Lucinda's Quick and Dirty Guide to Thrift-Store Clothing

I love to shop garage sales, vintage boutiques and thrift stores. It started when I was a starving artist, and my choices were to either hit the Goodwill or run around in rags.  Now that I am a bit better off as an artist, I do it for the thrill of the hunt. I love finding unique pieces that are pleasant surprises, and I feel a little victory when I score a hidden treasure or a designer piece at a steal. I recently scored three regular dresses, one maternity dress, a skirt, ten shirts, two chain belts, a designer sweater, and a handbag...for about $110. That is a huge savings. Heck, I paid far less for all of it than I would have buying just the sweater new. Besides the money I save is money I can apply to buying new supplies for my makeup artistry or my other arts. Maybe I'll spend it on a martini with friends (vodka, dirty).

My little excursions have become almost legendary among my friends and I have had many people ask how I do it. Here are my tips for thrifting but keeping it sharp.

Make time: I make a day of it and eat a lunch first. Being rushed and hangry (hungry+angry) is no way to shop. You'll end up with purchases you'll regret. Some people don't like to eat before trying on clothes, but I'd rather go in with a full belly and know that whatever I try on will still fit well even after I hit the all-you-can-eat sushi joint

Willpower? What is that? There's fish involved!

Look closely at the fabric: How much life is really left in it? Check for wear, especially at seams and areas that tend to rub, like knees, elbows, and butt. Hold pants up to the light and look for any thin spots in the seat or thigh area where the light shines through. Check the color for fading or pit stains. Make sure the knits aren't covered in pills. Also inspect buttons and zippers to make sure they are present and work.

Inspect embellishments:  Is the beading or embroidery stable? Are the buttons chipped or falling off? Can you do a quick fix, and do you have supplies at home to repair it if needed? When it comes to secondhand clothing, simple is often better, as the clothing has already been worn and embellishment takes the most abuse.  Can you tack town the edges with a few stitches, or are you going to have reinforce everything? Of course if you find some gorgeous, sturdy, and flawless embellishment, by all means snap that up.
15 minute mend: Unless you have the evening after your shopping trip set aside for the express purpose of watching trashy TV and mending clothing, don't buy anything requiring more than a 15 minute mend. It will just end up in a pile somewhere for you to get to...eventually...when you think about it.

Keep the clothing classic, chase the trends with the accessories: Part of this is my own personal taste. I like classic lines. If I'm buying, I don't want something that will rapidly look dated. I want clothing that will stick around a while, but I can update and revamp with my accessory choices.

Buy for the body you have: Don't get wrapped up in "almost there". Buy what fits and is flattering in the moment you are standing there. Clothing is easier to take in than let out. If you are trying to lose inches and need a visual motivation to slim down, make it a piggybank full of cash for tailoring or another shopping trip when you reach your goal. Don't let it be a pile of clothing that will stress you out when you look at it and that may not actually fit right even if you reach that size. I learned this through experience. I have purchased clothing for a smaller size only to find that when I was smaller the chest didn't fit right, or that no amount of diet or exercise would change the fundamental shape of my butt. The majority of those purchases were destined for the scrap pile or a clothing exchange, and never worn by me.

Really look at yourself:  There were a couple of pieces I loved on the hanger. One was a warm and elegant navy blue nautical sweater, from a high-end retail designer. This was perfect on the hanger. On me, however, the collar was not wide or small enough. It rested in a weird middle ground that made my strong shoulders and larger chest look matronly. On the other hand, another sweater I tried on made me look like an elegant power bitch, and another made me look like a romance novel heroine. My body didn't change in those five minutes, the cut of the clothing did. Look for puckers or gaps. See if it's riding up in your armpit or if the sleeve is a bit too short. Can you bend down without flashing anyone. Can you move your arms without popping a button? What features are being accentuated?

Nonattachment: if it won't work on you, throw it back to another. I know sometimes it can be hard to set aside that incredible item that is almost right on you, but perfect on the hanger.  Look at it as shopping karma. Someone else will find a treasure that may be made for them and they will adore it.
Enjoy your treasure-hunting!

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