how to put together a professional wardrobe without blowing your budget

And now a word from a sponsor…

If you want to assemble a professional wardrobe but you’re on a budget – or you just really like shopping and don’t want to blow your bank account whenever you do it – you need to know about thredUP. 

thredUP is the largest online store that buys and sells high-quality secondhand fashion for women and kids. You can shop on-trend, like-new fashion from top name brands and designers for up to 90% off.

90% off — that is basically like walking into someone else’s closet, taking everything you like, and paying them pennies on the dollar. And then walking out looking awesome.

You can search by your favorite brands (like Anthropologie, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Banana Republic, DKNY, Cole Haan, Theory, Tahari, and tons more) and filter by size, color, price, and style to easily find what you’re looking for, without even having to leave your house. And they add thousands of additional items every day.

If you’ve had bad experiences with shopping secondhand before, thredUP is different. They triple inspect each item by hand to ensure all clothes are like-new, and a lot of their items are even brand new with tags. I’ve never had anything I’ve ordered from them arrive in a disappointing condition.

In my most recent order, I spent $143 and got two tops from BCBG Max Azria and one from Lucky, a skirt from Banana Republic, and a pair of Cole Haan mules – and saved $509.05 off of regular prices. $509 off. That is insanity.

I’m also really into their Clean Out Kits, where they send you the largest bag you’ve ever seen and you fill it with clothes, shoes, and handbags that you no longer want. You put it at your front door for pick-up, and then they pay you for your clothes. You can check their website beforehand to see what they do/don’t take and what your pay-out will be (or you can just tell them to donate anything they don’t want to buy from you). I do this at least once a year, and my closet is the better for it.

And thredUP is offering Ask A Manager readers a special discount: The first 100 people to use the code ASK40 will get an extra 40% off their first order! (This applies to new U.S. customers only. Discount up to $50.)

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by thredUP. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. Rincat*

    I had no idea about the Clean Out Kit. I am definitely going to do that!

    I really like thredUP for all the work trousers they have. I hate work trousers but I have to wear them sometimes so it doesn’t hurt as much to buy them when they are second-hand.

  2. Future Homesteader*

    It’s like you heard what I was just complaining about at work yesterday. Checking them out now!

  3. The Supreme Troll*

    The service from the Clean Out Kits sounds awesome. Very convenient and stress-free. I’ll maybe look into them, because I have a lot of clothes that I bought when I was younger (they’re still classically stylish, though), but don’t really fit me too well right now. And some of my clothes would look much better on a younger person.

    1. Karen D*

      Yep. As mentioned below by Rowan and NYC Redhead, Swap dot com carries clothes for men, women and children and is very similar to thredup, The main differences I see: Swap takes a wider variety of brands and their “condition reports” are a little less reliable. I tend to use Swap for “play clothes” and basics like work trousers, and Thredup for more stylish, up-to-date items and trendy labels.

      For the women: You can absolutely rely on the condition reports on Thredup, so LOAD UP on that first purchase and wring all the good you can out of the 40 percent off code; in my experience, almost all the codes for Thredup are for first-time customers only (I think the last one I saw that was usable by a repeat customer was on Black Friday and that might have been a few Black Fridays ago). The only time I ever had a problem with a Thredup purchase, I just contacted them and they credited the cost of the item back to my account and told me to either donate the mismarked item or throw it away.

      Finally, with the cleanout bags: They are picky about what they take, which is only to be expected. They tell you right up front: They only accept about 40 percent of the stuff they get. Believe them. Don’t waste any time or money sending things that are in less than perfect condition, and on-trend and pay attention to their brand list: I have had stuff rejected because, while it was an expensive brand, it was regional and they weren’t familiar with it. (I just checked and they’ve added that brand!) I see way too many reviews complaining about policies that are right there on the website for anyone to see in advance.

      1. Girl Alex PR*

        If you use their app you get codes for 15 or 10 percent off almost daily! I’ve been a ThredUp customer since long before they started selling women’s clothes and I am obsessed! I buy almost solely from their inventory for myself and my girls and I run a style blog on Instagram! They’re truly top notch. However, the prices they pay for the pieces sent in their clean-out kit aren’t great.

        1. Karen D*

          I did not know that! I can’t put any more apps on my current phone, alas, but I’m shopping for a new one right now with a higher capacity. Thanks for the heads up!

          I regard the cleanout bags as something of a game; how much can I get them to accept? My last bag, they took everything except one item, and paid exactly what I expected based on their payout estimator. (I’m losing weight right now so I’m churning through wardrobe; some of the stuff I’m sending back is stuff I got from them a few months ago, lol.)

  4. DevAssist*

    I LOVE those shoes! Oh my gosh, you’re making me want to try ThredUp! Lately I’ve been into buying clothes at stores that are closing, because the sales are awesome.

  5. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

    I’m appalled at the basic retail prices for those items.
    I can find the same/similar clothing at far cheaper prices without paying for some brand name like that. (Similar in quality too, for most of them)

    Just :O

    The concept for thredUP is cool though. I like that there’s another method out there to help share around over-priced clothing for reasonable prices.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, those retail prices are crazy. I have both BCBG and Banana garments in my closet, but I’ve never paid full price. There’s always a coupon or sale that brings the price close to what thredUP is charging for used.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Oh yeah, especially Banana Republic. I shop at the Factory Store a lot (I have their card and my mom cashiers there, so I know when all the deals are), but I never pay full price for stuff. They have 40-50% off the entire store relatively frequently, plus frequent coupons. (check RetailMeNot!)

        I got a dress there a couple weeks ago–full price was $130, I paid $30. And it wasn’t even on clearance. (combination of a store-wide sale and their StyleCash coupons, if I recall correctly)

        (having the credit card helps, of course–extra discounts, plus you get reward money the more you use it. I have $30 right now burning a hole in my pocket…)

  6. kmb213*

    Thanks for the discount code, Alison! I clicked through with the intention of getting some pieces to wear to work and wound up with a leather jacket and a leopard-print wrap dress (neither of which is appropriate for my conservative workplace), instead. I am so excited for both pieces, though, and I saved $828!

  7. Rowan*

    Not to take away from Alison’s sponsor…but if you’re looking for a similar site that doesn’t require membership and has men’s and plus-size clothing, check out Swap (URL to follow in reply, but it’s easy to guess!).

    1. NYC Redhead*

      I was also going to mention Schoola, whose website is not as good as ThredUp, but is cheaper, and who helps raise funds for schools.

      1. Karen D*

        I hit all three, but Schoola has been the most hit-or-miss for me. I’ve gotten a few things from them that local thrift stores would have thrown away because its condition was so bad …. but on the flip side, I have also some really great bargains there.

        Plus, you can actually pick the school that gets the money from your purchase, which is cool.

        1. Girl Alex PR*

          ThredUp allows you to donate to schools too! It requires a sponsor though, so I became one for my daughter’s elementary.

          1. Karen D*

            Girl Alex PR, you are two for two in the “giving me useful info” department. :D Thanks!

    2. Jadelyn*

      Thanks for that Rowan – I’ll admit I was kind of annoyed to click over to ThredUp and find that I couldn’t even browse to see what they have unless I gave them my email address to sign up with them. I’ll have to take a look at Swap

      1. Christine*

        Yup. That alone was a super quick way to make sure I never shop there. I try not to give my info out until AFTER I decide to make a purchase. Imagine if Macy’s wouldn’t let you in the front door without your email address?

  8. SKA*

    I actually just got my first package from ThredUP this week! A pleasant experience beginning to end.

    Also, I first looked at the site maybe 3-4 months ago and they have definitely increased their stock in a big way in recent months.

  9. socrescentfresh*

    I’ve bought from and sold to ThredUp and I love it. Not being able to try on items before buying is tricky, but I’ve had good experiences with returning things by mail. Highly recommended.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It depends on what you send. They have a pretty good list on their site of what they will and won’t accept. I use it for things I’m getting rid of anyway so I don’t care too much about whether they accept my stuff or not, but my last Clean-Out bag netted me $157.40.

      2. Parcae*

        I’ve done the clean out bag and although I didn’t net as much as Alison, I was really happy with the experience, mainly because it is so incredibly easy. Previously, I just took my old clothes to Goodwill, and with the clean out bag, I never even had to leave my house. Plus they donate the clothes they don’t accept, so charity isn’t completely losing out.

        They do seem to be VERY picky on condition, which I understand. So the clean out bag would be best suited for someone looking to get rid of nearly new clothes. Lots of stuff in my bag that I’d have happily bought from Goodwill was rejected.

  10. Laura*

    This is feedback for the sponsor: you’re turning away potential buyers by forcing them to sign up for an account right away. I would never give my email to anyone without knowing more about them, in this case it’s wether I like any of their clothes. Also, I frequently read AMA while I’m on a break at work and on my phone, and there’s no way I’m gonna create a new account in those circumstances. Furthermore, there’s a security concern when creating accounts/logging into one using public wifi… just check your google analytics for bounces — users leaving your landing page without taking any action on your site — you should be getting quite a few of them.

    1. Karen D*

      I have a throwaway “browsing” email I use for just this circumstance. If I decide to make a purchase, I register using my “commerce” email.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Same. My junk email is annspamcan. I always get a chuckle from cashiers when they ask for my email address.

    2. baseballfan*

      Agreed. For this reason I tuned out from them immediately upon looking at the site.

      I have a throwaway email too, but that’s irrelevant to the point. There’s no reason to require an email from someone simply to view your website (unless you’re a newspaper that’s subscription based, but that’s different)

    3. Feedback for Vendor*

      Thank you for saying this. I concur about being disappointed with this vendor’s mindset. I signed up last time Alison promoted the company on the blog and am getting way too many emails. The first one set my teeth on edge: the gist was, thanks for signing up, since you didn’t buy anything on your first visit, can you please tell us why?

      The “why” is …. I wanted to see what you were about and see your shipping policies to my state … and the only way I could see shipping FAQs much less browse to see whether your offerings mesh with what I’m shopping for was to give you an email address. Which you are now bombarding regularly.

  11. Naomi*

    Actually, all first time users get the 40% off from Thred Up. I bought 5 items yesterday for a total of $80. Also, the nice thing, if they don’t sell the clothes you send in, they give them to charity for you. For those like me, who hate shopping, it’s kinda great.

    1. Lucifurr*

      The post says an extra 40% off, so maybe that’s in addition to the standard 40% discount for first time shoppers? Because it would be pretty crappy to present a discount like this if it’s actually nothing special at all, wouldn’t it!? With the limited number availability, like it’s something exclusive? That’s misleading and manipulative, and surely Alison wouldn’t do that!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I honestly don’t know! This is the offer they asked me to use — I don’t know more about the specifics than that. I will check with them.

  12. super anon*

    Does anyone know if this site takes Canadian credit cards for payment? Or, do they take paypal for payment? I have a US postal box to send online purchases to, but I don’t want to go through all the work of looking at clothes only to find out I can’t pay for them.

  13. Lurker*

    It’s true! I got two, fabulous, like-new, classic (as in, untouched by Jenna Lyons’ sequins) J. Crew blazers, originally retailing for $350 each, for $50 a pop! ThredUp convert for life.

  14. Former Employee*

    This may be a wonderful site, but none of the clothing pictured seems especially appropriate for work.

    And, as someone else pointed out, if you skip the designer labels, you can get similar clothing brand new for a lot less.

    My suggestion would be to shop at J Jill. They have a lot of mix and match, their clothing goes on sale and they have a wide range of sizes – petite through tall and women’s, too.

    If you do a lot of black, white, grey and navy with an occasional top in a bright color or print and maybe a scarf here and there, you can have a great wardrobe without spending too much.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I no longer work in an office so the stuff I buy isn’t going to be formal business wear, but they have plenty of it there for people who need it.

  15. MCMonkeyBean*

    Dang I just did a huge purge a couple of months ago, much of which was brand new stuff gifted to me by my mom whose taste is on the expensive side but does not really align with my own. Shame I didn’t know about the clean out kit then.

    Just bought a couple vests and a couple Calvin Klein dresses! The site has a nice selection. I like the descriptions of condition–they are very specific if there is any wear as to what the issue is so you can decide if you care.

    The search function could definitely use some work though! It seems you can’t really use keywords. I’m really into capes right now and an attempt to search for that brought up a lot of baseball caps. And I don’t think there’s a way to be like “show me everything with a cat on it!” which may be something I search for a lot on clothing sites, haha.

  16. OfficePrincess*

    Do they carry plus sizes? I don’t want to make an account just to find out that I’ll never even browse what they have.

  17. Tata*

    I read the reviews and they are not good in reference to their clean out kits. I was very excited about the clean out kits but now, I will be doing further research before sending my clothes and shoes. And I hope this will be a solution for me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve seen some reviews that complain about stuff not being accepted, but it sounds like those people didn’t read the clear policies and guidance that’s right on the website about what they will and won’t accept. Karen D has some good advice above about how to ensure you’re sending stuff that’s likely to be accepted. (But also, they give you the option to have things returned that they don’t accept, for a small return postage fee. I opt to just have them donate the stuff of mine that they don’t accept — because I want it out of my house regardless! — but they offer both options.)

      1. Tata*

        I’ll be reading up on what is acceptable to send and do my research. I hope it works for clothes I need to get rid of, thanks Alison!

      2. Karen D*

        Right. If you read their site carefully, there’s only one thing you can’t guard against, and that’s whether or not they have too much stock already of the particular thing you are sending in. One time they declined a pair of gray Designer X pants in a particular style and size; I did a search and found they had several pair currently listed of that exact designer, style and size. At first I was miffed and then I realized “well, duh, they don’t need that many!”

  18. Catnip Melba Toast*

    I hate shopping, so I love ThredUp. I can look for brands I know will fit, and purchase them for a fraction of what I’d pay for brand new. I have built an entire wardrobe through that site, and I check it at least once a day to see what they have that’s new!

  19. Sparkly Librarian*

    I just got my first ThredUP boxes yesterday! (With more on the way). When I saw this post title in my feed, I clicked to share about ThredUP, and then I saw that the whole post was about it! I am about to change office location, and the new one isn’t air-conditioned, so my long-sleeved waffle knit shirts and wool underlayers had to get shoved over in the closet. ThredUP is much more affordable than NorthStyle or Serengeti, which are where I ordered some other basic pieces from. I just wish I could get a credit card refund instead of store credit (without paying their processing fee).

  20. Liana*

    I LOVE ThredUp. I’ve used their cleanout kit in the past as well and gotten some extra cash for old clothes. They’ve got tons of work stuff and casual stuff. Love love love them.

  21. Kisses*

    Just wanted to let u ladies know about Clothes Mentor.. It’s brick and mortar with return policies and fitting rooms! Tory Burch bags and shoes less than $50. Tiffany necklaces for $80-100. And basic J crew and Ann Taylor stuff from $5-$25..that includes Blazers! I like be them and yeah, I worked there.

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