Pre-loved shopping secrets

Each year over 3 million pre-loved bargains are set free from cupboards, sheds and garages across Australia as part of the Garage Sale Trail. It’s your chance to find something truly unique at a fraction of the cost of buying it new. But rooting out the best bargains takes time and a trained eye.

Lifestyle writer Laura Timberlake offers her tips. Laura grew up spending her weekends at garage sales, markets and op shops, and constantly challenges herself to find designer bargains for under $20.

What 3 things do you always look for?

1.    I look for quality fabrics, interesting prints or colours and unusual textures. It’s a lot quicker if you learn what different fabrics feel like. I’ve worked with textiles for so long I can usually tell if leather is real by touch!

2.    Make sure you really look through the racks. People often give a table or rack a cursory glance, but you need to go through every piece to find the good stuff.

3.    It’s always a good idea to check everything carefully for stains and damage. I usually check knits and silks for pulls, any tops or dresses for stains around the neckline and the underarm areas, and it’s worth checking the side seams to see if they’re a bit stretched.

How do you find designer threads?

Just because you find something cheap at a garage sale, it doesn’t mean it’s a fake. I would recommend keeping an eye out for quality. If there is an imperfection on a clothing item or bag, it’s probably not authentic – unless it was designed to be that way.

How do you spot a bargain?

Remember, most clothing, shoes and accessories don’t hold their value. An $800 dress loses more than half its retail value as soon as it walks out of the store.

Bargaining is a tricky topic. My main rule is to always be polite. A simple, “Hi, I was wondering if you could do a slightly better price on this?” works for me.

What was your best ever haul? 

I have too many to count! Probably the time I bought a necklace for $40 on a hunch that the stones looked real, and research at home revealed it was 14 carat white gold with diamonds.

Search garage sales happening this November as part of the Garage Sale Trail, Australia's festival of pre-loved stuff. You can shop online or, where restrictions allow, in the community on 13-14 & 20-21 November.