29 May, 2018

Get op shop savvy with Emma Willmann


Personal stylist, sustainable fashion advocate and queen of the capsule wardrobe, Emma Willmann, knows the power of clothes. A former criminal prosecutor turned image consultant, Emma launched Statement Styling to help women find their authentic style and become the best version of themselves.

Emma shared her top op-shopping tips at the recent Fabric: Slow Fashion - Artful Living event.

Before you go

Planning a trek is one of the best things you can do to build your op shop collection. Do some research before heading out and make a plan. Check out the Never Ever Pay Retail Op shop locator to find stores and opening hours near you.

I generally go for high density areas where there are multiple op shops in a small town or street such as Dalby, Cleveland or West End in Brisbane (see notes at the end for Emma’s insider tips on where to find the best stores). My favourites are the those run by elderly church parishioners where the pricing system is simple and reasonable and you can tell they are really there because they like meeting new people.

Write a list of things you need. I know the gaps in my wardrobe have a list in my phone of the things I am looking for or need to replace. Be sure to take cash as some stores don’t have EFTPOS or credit card facilities.

Emma’s op shop strategy

Being strategic in your approach helps you buy the right things and without getting caught up in bargains that you won’t wear. I believe in shopping strategically so that you can dress however you feel on a given day, knowing that your wardrobe is full of flattering personal pieces.

1. Shoes and accessories

Start with shoes and accessories. You can only buy shoes in your exact size so you can get through that search quite quickly. I love that you can buy things from op shops that have come back in people’s suitcases from their travels and often find European designer label shoes stuck in a bargain bin because no one knew their brand or value.

With accessories, select unique, one-off items, to suit your style personality. Try to find handcrafted items that you would not find in a store, or costume jewellery that may have been stored in someone’s jewellery box for generations.

2. Colour

If it is not my colour, it’s not on my radar. There is no point in buying things if they don’t suit the colour palette of your face. I ignore anything not in my colour range, which means 95% of what is in store. I do this quickly, scan the racks for colours that work for me and investigate things that catch my eye.

The foundation for building an amazing capsule wardrobe is being able to take any pair of pants and any top, mixing and matching to give you loads of options. Keeping to your colour palette will ensure optimum flexibility and harmony.

3. Sizing

As there are no women’s sizing regulations in Australia and haven’t been since the 1970s, don’t let sizing on labels dictate whether you try something on.

Now brands use sizing to manipulate customers and create a sense of exclusivity for certain size ranges or to flatter you by being generous. The size on the label is not important: buy clothes that have a good cut and fit you well. If you are uncomfortable with the size on the label, just cut it off.

4. Fabric

Go for natural fibres that have longevity and work better with the human body. Consider how you like to feel in your clothes and which fabrics feel right for you.

Look for quality and avoid anything that is overstretched, pilled or stained. Be cautious with second hand leather items as some overseas brands will put a leather mark on something that is not genuine leather.

5. Know your brands

I am not into big brand shopping and don’t believe branding is important for personal style. However, I do look for companies that have a longstanding reputation for cut, quality and workmanship, eg. Cue, Table 8 or designers like Jimmy Chu. For a long time, Cue was the only brand that knew feminine bodies in a man’s world. Cue creates amazing fitted tailored clothes that say it’s ok to have curves. So, keep an eye out for those Cue classics.

In the change room, look up the label and the prices online. I’ve even found designer items that never made it to the shelves in store.

Avoid fast fashion labels that make cheap, short-lived clothing. There is no point in perpetuating fast fashion consumption by buying them second hand (and ironically, they are sometimes cheaper new).

6. Go exploring

Explore beyond the women’s clothing racks. I go to the menswear rack, children’s rack and the sleepwear rack. In the children’s wear, I have often found things in sizes I can wear. There’s often great, well-fitting, quality shirts in the menswear section. Don’t forget to check all the unpredictable places like sale bins.

What to avoid

  • Old earrings unless you plan on replacing the hooks, or repurposing for a brooch
  • Pilled fabric
  • Stained clothing
  • Fast fashion brands
  • Items that are not well made
  • Exercise gear
  • Anything that has lost its elasticity

Insider tips for SEQ

  • Salvos Family Store, Maleny
  • Bardot’s Bazaar, Caloundra (opposite the RSL in West Terrace)
  • Nambour has a cluster of op shops
  • Cleveland has about 7 op shops in a one kilometre radius
  • Lifeline High Quality Shops, Brisbane CBD and Fortitude Valley for high quality, designer labels.
  • Consider op shop tourism and plan a trek out west to Dalby or other country towns
  • West End, Brisbane

Don’t limit your exploration of second hand items to op shops! Car boot sales, garage sales and clothing swaps are all great potential sources of unusual and interesting gear to help you craft a unique look.

Now you have your op shop mission mapped out, check out Emma’s Op shop styling hacks.

Do you have a favourite op-shop? Share your finds in the comments below.

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