Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thrift Stores, or, How Hipsters Ruin Them

I love thrift stores. I started off frequenting them as a teen, when I was trying to make my summer job money stretch as far as possible when buying school clothes. The love continued through college as I began using craigslist and freecycle (not quite thrift stores, but online approximations) and in Japan there was a crazy second hand shop where I acquired all sorts of random things, including a respectable acoustic guitar for only $10.

Upon returning to the U.S., all of the apartments I had with roommates and by myself were furnished with secondhand goods- either loaned to me or purchased from garage sales and thrift stores- and when Bobby and I moved up here to Colorado we furnished our entire apartment for less than $200. Since I haven't posted pictures of our new place yet (and we've been here almost a year, which might require a change in the adjective "new") I'll be doing a series on our apartment and where we discovered our little second hand cast off furniture. In the interim, I wanted to share what I got at the thrift store a few weeks ago when I needed some new winter clothes. I generally dislike sweaters, so I prefer to layer long sleeved shirts under t-shirts with a hoodie on top. I had blown holes in the elbows of several long sleeved shirts, and they were also all about 4 years old. I plan to make them into t-shirts, but in the meantime I needed replacements. Here's what I found...
 I ended up with 3 long sleeved shirts (two had tags on them, all of them were name brand), two cardigans, and a pair of almost brand new Levi's. Total cost- less than $18. I know that thrift stores often conjure up images of dank, dusty, funky little places filled to the brim with random crap, but if you look hard enough you will usually find one that you love. In fact, my favorite thrift store is run by the Salvation Army in my hometown of Brownwood, TX- population about 30,000. They regularly had "Ten Cent Tuesdays" where most of the store's items were on sale for 10 cents.

In light of 10 cent clothing, I'd like to take this moment for a short rant- the recent trend of "thrifting" and "vintage" that is anything but thrifty. I'm sorry, but spending $65 on a vintage dress on Etsy is not "thrifting". Sure, it's used, yes, it's vintage, congratulations, but it kind of defeats the entire point of thrift store shopping. Here are some examples from one of the overpriced, hipster-iffic "thrift stores" in Wicker Park in Chicago...
EXHIBIT A: 6 pairs of used leather boots, in various colors. Folks, you're looking at over A THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of boots. No, I'm not kidding. And yeah, I saw more than one girl with a ridiculous headband and feather earrings and a vintage dress swooning over them, ready to drop over $200 a PAIR for these things. Beat up, stinky, used leather boots are selling for the same amount of money that we spent on everything in our entire apartment. What. The. Hell.
EXHIBIT B: Here's my friend Jo, modeling a familiar 80's looking style jacket. How much was this little gem? Why, only $250! What a bargain! Yay, let's go thrifting! Seriously, I thought I had seen it all until this...

EXHIBIT C: Those. Are. Pants. And they cost $150. Here I'm modeling them as a quirky, "ironic" headdress, with the requisite duck lip pose that is an integral part of any hipster get up.

The point is, there is most certainly a glorious, frugal middle ground between junkyard collection thrift stores and over priced trendy thrift stores. And don't get me wrong- I like vintage, funky clothes just as much as anyone, but I have boundaries as to what I'll spend. Case in point- I found this dress at a thrift store in Japan for $10.
 It was my birthday, so clearly bunny ears were in order...
It also came in handy for a friend's art project.
It's in perfect condition, fits like it was made for me, and it's lined with silk. The tag in it was from the 1950's. Something like this would have probably run me into the triple digits on Etsy, and Sweet Hipster who knows how much in a trendy "vintage" shop. But at a real thrift store, it was logically and reasonably priced.

If you've never given thrift stores a try, or if you've been burned in the past, try giving them another chance. There are definitely some really, really bad  ones out there, but if you can find "your store" it's worth all the searching.


  1. I have a hard time shopping at thrift stores because most of the things in my size look like they are from a grandma.

    I've been in "vintage" stores before, and never understood the point. Most things that are vintage and in-style can be found in similar fashion at target for cheaper. Sure... it's not used, but it's probably a better deal!

    We also spent less than 200 to furnish our house... but that is because we have lots of family who gave us used furniture for free (like our bed and couch).

  2. You're spot on about Target- especially on their clearance rack. If I can get a brand new shirt, that originally cost $25, marked down to $4.99, that is newer/nicer/cuter than a $50 shirt at a "vintage" shop, isn't it a no brainer to get the new shirt? It seems that the vintage thing is almost more of a silly street cred issue than anything else...

    And about the thrift store selections-I totally dressed like an old lady for about two years in high school. I kept coming across funky old lady mu-mus and dresses and awful polyester suits, or terrible 60's baggy silk shirts, so I thought "I'm just going to embrace how ridiculous this is and see what happens".

    It was... interesting, haha. I call it my "old lady phase" (not too original, but accurate).