Forays into Thrifting

Thrifting is a new experience for me. My mom has long discouraged buying second-hand because "why bother when you can buy new clothes for cheap," "you don't know where they came from," "they're old and will fall apart anyway," etc. It didn't help that sometimes my dad would bring home junky clothes of questionable origins; I surmise that they came from a local swap meet that he frequents, and I don't have a good opinion about that place. Mom's words certainly have merit, but there's always another side to the story.

I've shunned the idea of thrifting until recently, when I saw lots of cool vintage outfits from StyleDiary members. Many of those pieces are fun and unique, and most of them are cheap--hits two birds with one stone for me. Besides, while my dad brought home a lot of misses, occasionally he got me a couple of things that are worthy of The Greatest Hits. Still, it took a while before I warmed up to the idea of buying old clothes. Sure, one (wo)man's trash may be another's treasure, but more often than not, things are discarded because they're no longer wanted, and they're no longer wanted because of some other reason, which is probably bad. A couple of years ago, I went to a thrift store in my hometown to buy a cute napkin holder to use as a letter holder. That place was really junky, so I didn't have much incentive to go here again.

Last weekend I decided to go into that same thrift store, albeit with a new mission--hunting for interesting clothing and accessories. Unfortunately, my reluctant enthusiasm was squashed the minute I walked into the store. I was overwhelmed by the smell of some kind of disinfectant spray. It was a busy day and lots of shoppers went on undeterred, but I did not enjoy my time there. Everything was old and not at all interesting. Needless to say, I didn't stay for long.

Yesterday I decided to go to a Goodwill near where I'm living now. Like my hometown, the area is far from being affluent, but it's surrounded by some very well-heeled neighborhoods. I figured that my chances of finding something nice would be higher, because the materials donated by people from the surrounding areas might be of better quality. Sure enough, the vibe was much better than the first time I visited a thrift store. There were no funky smells, even though the store seemed a bit chaotic. I didn't expect the store to have a whole lot of goodies, since it is a thrift store after all, but there were quite a few gems hidden amongst the ordinary to ugly junk (like a blue shirt with the "LV" logo printed all over, a pair of white linen Fendi pants, and a "Gucci" backpack-purse). I found a pair of Joe's Jeans in fairly good shape (for $5), an Armani blazer (much too big for me), a vintage Valentino wool skirt (also too big for me), a couple of $30 leather blazers (including a vintage Alaia, which was in pretty decent shape), a $4 pair of red patent leather BCBGirls stiletto boots (much too sassy for me), and a few other small wonders. I was amazed by the good selection of work-worthy clothes, but I guess people naturally take good care of their suits and stuff.

After a few hours of browsing, I plunked down $13 and walked away with 4 items:

1) a Grass denim miniskirt

It appears to be in really good shape--no holes, tears, stains, etc. The plastic tag attachment thingy was actually hidden inside the seams, so it might not have been worn before at all. The fit isn't perfect, but then again it's rare to find something that is. This skirt has fun pocket details and will make a good replacement for my stiff $7 Gap mini, which warped in the washer or dryer and hasn't been worn much since.

2) a microfiber/PVC clutch

This one is in excellent shape. It might have been lightly used, or brand new--a piece of cardboard protecting the bottom and sides was still in it. Too bad they marked the price on the inside lining of the bag...otherwise it's perfect. Simple yet modern and streamlined--just the way I like it.

3) a vintage Sears top

Probably from the 70's, and probably never been worn (plastic tag thingy still attached to the label). There were a few light yellow spots on the collar, but they came out in the wash. This top is about 10 sizes too big--even after accounting for the vintage vs. modern sizing issue--but I intended to wear it loosely as a tunic anyways. As you can see, it works just fine.

4) an Olay canvas bag

I don't think Olay was ever in the business of retailing bags, so I'm guessing this came as part of a kit of some sort. Obviously old in appearance, a few pen marks here and there (which came off during cleaning), but otherwise in great shape. Parts of it smelled musty even after a wash-and-scrub, but I guess there's not much I can do about it.

As The Budget Fashionista said, thrifted items should be disinfected. I threw the top and the skirt into the washing machine, turned the knob to the hot water setting, added detergent, and a little extra sumpthin'-sumpthin'. I didn't have the TBF-recommended Pine Sol. Instead, I added what my roommate recommended--a cup of vinegar. I guess as long as it changes the pH of the washer's brew, the germs will be extremely unhappy. As for the bags, I washed and scrubbed them by hand in water + detergent. Since I'm not going to wear them, they don't have to be super-clean. This obviously can't be done with leather, so I guess you'll have to use a sanitizing spray and wipe with a damp cloth.

To wrap up, here's what I learned:
1) Location matters--rich people get rid of nicer things, if quality is what you're looking for. Next time I'll hit thrift stores in more upscale areas to see if this theory continues to hold.
2) Patience is a virtue--it'll take quite a while to dig through the junk. Shop more carefully than you would in a retail store, since you can't return your purchases for a refund. As always, inspect for damage, buy only what you like and can fit into, etc.
3) Vintage sizing runs smaller--if something looks vintage, don't automatically dismiss it just because it's size 14. I don't look like a size 14 to you, do I?
4) Disinfecting your purchases is not that hard--consult the TBF website or book, or these sites that my roommate recommended.
5) The Signs are there--if a pungent odor is emanating from the store, it's a sign that something is rotten, not just in Denmark (sorry, the Shakespeare geek in me just had to say something).

What are your thrifting tips and stories, from scoring big to finding the right store? Comment away =)


Stacie said...

My Dad found a Canon AE-1 camera at a Goodwill in North Dakota for only $4. It works perfectly and he gave it to my sister since I already have a similar camera. They just don't make them like they used to. Good job with the thrifting. I haven't been in a while but I am thinking about hitting the Open Door Mission and the Salvation Army tomorrow.

Agathe said...

Great finds! I am espeacially drooling over the top and the Olay bag.

bee said...

Excellent finds -- the denim skirt is especially a favorite.
The Goodwill near me, in a decent, although not wealthy, area, has quite a bit of merch with tags still on.

BrownEyedGirl said...

My advice for thrift store shopping is to go often, and look through EVERYTHING and anything you kind of like put in your cart.. think about the purchases later... you have to work fast in thrift stores!

la pulga diva said...

browneyedgirl, i second that - shop first, inspect second, then checkout!

great post! i thrift almost once a week...i would add that if you can't go during the week (even after work), try to get there first thing in the morning. personally, i love the chaos, but the good stuff goes fast, and it's harder to find when everything's crowded and rummaged through.

also, if something's broken, stained, or doesn't fit, don't buy it. i don't know how many times i have bought something just because it was a good deal, then never used / worn it.

finally, don't forget garage sales! i use craigslist to try to find a sales close together in good neighborhoods. get there early and on the first day if possible!

Kristin said...

I thrift a lot, and find great things. Some grand slams:
*Seven For All Mankind jeans, tags on.
*Hermes scarf, still in the box.
*Miele vacuum cleaner.
*A piece of Depression glass I later sold on eBay for $1K.
Always, books galore.
Our culture is so dipsosable these days, there's always good stuff out there. It just takes some time to find.

The Cheap Chica said...

great finds!