Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mail Bag: Secondhand Strategy

What a great Saturday! I got to go out for lunch with two of my good friends, attend a TDW party, and GO THRIFTING! What a coincidence that I should find some fictional fan mail regarding this very subject in my imaginary inbox:

Dear Kasmira,

You have shown us some incredible thrift finds! What’s your secret? Whenever I go thrifting, I find only novelty sweaters and polyester pants. Sometimes, I don’t even get that far because I’m overwhelmed by the racks and racks of smelly clothes. How do you find those gems?

Secondhand Stores Stink

Well, Stinky, I know where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a thrift store when I was a teen, but the double lure of cheap prices and one-of-a-kind (or last-of-its-kind) items is enough for me to brave musty smells and crowded stores.

The first obstacle to thrifting is to find a good shop. While good lighting, helpful sales people, and dressing rooms are nice, my #1 priority is that the store’s merchandise has a good turn rate. You don’t want to visit a secondhand store and find the same, moldering items month after month. How do you know if a store has a good turn? Sometimes you can see evidence of a stock maintenance system (like colored tags that correspond to the time period a garment entered the store) and sometimes you just have to visit repeatedly to see if items are moving. You can be relatively sure that stores that have specials (like 50% Wednesdays, etc.) or are always crowded go through their inventory regularly.

Once you’ve found a good shop, how do you deal with the endless selection? Personally, I only shop for certain items.

Skirts. I like to thrift for skirts because the fit isn’t exact. You can buy a size larger or smaller than usual and they’ll usually still fit. They are easy to slip over your clothing in the middle of an aisle, negating the need for a dressing room. Finally, skirts are easy to alter. You can shorten them and/or add trim to update their look.

Sweaters. I am a cold person and cannot get enough of sweaters. I like thin cardigans for the summer and chunky turtlenecks for the winter. I’ll never understand how so many pristine, high quality sweaters make their way into the thrift market. I’m not complaining; I snap them up! Sweater coats (like the pictured, thrifted item to the left) are big again this fall and the secondhand stores are full of them. Update the look with a wide belt. Like skirts, sweaters can be tried on over your clothing.

Slips. This is a recent addiction of mine. I love the details available on older slips. Not only are they pretty, but they are highly functional under the many unlined skirts I wear. Some people dye them bright colors and wear them as outerwear. (I am told an “acid” dye will dye polyester.) There is a bit of an “ick” factor associated with wearing someone else’s lingerie, but you can’t find these sorts of hems, trims, and necklines on a modern slip. Slips are usually sized by the bust measurement. (And, yes, I also try these on over my clothes, in the middle of the aisle. Shopping with me is highly entertaining.)

Purses. I love vintagey purses. I’ve thrifted a total of four purses this summer. One of them has become my everyday staple. My gold and silver purses are my first selection for a night out. This weekend, I thrifted a genuine snakeskin purse. The best thing about shopping for a secondhand purse is that one size fits all.

I don’t even pause at the sections containing pants, jeans, or shorts because I don’t want to bother with a dressing room (if one is available) or with returning the item if it doesn’t fit. Cotton shirts (like tees and tanks) are usually not worth thrifting, unless they are obviously unworn, because they have such a short lifespan. I wish I could find blouses or dresses I like, but the items I find are usually very large and ugly. My friend Julie has had great success with finding outerwear, but I haven’t been so lucky. The thought of thrifted shoes makes me a little queasy, but I would buy a lightly used pair if it was amazingly cute. Finally, you could not pay me enough to take home someone else’s panties, bra, girdle, or intimate lingerie.

Besides carefully store selection and targeted shopping, the other key ingredient to a successful thrift experience is the right attitude. Thrifting is a treasure hunt. It’s an adventure. Think of yourself as a crusader, cutting your way through the terrors of novelty wear and evil armies of snot-nosed children to find your holy thrift grail. Then go home, take a shower, and wash your treasure to remove the secondhand funk.

If you’re on a budget or like unique items, secondhand stores are great places to patronize. No one has to know that you shop there, but it can be fun to reveal the source of your new items. Be prepared to turn your friends green with envy when they compliment your new, quirky bag and you say, “Oh, this? $2 at Valley Thrift.”

(Pictured outfit: Sweater coat, Energie (thrifted). Sheer black tank, Mossimo. Lace overlay cami, Halogen. Dark denim, Calvin Klein (overdyed by me). Black moccasins, American Eagle. Silver bird medallion necklace, Xhilaration.)


Melody said...

You should have added a warning to your post - "Caution: Thrifting is addictive." LOL. Sounds like we have similiar thrifting strategies. I noticed now is a good time to find outerwear. I just found a great J. Crew casual coat for $8 at a local Goodwill.

Anonymous said...

Nice find, Melody!

I should do an Outerwear Overview, Kasmira. I seem to be the queen of coats.

It was awfully fun to hang out with you on Saturday. We need to do it more, darnit!

Nickname unavailable said...

I have been wondering about the ability to find all these clothes for women at the thrift store. I tend to avoid clothes for myself but I will look for my kids - perhaps I will try your try on strategies. I especially thought the part about showering afterwards was fitting. My hands feel so grimey after a thrift store trip.

Anonymous said...

When washing thrift clothes hang them to dry outside. It gives them some fresh air and gets rid of the smell quickly. And don't hang them in your wardrobe straight away, even after a wash all your clothes could start smelling "old-lady-ish".

Another tip, try 2nd hand places that have "rental racks", where the previous owners of the clothes have 1 month rentals to sell their stuff. The prices are generally lower to get rid of them quicker, and having a one month turn around, you know that the clothes are generally changing every month or so.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to this party, but I see anything with the word "thrift store" in it, and I have to read it. You have great tips. It bothers me when people go to one crappy store and then look down their noses at thrift store junkies like me. (Well, it doesn't bother me that much since it means there's less competition for the good stuff. ;o) ) At least 60% of my wardrobe (probably more) is from thrift stores, and I have a lot of brand names. The closest Goodwill to my house gets tons of never-worn Banana Republic stuff, and Goodwills in my city have set prices no matter what brand. Nothing over $5! My best thrift store finds, though, were a pair of trouser-cut Joe's Jeans (retail $158+) for $5, and a pair of 7 For All Mankind jeans (retail $135+) for $7. But I have so many more great things than that. I've found a lot of great shirts at thrift stores too, but I agree with you that skirts and bags are where it's at. And jeans. =o)

P.S. I love the colors of your walls in all your indoor pics. Are they at your house? I have bright-colored walls at my house too, and it seems visitors either love 'em or hate 'em. My husband and I love 'em though, and that's what counts!

Kasmira said...

The brightly colored walls ARE those of my home. We're currently painting our office mustard. I love it!

Anonymous said...

We have a Salvation Army about 6 blocks from our work (my crew containing not limited to 4-5 people) and over lunch breaks we run to go spend spend spend! The absolute best part is that there is a basement where all of the Target clearance winds up. Anything from Target Corp. what didn't make it through as a sample, or anything and everything that didn't make it in a Target store. Racks and racks of fantastic cheap clothes and we buy it all! We often find sweaters for $1, coats, belts, bags, shirts, etc all for under $5. We've even found current clothes that's in Target now there for more than 1/2 what they are selling.

"Óg" said...

Vintage and thrift clothing were my favorite finds until I got curves. However, your "how to" inspires me to give it a go - and thankfully I now live in a city that is teaming with charity vintage shops. Gotta love being able to shop and feel like you are helping someone at the same time.