Why shop resale? Well, who doesn’t want butter for the price of margarine? According to Christa Weil, author of “Secondhand Chic: Finding Fabulous Fashion at Consignment, Vintage, and Thrift Shops,” “you don’t have to be rich to wear high-fashion clothing.” In the world of secondhand, we, the people of the fashion republic, do not have to be dictated to by fashion designers and are free to develop our own styles. Furthermore, at resale prices, we can afford to try new styles and not feel guilty passing on any that are more Bjorning than brilliant.
Where to shop?
Affluent areas tend to have more designer-label clothing and better-quality apparel. Trendy areas tend to have hipper clothing. And the New Haven area has neither of these. As such, head to NYC for these stores: Rags A Go-Go (big and cheap), Search and Destroy (great vintage t’s and old leather jackets), Atomic Passion (SHOES), Housing Works (cheap, but you may have to hunt), and Jill Stuart (beautiful vintage dresses).
To look for shops in an area you will be visiting, go to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops’ Web site, http:// www.narts.org/index.htm. Or, check out (literally) this book from your library: “Retro Chic: A Guide to Fabulous Vintage and Designer Resale Shopping in North America and Online” by Diana Eden and Gloria Lintermans. The book provides addresses, phone numbers, descriptions and prices.
What to look for?
If you are Teddy Goff ’07, the first thing you should do when you go into a thrift store “is always look for a velour jump suit because nothing, and I mean nothing, says bling like Salvation Army.” Sadly (or perhaps quite happily), we cannot all have Goff’s elan. However, there are still key items to keep an eye out for:
Things that are already broken in, i.e. shoes and jeans and t-shirts
A good pair of shoes, like a man, are hard to find. Ninety percent of the shoes at Goodwill are bad bridesmaids’ souvenirs. Think about it: most people wear their shoes until they wear out. If they are giving them away in wearable condition, it is usually because they put the “ugh” into ugly. But sometimes you hit the jackpot, so make a beeline to the shoes first. The shoes will be already broken in for you, and they prove steals when compared to retail. Similarly, vintage jeans are also nicely worn-in and incredibly cheap. Even if they happen to be of the hideous Avatar taper-legged style, you can still brandish a pair of scissors and make bitchin’ cutoffs.
Stains, odors, and basic wear & tear
Hold said garments up to the light in high-wear areas. The crotch is always good and the pits can be the pits, so look there too. Even if the areas are not stained, they may be entirely threadbare and verging on holiness. Check for loose or missing buttons and damaged buttonholes or zippers. Old fabric and thread can become weak, so give it a good tug (when no one’s looking) to make sure it will hold up under even the most pelvic-gyrating Toad’s dance-floor set.
If you realize an item just needs a little hemming, a new zipper, or a new button, or if you just took off that bow — forget it. You will never do it. Trust me. The one exception might be if the frock is a high-quality garment, say a mint-condition Givenchy, that is just too big. In this case, I recommend a cheap tailor or a cheap pound of donuts. Keep in mind that no matter how these ugly ducklings tempt you, a proper tailoring job might nullify the bargain.
Do not feel the need to grow up
Check out the children’s racks. Here you can pick up lycra tops, baby-doll dresses, and kids’ t-shirts (they fit snug and show off killer pecs) sporting verses like ‘Sailor Moon’ in Japanese, or ‘I shot JR,’ or whatever pop-culture icon tickles your oh-so-ironic fancy. However, if you also find pants that fit on this rack, I hate you.
Do not buy underwear
The ‘Specially Priced’ Rack
This is the Area 51 of thrift-store racks. This is where employees put all the clothes they think deserve a higher price tag due to some “desirable” quality. Their idea of desirable usually involves: things that sparkle (aka someone went postal with a Be-Dazzler), things with rat fur or little bits of leather sewn on them, and anything from the Gap. I do not understand the logic. I do not try. In fact, I tend to avoid these racks altogether. I am sure you can hear the conversation now: “Oh, Mavis, looky! This one! It’s all shiny-like! That’ll fetch at least eight bucks!” Meanwhile, Dior frocks are gathering dust elsewhere, completely overlooked. A big, stinky red herring. Move on.
The T3 (Thrift Tricks of the Trade)
CLEAN EVERYTHING BEFORE WEARING IT!
I cannot stress this point enough! Whether a hat or a pair of shoes — wash it. Make sure you are not about to give yourself lice or the grippe.
Patience is a virtue
Rome was not built in a day, and neither was my closet. Sometimes you strike out, and you have to accept that. New stuff is put out every day, and there is a very high turnover. Except for the bridesmaids’ dresses, which languish in eternal limbo.
Try it on
At these prices, avoiding the scuzzy medieval changing rooms can be tempting, but a wasted five bucks could be spent on something more exciting, like bingo or burritos. If you are 100 percent positive that you will become physically sick in said changing room, wear a leotard. Not only will you avoid any possibility of nausea, but you will also miss waiting for a dressing room.
Look for specials
Even thrift stores have sales. Dry-erase boards in the front of the store display which colored price tags are half-off, et cetera (a side note: if the item you want has the wrong colored tag, remember that tag is merely stuck on with a staple, and staples are pliable — if you get my debauched mind). Also, in vintage stores, do not be afraid to barter.
Other than that, one last key piece of advice from NARTS is “when you see something that calls out to you — BUY IT! Chances are it will not be there the next time you visit.” So now it is time to take inventory of your closet and say out with the old and in with the — old. Happy shopping! And try to leave something for me.