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$10 “Splurge” at the Thrift Store

When you get used to spending $1-$2 for dresses, blouses, skirts and entire designer suits, “splurging” means dishing out anything over $5.  I generally don’t consider spending more than a few bucks on an item unless it’s really quite extraordinary: something unique and gorgeous that makes my heart go a-flutter.

I saw such an item today, after spending 45 minutes coming up empty handed at my charity shop.  My thrifting was also pleasantly interrupted by Greg, one of the regulars who’s been addicted to thrift for many years.  He was showing off some incredible pieces of Waterford Crystal he had just found for $2.50.  He would resell them easily for $75-$100 each.  And – for reasons unknown, Greg had decided that today would be the day he would finally ask me out, after chit chatting over blazers and collectibles for the past few months.

In any case, as the clock wound down to closing time, I politely excused myself from conversing with Greg and scurried over to the “boutique” section of the thrift store.  The “boutique” is the tiny corner where the staff stock high end labels, formal wear, evening gowns – even wedding dresses  After a few minutes of flipping through the hangers, I came upon an item that was covered in a dry-cleaning plastic bag.  I could tell it was a top.  There were interesting sequins involved (something I adore).  It was handmade, brand new and from a good designer, or so I was told by Greg and the ladies on the staff: Adrianna Papell Boutique.  The tags were still on: $95 retail.  The shop was selling it for $10 – an incredible deal but still an enormous sum by my thrifty standards.

I had five minutes to try it on.  Someone was in the changing room.  I glanced at the clock.   One of the women shopping nearby admired my find.  “Girl, I love this so much that if it fits, I’m going to cry.  And if it doesn’t fit, I’m going to cry anyway,” I told her.  With seconds to spare, it was finally my turn to try on the lovely sequined top.  “It fits!” I exclaimed to no one in particular.  A lady across the curtain shouted with glee on my behalf.

Greg wanted to know what I would wear it with.  I thought black skinny pants or leggings with black open-toed heels or silver sandals would do. Another lady suggested gray slacks.  What do you all think?  How would you rock this sequined top?

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What $14 Can Get You At the Thrift Store

$14 at the Thrift Store got me 10 items (8 pieces of clothing and 2 accessories), for an average price of $1.40 per item.  Estimated value: $350.

The details:

 

  1. Blue Kasper pantsuit (100% silk) – Retail value: $100-$150.  I paid: $2
  2. White Liz Claiborne wrap top – Retail: $39.  I paid: $1
  3. Striped lavender/pink Eddie Bauer button-up blouse: Retail: $25.  I paid: $1
  4. New York & Company Argyle sweater vest: Retail: $35.  I paid: $1
  5. Jones New York (Sport) hoodie and matching drawstring pants: Retail: $30.  I paid: $1
  6. Gray J. Crew Silk Blouse: Retail: $30.  I paid: $1
  7. Steve Madden sunglasses with leather temple arms: Retail: $40. I paid: $2.50
  8. Lovely blue necklace to match my current multicolor manicure: Retail: $$10-$15, I paid: $4

 

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Why I Love Thrifting

Black pin-dot fitted top: $1, Vintage beige top with shoulder reveal – Crescendo by Michelle E. Golding: $4, Tote Bag – Ahava: $4, Sea green silk blouse with ruffled shoulders – Kenneth Cole: $4, matching dark green stone necklace (not shown): $2, White babydoll top – Express: $3 – Total Haul: $18, Estimated Value: $175

I am not the kind of thrifty fashionista who tracks down all of the thrift stores in an area and goes from town to town hunting for bargains. When necessary, I have gone to a few different thrift shops when looking for a particular item. This happened, for example, when I had to furnish my apartment.

But, the reason I do not generally hunt for bargains at multiple places is quite simple:

I have found heaven on earth.

I have been to the mountain top.

I have seen El Dorado.

I have unlocked the secrets of the universe.

“Where?” “How?”, you might ask?

In the warm embrace of “my” thrift shop.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve fallen in love with thrifting, slowly, but surely, over the last few months. It began as a brief affair and flowered into something that none of us could have ever anticipated . .

I cannot fully convey just how special “my” particular shop is in this solitary post, but here are a few brief glimpses into the unfathomable joy generated by this special place:

  • The shop is really a vintage boutique masquerading as a thrift store
  • The staff is incredible
  • I regularly buy suits worth $100-$200 for $1. Yeah, I said it: $1. As in “one dolla”.
  • It is a non-profit organization that has raised millions of dollars for charity
  • There is a changing room, so you can actually determine if the clothes look good on you
  • The shop almost always sells everything half off and hundreds of items are always $2 or $1, every single day . . which is to say that I thrift shop AT the thrift shop.
  • 99% of the clothes are in impeccable shape – barely worn, sometimes never worn, with the tags still on, often freshly dry cleaned with the pleats still crisply ironed
  • In addition to clothes, they also have housewares and an amazing bookstore
  • It abuts a spiritual center. A SPIRITUAL CENTER! Lawd have mercy!

When I get compliments on my clothes, I love telling people that I paid an unimaginably low price for the item. I proselytize thrifting whenever possible for several reasons. First: I love blowing people’s minds with the notion that you do not have to spend a lot of money to dress fabulously. Secondly: these are tough economic times and being thrifty is smart for everyone. People who make donations get tax write-offs (yay!), clients get gorgeous clothes and save money that can be spent on more important things and charities get much needed funding . . . Yes, technically thrift shopping isn’t exactly a boon for the economy – but there are better ways to improve our economic woes than rampant consumerism.

I also love bringing attention to the good that can be done by thrifting for fashion instead of buying overpriced, cookie-cutter clothes that everyone else is buying at the same department stores you frequent. Not only do thrift stores carry vintage pieces and unique items that you are unlikely to stumble across at your next cocktail party, but you also have an opportunity to directly help agencies and charitable organizations that are often affiliated with non-profit thrift stores.

In addition to thrifting, I also regularly donate clothes to the store and delight in seeing my old things on the racks (they don’t stay there for long!). The combination of (1) paying 1% -10% for the price of beautiful designer clothes (2) saving a huge amount of money as a result (3) knowing you’re directly contributing to charities (4) getting to know the fantastic staff (5) amassing a gorgeous wardrobe for PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR (6) undermining our materialistic culture and (7) helping the environment by recycling clothes is a heady, intoxicating elixir that quickly leads to untold levels of joy and inevitable addiction.

And as if it could not get better, I have also grown spiritually from my conversations and exchanges with people I have met there, including the friend whose mantra inspired the name of this blog. Spiritual growth, gorgeous clothes, giving back to the community and saving money. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Some examples of my recent thrift finds:

  • A pristine Etienne Aigner handbag: $3
  • Royal purple Kasper suit (skirt and blazer): $1
  • Liz Claiborne leather handbag: $2
  • Black leather open-toed kitten heels: $1
  • Ann Taylor blouse: $2
  • Handwoven Moroccan tunic: $3
  • New York & Company jeans: $2

It’s insane.

Once you have been spoiled by a good thrift shop, you’re never the same again. You cannot fathom paying full price, half price or even a quarter price for your haberdashery – except certain items which you’re better off getting at a regular store. Your whole understanding of what is a reasonable price to pay for clothing gets so thrown off that paying more than $2 or $3 for something – even something quite beautifully made, never worn and with the tags still on- makes you think twice. At this point, I only go to the mall to pick up things I cannot get at the thrift store – like a custom blend of Ayurvedic chai from Teavana. Occasionally, I may wander into a store I used to frequent, like Caché, to mourn the thousands of dollars wasted on retail clothing in times past and to gather fashion ideas for items and outfits that I plot to assemble at “my” thrift store.

In any case, that is the long and the short of why I thrift and the reason fashion will make an occasional appearance on this otherwise ethereal blog.

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Tips for Getting Your Thrift On

  • If it’s your first time at a store, ask to speak to a staff member or volunteer. 

Introduce yourself and ask if there is anything you should know about the shop.  Inform yourself about the charities involved.  Many thrift stores color-code items and have discounts on certain colors.  Ask if there is a changing room.  You also want to ask if they are cash only or if they also accept credit and debit cards.

  • Take a tour of the shop before you dig in.

Get a lay of the land and figure out where everything is.  Some stores have “dollar racks” or special sections or rooms for kids clothes, menswear, housewares, etc.

  • Inspect your clothes.

Look for imperfections, holes, stains and anything untoward.  If you’re as lucky as I am, most of your store’s inventory will consist of clothes in pristine shape, but this is not always the case.

  • Try on everything before you buy.

You don’t want to get home and discover that you can’t zip up those hot pants.

  • Try on anything that looks like it might fit you, no matter what size it is.

Thrift stores and vintage shops carry items from the past – which means that the size may not be commensurate with today’s standards.  Develop an eye for the size of your waist, chest, etc.  My rule of thumb is to try on anything that looks good in my size plus or minus 1- 2 sizes.  These days I wear anything from an 8 to a 14 depending on the item (skirt, pant, dress) and its fit (high-waist, low-rider, etc.)  It’s also a good idea to keep a few pieces in your wardrobe that you know are slightly larger than you usually wear, for days when you’re bloated.  In general, I avoid buying anything that is too tight.  There’s simply no point in being uncomfortable.

  • Never buy anything that you’re not 100% sure you love. 

If you have to think about it for more than 30 seconds, don’t get it.  Absolutely do not get anything that turns you off for any reason.  Trust your gut and follow your tastes.

  • Think about gaps to fill in your wardrobe.

Do you have a sufficient variety of clothes for work, socializing, physical activities and lounging at home?   Know what your priorities are by getting very clear on what you already have at home. When I first started thrifting, my priority was getting suits, blouses and dress pants for the office.  Next, I turned to casual slacks, skirts and dresses.   Only after getting a solid wardrobe for work did I begin to explore more playful items and loungewear.

  • Know yourself and your preferences but also allow yourself the flexibility to change.

Are there certain colors and fabrics you like?  Styles you love or hate?  Develop a sense of your own personal style by seeing how you spontaneously respond to items.  Go with what you’re drawn to.  Pay attention to your heart.  As you expand your wardrobe, you will find yourself buying colors and styles that you’ve never worn before.  Trust yourself as you begin to develop your sense of what looks and feels good on you.  My old wardrobe consisted mostly drab, dark clothes –  many of which were ill-fitting.  As I relaxed into thrifting, I began to get a sense of what suits my figure. I also  discovered that I love a variety colors besides beige and black: pink, blue, red and to a lesser extent orange, yellow and green – colors that I almost never bought before. I also found myself drawn to fabrics that feel soft to the touch — silk and jersey cotton, for example.

  • Be considerate, positive and friendly.

I find myself naturally picking up around the store when the spirit moves me: I’ll hang things up that have fallen on the floor or clean out the changing room.  I don’t do these things because I’m trying to be a good thrift shop citizen.  I do it because I am having a good time and I enjoy keeping things neat and orderly.  If you’re in a good mood, you’ll spontaneously spread positive energy and simultaneously build up good thrifting karma.

  • Don’t go on an empty stomach or when you’re in a rush.

Have a bite to eat before you go to the thrift shop and choose a time period (preferably at least an hour) when you have time to look and try on clothes at a leisurely pace.

  • Don’t bring a lot of crap into the store.

Sometimes all I bring into the thrift shop is my car keys.  I don’t like to be weighed down by my purse, sunglasses, etc.  You can always go back to your car for your wallet once you’ve finalized your purchases.

  • Meditate.

I’ve actually found that thrifting helps me practice mindfulness.  I pay attention to my breathing.  I notice my own reaction to the items I find.  I pay attention to what’s going on around me.  I interact with the other clients and the staff, enjoying the aliveness and spontaneity that emerges from our conversations.  I touch a silk blouse and luxuriate in the feel of its fabric.  I allow the vividness of a blazer’s color to delight and penetrate me.  All of this, when done mindfully, is really quite a sensual and meditative practice.