Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cast a Thrift

As you may or may not have noticed, I adore thrift shopping.

This is my delirious giraffe face upon finding this sweet mini at Goodwill

I can occupy hours scouring mounds of castoff clothing, floating from flimsy '90s party dresses to homemade a-line shifts in meditative bliss. I very seldom have dreams that involve sexy exploits but I regularly visit thrift shops while somnolent, and I always remember the fantastic deals I snagged while asleep.

I understand that my adoration for unwanted apparel borders on a mania that few comprehend, let alone feel the need to emulate. But thrift shopping is awesome.

Racks of gold!

If you're looking to dip a toe into the endless Valhalla that are America's secondhand stores, I give you:

The Three Commandments of Thrift Shopping

I've said before that I am loathe dole out advice like some style sage because really, I'm no more learned than anybody else with a credit card and internet connection. But thrift shopping is one arena in which I would dare to elevate myself to expert status.

When I roll into my local Goodwill (I have a favorite that will remain unspecified... Of course!), there are a few key ideas I keep in mind.

1. Cultivate your vision. 

This is the most important advice I could offer. I really tried but I could not come up with a less-cheesy sounding bullet point.

This shirt and skirt represent two of my all-time favorite secondhand finds.

Some people go to the thrift store to find reasonable prices on current clothes. More power to 'em. High fives, you go get your deals.

That, however, is not why I peruse charity shops. I buy secondhand because I revel in the weird wonders to be discovered the the unmapped depths of U.S. consumerism. It's very cool that you got that Loft blouse for $2.50, but it doesn't make my heart sing like stumbling upon a '70s chambray top hand-embroidered with buffalo. I love the concept of carefully curating a closet full of absolutely unique pieces that couldn't be bought by anyone else for any price, but that I found for less than a fin each.

But that's me. The key is to know your own style, have an idea of your sartorial needs but keep an open mind when deciding what to buy.

I implore you to approach clothes in a somewhat unfettered fashion: Using only your gut, pick up what attracts you, whether it be a paisley mom jacket or a pair of acid-washed overalls. After you decide whether or not something speaks to your soul (I know you've had garments whisper sweet nothings to your psyche!), then you can utilize that same practical checklist you bust out whenever you're shopping: Does it fit? Is it in good shape? Do I have other pieces with which to wear it?

"It's like Kirsten Dunst showed up to help us paint."
These are my favorite overalls and they were secondhand. Also pictured: my favorite coozie.

Instead of stumbling into a traditional retail store that has scientifically-calibrated clothes that will make you look like you care about current trends, thrift shops offer up the spectrum of garment styles, for better and for worse. There's no socially acceptable safety net when secondhand shopping, offering you the chance to truly explore your own style outside the confines of trends and the tyranny of good taste.

Be bold!

But seriously, bison are my thing.

2. Expect anything.

While I do have long-term thrift goals that I aspire to find when I ply the racks at St. Vincent de Paul, I try not to have specific items in mind when thrifting.

Spotted at Goodwill. I didn't even know this was a brand.

Yes, it would be a glorious day in my life if I ever found black leather trousers that fit me perfectly chilling in the back of my local secondhand shop, and I would probably experience an ecstasy akin to a religious awakening. However, if I expect to discover these mythical pants right off the bat, I'll probably be disappointed and possibly blinded to the other awesome offerings crowding the store.

It's rad to have a general idea of what you're looking to find, but a strict shopping list is as useless in a thrift store as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

Occasionally, I'll want to dress up like a Disney mouse and will find myself in need of very specific pieces. In that case, I either start perusing secondhand stores a month in advance or prepare myself to pay higher prices for items eyed on Etsy.

3. Show some love but know your limits.

Sometimes, the dress of your dreams needs only slight repair and a little cleaning to be beautiful. Sometimes, however, the sun has faded the fun out of those knit sleeves and no amount of Tide can turn it back.

This is what you do in the gas stations in #Texas.
This pink dress was in pretty rough shape when I found it, but some simple repairs keep it infinitely wearable.

Thrift pieces occasionally need work. While not especially adept at the art of garment construction, I've taught myself basic skills such as letting out a hem and mending seams. I'd recommend brushing up on minor alterations and clothes care because a little lovin can go a long way.

In the same vein, search out a reputable cobbler and alterations guru to handle larger problems. I once found a pair of beat-to-hell Miu Miu pumps at a Goodwill in Ohio and for less than $5, the awesome folks at Hanlin Shoe Repair made them good as new.

However, recognize what you're not willing to undertake and stand by it. I will use saddle soap to revive foxy leather skirts but I will not, under any circumstances, tackle stained suede.

03-20 legs
My famed and much-adored Miu Miu pumps from Goodwill

What do you think? Do you have any other guidelines you thrift by? I'd love to hear 'em!

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