January 5, 2008

Top 10 Places to Find Secondhand Girl Guide Uniforms

While many people think of the blossom filled season of spring as the primo time to a thoroughly clean out of their abode, I've always preferred to do a top-to-bottom house cleaning at least once a season. I detest clutter and am constantly reevaluating if I really have the need/use for an items (e.g., outdated clothes, two year old magazines, etc). Like many people, I try to make a point of selling, giving away (to friends/family/women's shelters), or donating (to charity) any item which is still in good shape but of no purposeful use to me any more.

Interestingly though, this process is not merely a one way street. I adore – and I do really mean adore – shopping secondhand, combing through garage sales, and haggling for a bargain at swap meets. Inherited from my mother, this love of scouring high and low for that perfect bargain has helped me furnish homes and dress myself all through my life. And while growing my own Guiding related uniforms were bought new (though I might add, with my own money that I'd saved up from babysitting), I distinctly remember that when my little sister joined Brownies, her uniform was a very kindhearted donation from my elementary school best friend.

I think back to that time in my life and am always so grateful for the gift which was bestowed upon my sister, I don't know what we'd have done (for a uniform) if not for my friend Karen's generosity. Reflecting upon these childhood days I started thinking about some of the other places through out my life where I've seen secondhand Guiding uniforms, or where you may very easily be able to come by one.

While there's certainly the option of buying a new uniform, there's no reason to scoff at the idea of giving an existing one a second time around, irregardless of if the choice is financially based or not. In fact, I can't implore you enough to think of secondhand goods as just as worthy and wonderful as newly purchased items. Gently used items often have a life all their own, and tracking them down can be worlds more fun than just buying them new off the shelf.

With that thought in mind, here are my top 10 recommendations for places to find Canadian Girl Guides (Sparks, Brownies, Guides, Pathfinders, Seniour Branches, Leaders, etc) uniforms (international readers can still avail of many of these suggestions too, adapting them to the shops and sources which are available in their own respective countries).

-The classified section of your local newspaper(s) and “Buy and Sell” type of papers. The Guiding year usually ends in most parts of the country around June and picks up again September, both of these times of the year in particular are potential hotbeds for ads of people who are selling or giving away outgrown or no longer needed uniforms. Plus, if you don't see an ad for what you want, consider placing a small wanted ad – some Buy and Sell type papers let you post (small) free wanted ads, which means you've really got nothing to lose.

-Online classified websites like Kijijo and Craigslist, both let you post and browse wanted and for sale ads for free. These two websites in particular are of interest because they have numerous locale sites for specific large Canadian cities such as Vancouver and Toronto.

-Value Village: an absolute haven for lovers of frequently rotating secondhand household and clothing items. On almost every trip I've ever made to a VV anywhere in Canada, I've seen Guiding uniforms (especially Sparks and Brownies). Sign up for VV's email newsletter to be informed of when one of their super cool 50% off all merchandise one day sales are going to happen (there's usually at least three such sales a year).

-Whether you call it “The Salvation Army” or the “Sally Ann”, there's no denying that this widely known and well established chain of thrift stores is a handy place to check for gently used uniforms.

-Local thrift stores, consignment stores, and church/charity run used clothing shops. (Check your phone book's yellow page section for local listings. Even very small towns often have at least one secondhand and/or consignment store.)

-eBay: This gigantic online flea market is a mecca for potential uniforms (as I type this article right now, a few quick keyword searches turned up a pink current Sparks sweatshirt and an older style Brownie dress – plus oodles of US Girl Scout uniforms and even some brand new sashes). Check often and consider having email updates for specific keywords sent right to your inbox so that you'll always known when a new item that matches your criteria is listed.

-Check out the ad covered bulletin boards at your local grocery store, library, school, church (or other place of worship), community centre, sports complex, daycare, community theater, etc. If you don't happen across an ad (which is fairly likely), place one with your information and contact phone number, so long as wanted ads are permitted.

-Ask, ask, ask! If you known anyone else with a child enrolled in Guiding (or who has been previously enrolled), politely ask them if they held onto any of their child's outgrown uniforms, and if so would they be willing to share them with you (if the answer is yes, make sure you give them something in return to say thank you – homemade cookies or a night of free child minding are always appreciated).

-Your own backyard! Well, perhaps not your own, but how about the front lawns and driveways of your neighbours and friends. Once the warm weather rolls around, garage sales and outdoor swap meets abound across most of Canada. Check your local paper for upcoming ads and circle all the ones close to where you live, then pack some water, snacks, and sunscreen and head out for a lovely weekend morning of yard sale scavenging :) (Likewise, head indoors year round for swap meets, flea markets, and even auctions and estate sales, you never know when and where the opportunity to pick up a uniform will strike!)

-Contact your nearest Guide shop and/or provincial council and inquire as to if they know of any good leads to find gently used uniforms.

As with all searches, it's wise to start well in advance of when you're actually planning on needing the item(s) in question. For example, if you know that your daughter will be flying up from Brownies to Guides next September, and it's July now, consider starting your search while you still have two months before enrollment (which, incidentally, is also another great place to ask around for possible uniform leads).

It is to the best of my understanding, not possible for a girl (or woman) to be excluded from joining Guides due to a lack of uniform (I've read that in the US, so long as a girl is wearing her enrollment pin, she is considered to technically be in uniform). In many cases, local leaders and Guiding members will likely be happy to try and help provide a uniform or suggest a suitable alternative, so please don't let the lack of a uniform prevent you or your daughter from joining or continuing on with Guiding. Try not to worry if you're on a budget or just looking to source a good deal, with a little diligence, it shouldn't be impossible for you to find yourself or your child a great looking Girl Guide uniform.

(I'd just like to add that if any of my readers are looking to sell or donate secondhand uniforms, I'd be delighted to post a classified style ad with your location and contact information on this site.)

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