Buying Clothing from Thrift Stores
Limiting my clothing purchases is something I am working on. The bargains in this country are just too good. I almost never buy from regular retail clothing stores. Instead, I buy most of my clothing in thrift stores, usually on senior sales days where I get up to 50% discount off the already low prices. I often find new clothes or very gently used modern clothes or my favorite, vintage clothes. When I was working I regularly got compliments on my clothing and comments from co-workers on how much money I must be spending on clothes. I loved sharing that my Ann Taylor suit and Frye boots cost me a grand total of $15 in a thrift store. Thirty years ago, in London and Dublin, I paid ten to twenty times the price for vintage clothes that I pay here in Portland, so it’s hard for me to leave these wonderful bargains. I’m learning, though. I now regularly check my closets so I know what I have and don’t duplicate, no matter how wonderful what I find is. The grocery list concept works with thrift store shopping too. Always be thinking about looking for specific things when you shop. Be prepared to go back many times to get what you want. Because of my previous problem where I couldn’t leave a good bargain, whether I needed it or not, I feel victorious when I come out with nothing.
Right now I’m looking for light clothes for travel. It takes me weeks to find the size, brand and color I want, but I find them eventually. Another trick I have found which works for travel clothes is to leave a little room in your bag to buy some pieces in markets wherever you travel. I purchased two wraparound skirts for $1 each at a street market in New York in 1979 to see me through a Trailways bus ride around the U.S. and only reluctantly got rid of them (to my memories bin) a few years ago. Those skirts trekked mountains in India, walked beaches in Greece and attended Leonard Cohen concerts in Dublin.
My mother-in-law, Jeanne, used to own a vintage clothing store. She is a master “picker”, able to go through a rack of sweaters in seconds and find the one cashmere in the bunch. It’s impressive. When I first arrived in this country, she taught me how to shop for “finds” in the thrift stores. We used to go to the Goodwill “bin” store where unsorted clothes came out in big bins which were dumped on long tables for everyone to paw through. I was shocked at how competitive Goodwill bin shopping was. The first time I went, I had people grabbing stuff out of my hands. Jeanne taught me not to dawdle, to get a big box, put everything you might conceivably want in the box and, when you are done picking, go into a corner and sort through the box to find what you “really” want to buy. I don’t shop in the bins anymore as I don’t find it enjoyable (and I’m downsizing), but it’s the place where you can get the best deals because you pay for clothing by the pound and not by the item. If you develop a good “eye” as a picker you can turn this into a side business and sell to local vintage clothing shops, at flea markets or online. That’s how Jeanne got started in the business and eventually built up enough great inventory to start her own store.
For vintage clothes we are always hoping for that estate or garage sale where trunks of treasure just came down from the attic. These are few and far between. Jeanne had a bunch of sellers (mostly older women) who regularly sold to her when she had her vintage shop. They trusted her. She identified the piece, told them what it was worth, what she expected to get for it and how much she could give them. Seems like the only way to do business but too often buyers tell unknowing sellers that their treasure is worth nothing and that they are doing them a favor taking it from them. If you decide to start working as a “picker” and that happens to you, don’t sell to that person, especially if you see high priced like product in the store. Both buyer and seller should know the value of the product. Saying that, don’t we all lust for that great find that is underpriced in the store. For me, this is relatively common, since the people pricing in my local thrift stores have no respect for the clothes I love most. Because of this I’ve purchased perfect Blue Fish and Fenini pieces for a couple of dollars each. On the same rack I’ve seen stained and torn Free People and Top Shop pieces for more than $40.00 a pop. You could find some of these higher priced thrift store items cheaper new and on sale.
I’m glad to see both my daughters, after years of only wanting new retail clothes (usually similar to what their friends were wearing, of course), now are both inveterate thrift store shoppers, at least some of the time.
Even when I shop at retail stores, I rarely ever pay full retail prices for clothing. For those who are averse to thrift stores you can get easily buy whatever you want new at a better price by watching for sales and special offers. Try to improve the final price with general store discounts (e.g. 25% holiday sale). It seems like every week-end there are ‘huge’ sales in the malls. Also check online for coupons before you shop. Shopping online can also yield excellent results.
If you haven’t used it in two years get rid of it (some people say six months). I donate back to charity although I could sell on ebay or have garage sales. It seems right to donate since I bought so cheap in the first place. This is hard to do with vintage stuff as it just becomes more vintage and desirable. There are items I’ve donated back to charity that I regretted and one or two that I actually purchased again. I knew I should have held on to that ‘Places in the Heart’ 1930s dress and I was right. Getting rid of my corporate clothes however was not painful at all. Many huge funereal black plastic garden bags stuffed with suits, slacks, blouses, jackets (including Armani, Issey Miyake, Calvin Klein, St. John and Escada) that I was delighted to be rid of were delivered to the Goodwill deposit bin. Yep, if you live in my area you can probably buy some of them, all in fantastic condition, for a couple of bucks each.
One reprieve I found when it’s just impossible to pass up great finds is to buy them for others. Like me, my daughters like vintage beaded cashmere sweaters, 30s and 40s dresses, vintage Pendleton blankets and coats, vintage Coach (particularly the Stewardess Messenger Shoulder) and Dooney & Burke bags. I’ve been able to supply them and their friends with thrift store finds and this gives me great pleasure. They now give me their orders and I search for what they’re currently into. Once you start looking for specific items you’d be surprised at the finds. Ironically, since we live in the home of Pendleton Woolen Mills, I’ve found Pendleton jackets and blankets cheaper in other parts of the country.
Look for Interesting Clothes Ideas Online
I’ve just read an article about a woman doctor, Leila Rose, who used her savings to pick up and travel around the world. On her journey she found she was frustrated, like many of her fellow women travelers, by wanting to be stylish and functional without having to carry trunk loads of clothes. She designed and patented Kameleo, an award winning dress made from non-creasing quick drying comfortable fabric that converts into most favorite outfits like dress, skirt, top and pants. The design comes with a compression band for easy packing. She set up shop in Madagascar where all the dresses are produced under ethical conditions. On her website, kameleonrose.com, the dress is offered today for 75 Euro. For the flexibility and convenience that seems like great value both in weight and price.
I’m very attracted to Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog. His work is “devoted to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” That’s the direction I’d like to go in. The irony is that savvy and style is to do with honest, creative representation of the person, not much, if anything to do with money.