When I was in my early teens, my parents decided to give me a lump sum clothing allowance per year. They thought it would teach me about budgeting and financial decision making. Instead, I blew every dollar on riding lessons and shows. Which, in and of itself, is financial decision making at its finest. Can we say ‘priorities’?
Not wanting my parents to wonder why I never bought clothes, especially when I was still going through growth spurts, I started shopping at our local Salvation Army. What began out of necessity turned into a love and a treasure-hunting pastime. It even led to a career in fashion – which means I still shop at thrift stores out of necessity. Wink. Sigh.
Thrifting, often touted as environmentally friendly and good for the wallet, is also tedious and discouraging. The most common gripe I get from my friends is: “I don’t know how you find such good stuff! Every time I go it’s just a bunch of crap.” This is true. Sometimes, there is just weird stuff from 10 years ago that is not vintage but also not current. Thrift stores also smell like your grandma, but in a bad way. The fluorescent lighting does not contribute to a great shopping experience.
That being said, there are gems to be found. My favorite finds include a mint condition pair of Pikeur breeches, an Australian Outback oilskin coat, Hunter boots, Lululemon hoodies, and some very unique belts for next to nothing. Oh, and a pile of Nike polo shirts, which I have since sold at a consignment tack shop for a profit.
Are you hooked yet?
At the end of the day, you’re just giving someone’s castaway a second life.
Thrifting is one style secret I am all too excited to share. It’s a fun way to experiment with your personal style, and dress in clothing you otherwise would never have been able to afford. Allow me to impart my insider secrets:
No list, only surprises
You can’t walk into a thrift store with a shopping list – that’s a one-way ticket to frustration. Be open to finding things you don’t immediately need or weren’t looking for. Maybe you’re searching for a barn jacket, but you find a polo shirt instead. You should probably just buy the polo and stow it away for summer. It’s only $3, after all.
Shop little, shop often
Most of my great finds have come from the era when I lived two minutes away from a massive Value Village. I would stop by for 10 minutes on my way home from work or the barn once a week to do a quick once-over. Sometimes I would leave with nothing, sometimes with a cute mug, and every once and awhile with a brand-name piece bought for pennies on the dollar.
I know, everything is so cheap. That doesn’t mean you need to buy it all – I’ve certainly made that mistake. If you are lucky enough to fill up a basket of great finds, take a few moments to re-evaluate before you head to the checkout. You’ll realize those shorts were in fact a little tight and that you’d probably never wear them. And that T-shirt definitely has a mysterious stain you didn’t see when you tried it on.
Look in all the sections
I’ve found great pieces in the men’s section – like a cashmere silk sweater. Remember that people who work at thrift stores are sifting through absolute mountains of stuff. It’s very likely that things get tagged incorrectly or hung in the wrong sections.
Speed is key
Thrifting teaches you about your personal taste, because hemming and hawing about every single T-shirt is going to drive you crazy. In love? Try it on. Hesitating? Put it back on the rack. Eventually, you’ll get to the point when you can walk down an aisle without combing through everything – stopping only when you see a fabric or color or logo that you know you might like.
Enjoy your finds
However ‘nice’ the item you found is, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be hidden away. At the end of the day, you’re just giving someone’s castaway a second life. Who cares if you spill hoof oil all over it. Once, I found a (legit) Louis Vuitton silk scarf at the Value Village I mentioned above. I wore it to the barn, where one of my stylish friends recognized it right away.
“Why are you wearing that to the barn!” she exclaimed. “It’s way too nice!”
“Yeah, but it was $8,” I replied. And you know what? I never actually got it dirty. And the distinctly poncy feeling I got from wearing it while riding was very enjoyable.
When I was on my way back from New York, where I was working at the Longines Masters, I forgot that beautiful scarf in the security checkpoint at Laguardia airport. After getting over the initial disappointment, I forgot all about it. I had definitely gotten my eight bucks worth of enjoyment out of it.
I secretly hope that one of the women working at the airport found it and stole it for herself. I hope she shakes her head at the lady who was so rich that she didn’t care about losing a $1,000 scarf.
Maybe she’ll wonder why it smells faintly of horses.