Summer Guide: Sell your clothes for cash — but first, read this

There's a good chance that if you shop in Tempe, you hate me. And it has nothing to do with the stories I've written for this newspaper. From August 2002 until the middle of 2006, I was the bitch behind the counter at Buffalo Exchange, sorting through your castoffs, silently judging you and occasionally paying you enough cash to buy a six-pack (but rarely anything more than that).

Actually, I think I was called a bitch only once or twice, and I usually had too many customers a day to really judge anyone — but there is an awkward stereotype that surrounds the buy counter, so I assume most of my customers felt this way at some point.

For those of you living under a rock — or in some of the Valley's classier ZIP codes — Buffalo Exchange is one of many resale-clothing shops in town. It was the first of its kind in this part of the country, opening in Tucson in the '70s and quickly expanding around the state. The same couple who founded the company still own it today. (And they're seriously the nicest people in the world. I met them only once, but I wanted them to be my grandparents.)

Here's how it works: You bring in your old clothes, they sort through them and take what they think they can resell, and you walk out with a percentage of the sales price in cash or trade. How much depends on the store. Buffalo Exchange pays out 35 percent in cash, 50 percent in trade. Other stores, like Name Brand Exchange and Sunset Clothing XChange, pay a little more but, therefore, are a bit more selective.

It's an incredibly simple system. It's also the most uncomfortable encounter you can have with a stranger. But it doesn't have to be. Believe it or not, the kids behind the counter actually want to buy your clothes. Your stuff has to be still wearable, and more than that, still have resale value. Think about it this way: If you wouldn't wear it ever again, Buffalo (and its competitors) is not going to buy it.

If you're cleaning out the closet, I have some advice for you. But first, let me tell you why you should listen to me in the first place. When I started in the resale clothing biz, I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about clothes. I'd worked at the Gap for one holiday season and sometimes I'd read Vogue. I'd honestly never even been inside a Nordstrom. I even, though it's shameful to admit this, owned a pair of Rocket Dogs. By the time I left Buffalo, I knew how to tell quality clothing by the way it was stitched, the kind of zipper it had, and the way the fabric felt. The kids behind the buy counter may look clueless, but they're not. Buyers go through months of training before they're allowed to pick through your piles unsupervised. You can trust them — really.

If someone as fashionably hopeless as I was at 18 could learn how to buy clothes — and work my way up to a point where I trained others to do so — you can certainly learn how to sell them. As long as you listen to me.

Wash your clothes before bringing them in. As in putting them in the washer and then the dryer. Using a washcloth to wipe the dirt off doesn't count. There are no giant washing machines in the back of the store. Your clothes are purchased, tagged, and set out for people to buy as is. So if your T-shirt is covered in cat hair, or smells like you rolled up your car window and chain-smoked a pack of Parliaments while wearing it, your buyer is going to pass. Also, try to show some consideration for the fact that a stranger has to touch everything you bring into the store. I once had a worm crawl out of a pocket and onto my arm. I once had a bee fly out of a coat and sting me. My good friend once discovered a freebase kit in the bottom of a shopping bag, and there's actually a protocol to follow in order to avoid getting pricked by hypodermic needles left in pants pockets. I'm not sure what kind of crackhead forgets these things, but it happens way too often, and it makes your buyer real grumpy.

And while we're on the subject of hygiene — before you toss your jeans into your "sell to Buffalo" bag, check the crotch. Please. Especially if you just had your period, or prefer not to wear panties. There is nothing in the world more terrible than explaining to a spaced-out sorority girl that you can't buy her designer jeans because they are dirty, and then having to explain to her, "No . . . on the inside."

Aside from making sure your clothes are laundered, keep in mind you are not going to Goodwill or Savers. Resale stores will not and cannot buy whatever crap you just throw into a bag. They follow current trends, which means usually they're only going to take styles that are about six months old, or are classic enough to stay popular over a sustained amount of time.

That also means that the really cute halter you bought from Forever 21 to wear on your last birthday doesn't have much resale value. Think about it: You paid only about $10 for it when it was new. So stop being so offended when the buyers pass on it. As I liked to remind buyers as I trained them on the fine art of saying "no," the customer needs to remember this is a business, not a charity.

On that note: The sob story about needing to buy your baby some diapers or feed your kids Thanksgiving dinner makes you look really desperate, and it won't get you more cash. (And if it's true, the $3.50 you're going to get from Buffalo isn't really going to help.)

There's no sure method to "trick" your buyer into taking your clothes (and stuffing Target products into a Nordstrom bag doesn't work at all, by the way), but it does help your cause to know what the store needs. If you bring in a bunch of stuff and it's all rejected, it's okay to ask why and it's okay to ask your buyer what they're looking for. They won't give you any specifics, but they will speak in general terms like, "We really need men's shorts."

It's tough to give hard and fast "rules" beyond keep it clean and keep it current. Be friendly — even if you have nice stuff, being an asshole to your buyer isn't going to help. Don't be afraid to ask what they're pricing your items at.

If you have great stuff — even if it's a little weird — bring it. Some days, I saw so much Abercrombie, American Eagle, and Express I thought I would go blind (though I bought a lot of it — sells well to the college kids). Nothing made me happier than a great vintage buy coming across the counter. Even if we couldn't use half the stuff, my eyes were thankful for a change of pace, and I still have the first vintage dress (a white '50s housedress) that I bought for the store and then for myself.

Most of all, don't take it personally. The employees may seem surly, but they're not going to remember you two seconds later. I swear to you, after four years behind that counter, the customers I remember are the ones who came in almost every day, the ones who treated me like shit, and the one whose jacket had bees in it. And even he walked out with a fistful of cash.

Where to go:

Buffalo Exchange
227 W. University Dr., Tempe

Buffalo Exchange
730 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix

Name Brand Exchange
1116 S. Dobson Rd. #101, Mesa

Name Brand Exchange
3454 E. Southern Ave., Mesa

Sunset Clothing XChange
601 W. University Dr., Tempe

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin