Housing Works' Buy The Bag Sale

Holding on to my overflowing bag for dear life

Holding on to my overflowing bag for dear life

I'd been meaning to go to a Housing Works Buy The Bag sale for ages (especially since the event recently relocated to a new warehouse in Greenwood, Brooklyn) and I finally got my chance earlier this winter, and left with 16 items for $1.87 each. (I've featured some of my finds here and here!) The weekly sales are held Wednesday through Saturday from 12-6pm, and Sunday from 12-5pm.

For the uninitiated, the HW Buy The Bag sales are one of NYC's most popular thrifting events, featuring all the leftovers that don't make it to Housing Works' network of thrift shops. For $25, you get a plastic bag, and whatever you can squeeze, shove or squish into that bag is yours. It's a simple and straightforward concept, but the sale itself can be more than a little stressful. 

First off, Buy The Bag attracts plenty of veteran thrift and vintage shoppers, so competition at these events is usually fierce. In other words, expect some crowding and mild to moderate shopping aggression. Secondly, the clothing, shoes and accessories at Buy The Bag are majorly disorganized--you're basically digging around in overflowing bins full of tangled piles of merchandise. Be ready to come into contact with plenty of stained and ripped items, as well as the occasional leopard-print thong (I wish I were kidding). And finally, be prepared to be somewhat uncomfortable. I went to the event on a mild winter day, and the place was pretty overheated. There's no place to safely stow a jacket or scarf (they'd likely end up in another shopper's bag), so I was stuck sweating it out in my coat, with my scarf bulging out of my purse. Also, there are no restrooms, so you'd better wait to chug that extra large iced coffee, or risk having to make a run to the KFC bathrooms around the corner. 

To help alleviate some of these stressors, here are a few tips:

1) If you want to avoid the crowds and competition, go during the weekdays, when store staff says attendance is lowest. Unfortunately, this isn't an option for those of us with a 9-5 work day, so for weekend-only shoppers, I highly recommend buying Power Hour tickets, which cost an extra $5 and allow you to enter the sale an hour early on Saturday, at 11am. The Power Hour tickets can only be purchased online every Monday at noon (you can get them here), with a limited number of 50 available. On my Saturday Power Hour visit, most of the competitive/professional shoppers were in at 11am, and the bins were pretty picked-over within the hour, so while this ticket does bring your total cost up to $30, I think it's totally worth it for the Saturday event.

2) Bring hand sanitizer. There are plenty of unsavory items floating around the clothing bins, and hand sanitizer is key to getting rid of that icky feeling that comes with accidentally mistaking someone's old boxers for the sleeve of a flannel shirt. A handful of shoppers wore latex gloves, so while I personally prefer to be able to feel for fabrics, it's another option if you're on the more squeamish end of the thrifting spectrum.

3) Buy The Bag is definitely a workout, so consider an extra swipe of deodorant before you leave. Obviously, if its cold out, you can't get away with being coat-less, but try to wear as few layers as possible, since digging through the bins will definitely cause you to break a sweat. Less layers will also help you try things on over your clothes, since dressing rooms aren't an option. Other important things to bring: a ponytail holder or headband, to keep hair off your sweaty face, and a crossbody bag, to keep your hands free.

4) A lot of shoppers brought their own reusable bags, which they used to repack their stuff after it was purchased. Although the plastic tote bag HW provides you with is pretty sturdy, it's definitely difficult to carry once you've stuffed it past the handles. 

5) Use the buddy system. I love going thrifting with friends, and they can come in handy when you need someone to momentarily watch your stuff, or if you want a second opinion on a particularly adventurous item. At Buy The Bag, it was especially helpful to have a buddy along, since we were able to collectively comb through more bins and each grab things the other might like/fit into. 

Okay, so that's a lot to go through, I know. But for all the chaos and inconvenience, Buy The Bag is hands-down one of the best ways to get insane thrift deals in NYC. And by insane, I mean where else can you find a black Theory pea coat for what boils down to pocket change?! (True story.) But be forewarned, shopping at Buy The Bag will cause every other thrift shop in the world seem obscenely expensive by comparison.