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If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the … well, junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains and walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (Be On the Look-Out for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Vintage Carhartt Detroit jackets

It’s no surprise that there’s a strong market for used Carhartt clothing. The company has been around since 1889 and in the subsequent 130+ years, the brand has become an icon of durable American workwear.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Carhartt made the jump every clothing brand hopes to make — it became wildly popular with consumers outside its original demographic. Carhartt evolved into a fashionable lifestyle brand in Japan, and in America, hip-hop artists and rappers embraced the clothing and imbued it with high-style status.

Carhartt’s Detroit Jacket has gone along for the ride, transforming from blue-collar staple to street-wear superstar. Hitting at the waist and made of durable canvas cotton “duck” with a zippered front, the jacket looks like something your grandfather might have worn to work on his car or clean the gutters.

The Detroit debuted in 1954 and was referred to simply as the “Zipper Jacket” until 1998. The origins of the newer name are unclear. It either stems from the company’s early years of manufacturing clothing from a small Detroit loft or from the jacket’s popularity with auto mechanics in the Motor City.

Why buy it?

Still in production, the Detroit jacket is popular for a reason. It’s a versatile workwear piece that looks just as good when you’re sweeping the garage as it does when you’re heading out to meet friends for coffee. Like a classic pair of Levi’s, the jacket only gets better with age — the canvas softens, the colors mellow, and the fit becomes like a second skin.

If you’re buying to flip, bookmark this article. Detroit jackets are hot money-makers, and they’re still relatively easy to find in the wild. Though many thrift stores price Carhartt more aggressively than other brands, few know that this particular style resells for a premium.

Recently on eBay, this vintage XXL Detroit jacket sold for $499.99 and this XL blanket-lined example sold for $399. Selection is limited on Etsy, but this heavily-worn XXL blanket-lined jacket is listed for $284.09 as of this writing.

What to look for

Though there’s been many iterations of the Carhartt logo, the most common one features the stylized letter “C” (typically in yellow) above the Carhartt name. With its thick wavelike design, the “C” logo is easy to spot. On some Detroit jackets, you’ll find it sewn on both the interior neck and the exterior chest.

Early (pre-1960s) Carhartt garments feature heart-shaped logos in various forms. If you find a Detroit jacket with a heart logo, you’ve discovered a true rarity since the two overlapped by only a decade.

For those buying to resell, a few factors can impact a jacket’s value. Pay special attention to:

  • Condition: Since there’s such a wide market for Detroit jackets, condition is less important than with other brands. Surprisingly, I’ve sold heavily-distressed (nearly destroyed) jackets for more money than pristine pieces.
  • Style number: In 1997, Carhartt unified and simplified its style codes. Detroit jackets made in 1997 or later will typically include one of the following style numbers on the neck tag: J97, J43, J01 or J001. Be sure to include this number in your online listing.
  • Lining: In the world of outerwear, blanket-lined garments sell for a premium. Look for interiors finished with a soft blanket-like material in stripes or plaids. On older Detroit jackets, the lining will be a wool blend. On newer pieces, it will be acrylic-polyester.
  • Personalization: Since Carhartt is part of the uniform for many companies, it’s common to find Detroit jackets with various embroidered logos on the chest. Though personalization lowers a jacket’s value, most pieces can still turn a profit.

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