothing Items That Make You Look Dated, Stylists Say.

1
Shoes

woman shopping for shoes
iStock / Harbucks

In his hit song "Thrift Shop," Macklemore raps: "Passin' up on those moccasins someone else has been walkin' in." He might've been on to something.

According to Ngozi Onwuchekwa, the fashion influencer behind the popular Instagram account @StyleInTheCity, used shoes can transmit foot fungi and bacteria. So, while it may be tough to resist those vintage red pumps or knee-high suede boots, skipping them could mean avoiding a pesky case of athlete's foot.

"Because there's a high chance that preloved shoes conformed to somebody else's foot, they also will not provide the best support for your own or have much life left in them," adds Yenia Hernández Fonseca, luxury fashion expert and contributor to Margo Paige.

RELATED: 6 Best Clothing Items to Buy at Thrift Stores, Stylists Say.

2
Natural fabrics

Two expensive cashmere sweaters with holes and damaged, caused by cloth moths
Little Adventures / Shutterstock

Finding a gorgeous wool or cashmere sweater at a thrift store may seem like a major deal, but according to TikTok user @bribri_is_wheezy, who previously worked at a secondhand clothing store, don't rush up to the register with anything made of a natural fabric.

"Guess who also loves natural fabrics? Moths," she notes, advising shoppers to always check carefully for any tiny little holes that signal the insects are present. She also points out that even if moths aren't currently in the fabric, "it indicates the care taken of the garment, and I do worry about how well the fabric will hold up."

3
Earrings

Accessories style concept with pearl earrings, necklace, and scarf
Andrey Cherkasov / Shutterstock

Thrift stores can be treasure troves for statement chokers, eye-catching rings, and other fun costume jewelry. While bracelets and necklaces are fine to buy, Yates advises against getting any secondhand earrings since dirty posts can cause infections.

If you find a pair you just can't bear to leave behind, make sure to sterilize it first by submerging it in alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for at least a few minutes.

Keep in mind, too, that if you have sensitive ears, certain earrings may cause allergic reactions. When you're buying jewelry from a thrift shop, it can be nearly impossible to know whether the earrings are made with hypoallergenic materials.

RELATED: 5 Warnings to Shoppers From Ex-Goodwill Employees.

4
Underwear

Girl Shopping for a Bra Craziest Corporate Policies
Artie Medvedev / Shutterstock

This might go without saying, but buying intimates secondhand is dicey because they can contain infection-causing bacteria. While the odds of contracting an infection may be low, Onwuchekwa says it's not worth the risk. That's why she avoids these particular items while shopping at thrift stores.

You might consider making an exception for bras and undies that still have their original tags attached. However, just to play it safe, you should still consider washing these in hot water before you wear them.

5
Swimsuits

striped bikini on clothing line outdoors
Shutterstock/vvoe

For the same reason that buying secondhand underwear is ill-advised, Fonseca says it's best to avoid secondhand bathing suits as well.

Again, the one case in which you might consider purchasing a swimsuit from a thrift store is if it's clearly never been worn. Check to make sure it still contains the sticky hygienic liner.

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Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more
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