Simple title to ward off those who only want to read about art. This time I am delving into the fine art of finding treasures (of the clothing kind) in the cast off world of others. There are those who would never set foot in such venues as Goodwill, Salvation Army, Village Thrift and Aunt Jane’s Attic but if one can score Tommy Hilfiger for 2 bucks, it is worth it. No, I hate the whole label conscious culture, what a name brand does however is ensure a level of quality which means one can wear the thing at least twice before tossing it back into the sea.
A recent foray resulted in 26 items, all famous labels, for a whopping total of just under $130…a good haul by any measure. If you are a seasonal or trend devote, this lifestyle is not for you. Only in the high end resale “boutiques” where the label mavens drop off their once worn, once seen in, past season designer stuff would you perhaps find something to meet your standards. Not me, although I did get a bargain or two in one of those places because I can still wear the smaller sizes. That subject is coming up in further detail. But first, one must categorize the various venues.
Genuine thrift is the best for bargains although Goodwill has recently changed its layout and pricing methods to reflect their increasing popularity. Only the smaller places tucked into the less than desirable neighborhoods, and the high end boutiques, still sort by sizes. That option takes more work on their part but suits the cliental or the quickie shopper. Within the last year, I have had the chance to explore the VCTR culture in San Francisco, Toronto, St. Petersburg, Bethesda, Columbus, Chicago and of course locally, but I recommend never shopping in one’s backyard. Why? Because one may be tempted to buy back one’s own stuff when seen on the racks, but if it must be done, donate to one place and shop at another. Also, (true story from several years ago) I purchased a black tie dress locally for about $20 and it turned out to have been donated by someone who was at the event to which I wore it. Ended well for me, not for her…..no details to that story however….sorry! Vintage (often tacked on to the Costume category) sell by eras and are rather pricey in every city as the trend to go retro catches on. Resale per say is the middle range group along with consignment stores. Some consignment stores take items on loan with a cut to the store and a cut to the donor when something is sold or they direct purchase items from a laundry basket of offerings brought into the venue by a hopeful closet clearer who thinks their items are worth more than most peoples’ stuff. Those places are bit too snooty for me, they reject more than they take from the general public but the clerk’s friends can bring by paint splatter stuff and it all gets “bought” for their racks. I prefer the bottom feeder thrift locations where black garbage bags of discards are unceremoniously dropped off in heaps.
The search for such venues can take one to the rather “less than desirable” areas of town at times so never ever look like you could afford the real thing. Dress down to just above bum level. Crappy shoes easy to slip on and off and the same with clothing, no belts, fussy buttons etc because the ability to change quickly to try things on is essential. Other customers waiting to use the one or two dressing rooms can get a bit hostile. That is if you are lucky to find a place with a dressing room although more and more places are putting them in probably because of the laws of privacy or something. A cross the body bag for your phone and wallet is a good idea too as nothing ruins a good day like a snatch and grab of one’s bag or the chance of a phone falling from a pocket and being left behind. Also, use cash in singles and small bills as most places seem to lack singles and will often give you a bit of discount if you can refill their drawers with one’s.
Don’t wear much make up so as to avoid getting it on something you might want to buy, unless you are sure to be able to get it out. Then one can bargain for a discount because the item has a “stain” on it. Another trick for the places that keep track of how long an item has been in the store, learn how to read the ticket. If an item has been on the racks for at least 5 months, they will often give you half off but you have to ask, clerks often don’t tell you the policy. Look for the original tags or things like button bags still attached, clear plastic size labels on pant legs and so forth which indicate an item has never worn before being donated. Do not limit oneself to your own estimated size when choosing to try something on. Older clothing is “bigger” in numbers. I am currently a (x) in most things, but in vintage wear, I have to go to a 12 or a large. In current higher end labels, 2’s or 0’s may have to come into play. It is a weird game of numbers so I stick to the few brands I know for sure and select only those to try on unless something is really too good to pass up. That leads to how to find something in those jammed racks of stuff.
How a store is laid out can factor into the quality of finds. Double racks (one over the other along a wall) and racks too close together are not good for bargains. They do often hide some odd finds however and are appeared geared to a younger clientele. So are stores open only a few days a week for limited hours. I find those to be staffed by disconnected youth selling stuff they got from friends or from other thrift places and then decided to try silk screening them. I walk in and get the “grandma glance” so I mention how much my daughter loves their store and wanted to drop a few hundred for her birthday but……I can see they were busy so maybe I will come back next week. Multiple offerings of the same item is a giveaway that something is not right with the item, most likely a fit issue, so avoid them. Places which create vignettes of their goods also turn me off. I don’t need to pay a few dollars more because a belt is coiled and laid gently in a basket. Stick that sucker on a hook with 10 more and I may get two at 50 cents each instead.
GW and SA both now rack by color and item category meaning all the red short sleeved shirts are in one place, regardless of size and they rainbow everything with some knowledge of the color wheel . Prints and patterns are all placed together too. So how to find good stuff fast? The answer is the details. Look for contrasting collars, longer sleeves (on short sleeve items, a “cap” sleeve is often cheaper), ruffles, contrasting or metal buttons, and no puckering of seams. Something that looks too fussy or cute is trying to hid cheaper production quality .Patterns and color combinations are revealing as well. Stripes are favored by higher end labels but look for them to match on the side seams which show attention to detail. Smaller prints in all over patterns are also a favored give-away and of course, the little logos of Polo, Lauren, Lands End, Hilfiger, Klein and Kors that can be found in various locations. Pants are a bit more challenging but better brands have a signature interior waistband detail. Learn to recognize it and one can speed down a rack in mere moments without having to pull anything out and check the length. When pausing at those better brands, the tag inside will give a size and a length so no need to hold up and check. If you know your fit, you can do this fast. Dockers for a dollar can’t be beat!
Being older, I am no longer in the market for the independent store brands such as Old N, Ab and Ftch, Banana R, and P Jack which can all be found in large quantities because the young are fickle creatures. Know your store brands from Macys, Saks, Dillards and the like who all have a logo house brand of their own that show up frequently. Beware the one letter change knock off or the font fakes which can be very similar to these brands but not of good quality. Speed shopping may allow one or two to slip by into the basket of potential purchases. Know the independent labels of Lily P, Vera W, Liz, and St. J but do not expect to find any top products like Chanel, Versa, Dol and G, or Vera B for example at the thrift level. Those names go to the top boutiques or vintage stores for a hefty price. You see one in the mid to lower range and it is likely a NY city street knock off…which happens to just fine by me so it is a matter of what one wants.
Some people find the shoes a bit creepy and that is often true. Good pairs can be found however without having to risk getting grossed out. The inside of a shoe should be as new and as unworn as possible, so too should be the sole and the heel. No stains, scuffs for gouges and one can pretty much assume they were donated unworn. Size is again an issue, if something looks like it might fit, try it. Also, because so many people put things back wherever they feel like it, do not limit your search to a designated area. Limit shoes to the unusual as basics can be gotten at DSW for pennies when using a coupon. Purses, belts and jewelry are avoided by me so I can’t elaborate on that unless one is looking for a vintage piece and then only go to flea markets as the stores know their prices.
Hmmm…what have I missed? Oh yeah, the one and done rule. The racks get one pass and no more. If an item did not catch your eye the first time, it is not worth it on the second run. Don’t linger over a try on, if you have to think about how to make an item fit or fix it or think about it, then leave it. Put it on, it looks great, good, on to the next item in your pile. Ignore the six items only rule for dressing rooms unless being watched but if there is no line to try things on, take as much in as you can! Just be courteous and put the unwanted items on a discard rack, don’t leave them in the dressing room using up precious hanger space (if one is lucky to even get a hook on the wall).
(Anybody need a bathroom break or a coffee refill? I'll wait........)
Even if one does not find anything or is just perusing to kill time, overheard conversations are often hilarious. Keep your head down and your ears open and creative material will come to you! This past excursion proved fruitful on all accounts. Buyer beware however as in the one la-de-da boutique I did explore, a C Klein shirt was on the rack for $15.50, two stops later, the same exact shirt was in a GW for $4. I got had as I bit on the first one, but then made up for it with some $2 finds of Hilfiger, Talbots and Lauren so all balanced out in the long run. In my bum mode and single dollar bill payment method I was afraid the boutique-y creatures were going to hand me a card for the local mission and use gloves when handing over my bag with the shirt lovingly wrapped in tissue. No wonder it cost that much.
When I travel, thrift shopping is how I see a city. Museums and tourist places are nice for when I have never been to city before, but they are not how the locals live. My searches take be through the neighborhoods, down the side streets and into the tucked away shopping centers. What is on the racks is also revealing at times via the offering of printed T’s, college logos, and old uniform shirts. The convention and visitors bureau will not direct you to these locations unless part of their culture which is true in San Francisco and Toronto so much so that they have dedicated pages in their hotel visitors guides. Vacations are for having fun and seeing the sights, travel is for exploring , at least in my way of tagging along on business trips, so on that note, the next time you revisit a city…..happy hunting!!