Over the years, I've had a lot of people tell me they wish they could come thrifting with me. This makes me laugh, honestly, because I don't think thrifting with me is exactly a good time (though you'd have to ask The Princess, as she's been there and lived to tell the tale). It's an endurance sport, an all-day kinda process. That said, since the majority of the folks who say they wish they could come with me are too far away to suffer the actual sore feet and sugar crash that it would entail, it might be fun to take y'all on a trip virtually. So, today, that's what I did. I went on a typical Saturday shopping/thrifting mission, and I took photos and notes of what I was doing so I could come back and recount it all to you. Dig in, get something to drink, put up your feet, and let's go.
First thing first: what you wear on a thrifting trip is important. You've got to be comfortable. You also have to consider trying things on. In most cases, you're going to want to wear stuff you can easily get in and out of in a dressing room. Today, though, that isn't going to be enough, because they main store we're visiting doesn't have dressing rooms. So how do you buy clothes you can't try on? Well, the first thing is to be pretty sure about what will fit you--not your size so much as being able to just look at something and think it will or won't fit. This is a learned skill, for sure--I am pretty good at it because I've been doing it for a long time, but it's not a natural thing. If you've never tried to do it, I suggest pulling a few things that fit really well out of your closet and looking at them on the hanger. Just get a sense of what a garment that fits you looks like.
The other thing to do is to wear something that facilitates trying things on without a dressing room. At a thrift store with no dressing room, doing this isn't going to be strange. My go-to ensemble is leggings and a sweater dress with a tank top underneath. I forgot to take a picture, but that's exactly what I had on today.
12:12 PM: This is when we leave my house. I always try to leave early, but I never actually make it out on Saturday until noon or later. There is coffee to drink, an Internet to screw around on...just too much to do. As we back out of my garage, we notice that our neighbors have decorated their front yard with a dozen or so different sizes and shapes of plastic flamingos, and are playing in it with their grandchildren. Things like that don't usually happen in the suburbs. Has to be a good omen.
12:18 PM: We make our first stop, just up the road from my house, at Starbucks. I'd love to tell you that I fuel for my adventures at a local coffee shop, but the sad truth is that I don't have a local coffee shop. As in, I can't find one anywhere. So Starbucks it is. Mini mall Starbucks, no less.
And feel free to make fun of me for my order. It's a grande skinny two-pump three-shot vanilla latte. Yeah, I know. Pathetic. But in my defense, if I could trust the coffee to be good, I'd just have coffee. In Virginia, I cannot trust the coffee to be good. That little devil with it is a blueberry scone. 10 freaking points in that thing, and yet, so tasty. Eat up, you're going to need the energy.
12:42 PM: Everything in northern Virginia takes a long time to get to, so it'll be nearly a half an hour before we get to our next stop, even though it's less than 15 miles away. Don't worry, I'm a good driver. And we can listen to "This American Life" in the car. Our stop won't be a thrift store yet, sorry. Thing is, there are things I need that I can't thrift. Specifically, bras. And I have a gift card for T.J. Maxx/Marshall's. And they are on the way. So T.J. Maxx is the next place we pull in. I'll spend a half hour looking for bras (and a spring bag, and leggings) and then come out with a black sweater dress from the clearance rack. Oops.
1:18 PM: As luck would have it, there is a Marshall's just a few stores down from T.J. Maxx, and still on our way, so we'll have a quick stop there, too. I will take another half hour to look and I'll strike out completely. OK, I swear we're really on our way now.
1:53 PM: Almost two hours after leaving my house, we finally get to my new favorite thrift store, Unique. Unique is a big-ass thrift store. It's a bit terrifying, actually--you go through this odd marketplace full of knock-off designer bags and perfume and discount underwear to get to the actual thrift store part. As we go in, we'll notice the signs that list today's 50% off items. Not much of my interest--furniture, electronics, toys, and stuffed animals. Two weeks ago it was coats, scarfs, and boots, which is a much better deal. Still, something to keep in mind.
I've been asked if I have a method for going through a thrift store--if I always do it in the same order. I do have a method, but it changes depending on the store, my time frame, and if I am looking for anything specific. Basically, if I am in a hurry, I start with whatever I want to find most or whatever that store is most likely to have. If I am not in a hurry, I start with everything else and move to the sections that are most important/most likely to have good stuff. With some exceptions. Today, I am not in a hurry, so I'll start with the sections that are the least important to me/least likely to have stuff I want (housewares, toys, craft stuff, accessories) move on to the best sections, where I'll spend the most time (clothing), and end with a spin through the books (often time consuming, so I skip it if I don't have a lot of time), a look at furniture (want to do that last so you don't have to carry anything you decide you want around), and a glance at jewelry (since it's in a case at Unique you have to get it right before checking out).
There are several rows of housewares at Unique, but they only take me a few minutes to browse, since I'm not really looking for any of that type of stuff. The same is true of the purse and scarf sections--I haven't found these to be particularly strong areas at Unique, and today I don't see anything. Same with craft stuff--I pick up a few bags of yarn, but only see synthetics, and I hesitate for a moment over a cool blue-and-orange print piece of vintage fabric, but leave it when I notice it is only two yards.
The toys is a section I often skip completely, but since it's 50% off, I take a quick gander to see if anything grabs me. It's a pretty small section of the store at Unique, and often really picked over. Today, though, something jumps out. It's a plastic anatomical model. Not something I need, I suppose, but how freaking cool is that? Plus it's marked $1.91 and it's half-off. Yeah, I'll buy that for a dollar.
Next stop is baby clothes. I don't have a baby, it's true, but I have an ongoing list of my friends' kids' clothing sizes and what they are in need of. I love thrifting for baby clothes--the younger the better--they are cheap, they are super cute, and because they aren't for my kid and thus aren't "needed," I can afford to be super picky. Today, I scored two dresses (well, a dress and a dress/bloomer set) for an online friend's foster child.
Here I have to make a confession--as far as serious thrifters go, I am willing to pay a lot for thrifted items. A lot of people who thrift as much as I do are what I would consider pretty damn cheap. But when I thrift, I'm comparing the price on the item not to what I think it should be used (or garage sale prices), but to what it would be new, or at least new and on the clearance rack. I am blessed to be able to do that--it speaks to my privilege as someone who thrifts because she wants to and because she thinks it is the right thing to do politically, rather than from dire economic need. That caveat made, these dresses were not particularly expensive for what they are. The green outfit is an extremely, new-condition Gymboree set, and the lavender dress is from Kohl's Blueberi Boulevard line and is new with tags. They were $3.49 each.
The next section I hit is men's clothes, to look for stuff for Mark. My sojourn here is brief, as the only thing on his current "wish list" is a greatcoat, and it only takes me a minute to exhaust that section. Then I'm on to what I'm really here for: clothes for me!
I have a large wardrobe. Recently, I moved out of the master's closet Mark and I share and started to convert part of my office into a closet/dressing room. This move frees me from even pretending I am going to pare down clothes. I love clothes, and I like to have a lot to choose from. If the majority of what I have is thrifted, I feel very little guilt about obtaining it. And so, I thrift for clothes with a rather embarrassing free reign. Be forewarned.
The first section I hit is dresses. I am in a big dress phase right now. Finally having some options for tights and leggings that are long enough makes dresses a lot more wearable. In Unique's dress section, I find three frocks that I think will work. The left-hand one is a sort of Army green jersey dress from Kohl's Apt. 9 line. It's got cute waist detailing and is about knee-length, and I like the cut and probable comfort a lot. It's $6.49. The middle one is a shorter, dress with a similar cut, in red, from The Gap. It's probably too short to wear on its own, but will be fine with leggings. It's also $6.49. Finally, I spot a dress at the end of the rack, which someone has picked up and then discarded. The tags are completely cut out of it, so I have no idea about brand or size, but it's a teal blue shirt dress with a matching belt with little embroidered birds on it. So cute, and very retro feeling, if not actually vintage. It's $9.99. My finding this great dress speaks to an important thrifting tip, especially at big stores like this one--always pay attention to the "hot spots" where other people have discarded things. A lot of the nicer stuff will make its way there.
When I look for clothes at Unique, I look at everything in the large and extra large sections. This is because Unique seems to categorize extra large as beginning at size 18. I am usually a 14/16, so my clothes are in the large section. However, when things aren't numerically labeled, I'm usually an XL. Looking in both sections helps me not to miss anything.
Next, I hit up skirts. I'm not quite as into skirts as I am dresses, but I do like them a lot. Plus, I don't look at pants at Unique. Pants I really, really need to try on. And probably even if I could try them on, I wouldn't spend much time looking at them, because finding pants to fit me at a thrift store is pretty unlikely (only a few brands fit, and I need a long length, which isn't all that common). So I skip that section completely. I skip shoes, too--I wear a 12, it's just not likely to be there.
In the skirt section, however, I do well. I find a purple corduroy skirt from H&M for $4.99, a gorgeous lined wool brown Anne Klein skirt for $6.49, and a new with tags Jones New York skirt in a tan and white pattern for $9.99. I'm not 100% sure the shorter, pleated style of the Jones New York skirt is going to work, but I like the pattern and am always trying to broaden my horizons when I thrift for clothes, so I decide to take a chance.
Next, I hit sweaters. My current dress kick is accompanied by a cardigan kick, and I've done very well with cardigans at Unique. Today is no different. The cropped black and pink and white one is by Style & Co. (Macy's) and cost $3.99. The black one with the ruffled collar is much cuter on than photographed, cost $4.99, and is my beloved Ann Taylor. The chunky gray one is from The Limited and was $5.99.
This brings up another question folks ask me fairly regularly--do I look for specific labels when I thrift? Yes and no. There are a few labels I simply won't buy--WalMart's George comes to mind. And there are a couple that I don't necessarily seek out, but I do pay attention to when I see them, since they seem to work for me so often. Ann Taylor is one of those. I thrift a lot of Ann Taylor. Doing so wasn't originally an intentional decision, it just ends up that Ann Taylor makes a lot of stuff I like. (God, typing that sentence makes me feel old.)
After sweaters I moved to shirts. I've been trying to expand my blouses and non-jersey shirts lately. I don't generally thrift tee-shirts, because they always seem to be faded or shrunk or both--environmentally, I'd like to thrift them, but vanity wins out. Today, Unique's blouse section netted me a blouse and a short dress. The dress, at left, is Merona (Target) and I paid $9.99 for it, which is more than even I would usually pay for a used Target item. However, I really loved it, so I did it anyway. The blouse is cotton and in perfect shape, from Sonoma (Kohl's). It was $3.99.
Having completed my clothing rounds, I stopped by the books, but didn't see anything. Looked at the furniture, and briefly considered a desk chair for Mark, but didn't want to lug it out to the car and wasn't sure it was the style he wanted (it was marked $49.99, but was in great shape and was 50% off, so it would have been reasonable). Finally, I stopped at the jewelry counter. It irritates me that Unique has all their jewelry behind glass--it's a very clogged area and it takes forever to get someone to show you the stuff you want to see, plus I always feel stupid for looking at things and then not buying them. However, it's worth it--they have an excellent selection, including quite a bit of vintage stuff. Today I didn't see anything, though, so I hit the checkout and left.
3:34 PM: Back in the car post-Unique, I marvel at how quickly I got through the store, and decide that the afternoon is still young and we should head over to the next town over to check out the Innova Hospital thrift store. Someone told me that hospital thrift stores are the way to go out here--doctor's families donate all the best stuff. Since you are imaginary, you are agreeable, and off we go.
3:55 PM: Except that on the way to the other thrift store, I get sidetracked by my hunger and need for more caffeine. Chik Fil A! Doesn't take but a minute to buzz through the drive-thru for a Coke and some waffle fries! What would you like?
4:07 PM: When we finally get to the Innova store, it doesn't look like much. Small and crowded. The type of store I usually avoid out of a mixture of laziness and claustrophobia. Still, since we're here, might as well check it out. Doesn't take more than a few minutes. This type of store is too small to go through with a plan, I just look through the stuff at the tops of the piles. Turns out these particular doctors' families aren't all that generous. Most of what's here is total crap. But it's 25% off crap.
That said, I manage to score a really cute black Jones New York dress (which didn't photograph well at all--trust me, it's cute!) and a vintage half slip for a total of $8.66, so it wasn't a wasted trip. Plus the entire stop took sixteen minutes.
And we're off again!
4:32 PM: You may be pissed off by this point. I insist we stop at yet another T.J. Maxx so I can continue my bra-buying quest. Another half an hour search (because I can't look at just bras!), another strike out.
It's at this point, leaving T.J. Maxx, that I realize that if I don't get back to the dry cleaner (conveniently located next door to the Starbucks at which we began our day) by six, I can't pick up my huge armload of dry cleaning. Which I kinda need. So we're back on the road. And the traffic, as is the case at this time of day, even on Saturday, is intense. That's OK. We'll listen to NPR.
5:56 PM: Made it! I go pick up my dry-cleaning. Most of which is actually the product of previous weeks' trips to Unique.
6:06 PM: We return to my house. Neighbors still have the flamingo farm in their yard, but the kids are gone. And probably you run far, far away and refuse to ever go thrifting with me again.