Genetically Enhanced Shopping: The Thrift Store Gene

The women in my family all have been born with a gene that codes for thrift store shopping. This gene, in addition to being a budget-friendly gal's best friend, expresses pure hunting and gathering adrenaline, supplying us with an endless amount of stamina when it comes to rifling through racks at consignment and charity shops, in search of the elusive great white whale of bargains. We all do it. It's in us.  I was out and about the other day, and without even intending to do so found this cropped houndstooth jacket and pair of open-toed wedges. These two items cost me about twelve pounds.


Cotton and wool houndstooth jacket by Next (4.99 GBP),  brand- new leather
"Wonder" lace-up wedge shoes by Urban Outfitters (6.99 GBP), H&M shorts and tank.



As with any genetically-inherited gift, to really be able to make the most of it, it must be cultivated. To assume that the DNA does all of the work is to deny the genetically-enhanced shopper her due. In our family, this set of hunting skills was passed-down by our mother,  who would lead her cubs out into the Salvation Army Serengeti to demonstrate how it was done. We watched, we tried our hand, often fought with each other, sometimes got bored, but eventually, we were ready.

And no, we are not a family of crazy cat ladies, systematically hoarding things from the local thrift shops until social services breaks down the door with a battering ram. Nor are we retro-inspired rockabilly gals who favour floral dresses, a shiny black Bette Page hairdo, and tattoos. Nope, we're regular gals who just so happen to be able to find that needle in the haystack; to see not just a rack of old clothes, but a rack of possibilities. We troll the shops for things that are cashmere, silk, and wool. We look for linings, covered-buttons, hand-sewn pleats and hems, and reinforced seams. A well-sewn hidden zipper will send us right to the edge of nirvana (the liberation of the soul nirvana, not the band), while a clingy, threadbare, twee rayon top sends us into fits of hysterical laughter; our training has kicked-in. We know quality, and rayon... you are fooling nobody.

We are sharp, finely-tuned thrift-shopping machines. If there is an Armani jacket or a forgotten vintage Coach bag hiding in the tall grasses of the Bric-a-Brac section, we will find it. We can smell it.

The day I brought home the houndstooth jacket and wedges, I got an email from my mother. Attached to her email (and completely unprompted by me) was a photo of her latest find from the local thrift store.

 My mother's Coach belt, brand new and only $14!

Once I recovered from my insane jealousy over my mother's new Coach belt, I was prompted to write to my sister (of the two of us kids, she is probably the more prolific thrift shopper), and asked her about her recent thrift-hunting experiences. She replied with the following photos.

My sister's dog-walking outfit on the day of my email:
 Limited dress, Merona belt, both secondhand.

 her Botkier handbag, $60 (again inspiring fits of insane jealousy).


Her J. Crew jeans jacket


Her awesome "crazy high-waisted vintage skirt"

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I should point out that thrift shopping is not just about the good deal. Nor is it only about finding the forgotten designer stuff. What thrift shopping truly enables has nothing to do with the amount, or even the quality of the things that you can accumulate. Instead, it is about the development of your personal style. When thrift shopping, you are free from the constraints of what is "in" and what is "last season". The creative responsibility of self-styling rests firmly on your shoulders, instead of with a team of designers employed to interpret the trends of the season as dictated to them by someone in a large office on the executive floors high above the fray.  There is truly no better way to experiment with your sartorial choices, and the financial repercussions are far more forgiving than if you had decided that last season's four thousand pound pair of silver lame liquid leather leggings were for you.  You didn't.....did you?

Comments

  1. Thrift stores are one of the few things France really doesn't do well, unless you call a gently-used Chanel repository a thrift store. Oh, I can still sniff out a bargain here, but whenever I get back to the States I head straight to the Serengeti.

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    1. I have to agree with you, the US is THE place to bargain hunt in the thrift stores. I think there are more rules and limitations as to what types of things the charity shops over here will take, so rack hunting is a much quicker endeavour here in the UK.

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  2. I had never really done thrift shopping before but I have a much more open mind ever since finding the Talbots blazer a few months ago. All in all it cost me 20.00 with tailoring.

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    1. Yep, it's a bit like crack. Once you have that first hit, you want to keep going back...

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  3. I love thrift/consignment shopping! When I was younger it was because I couldn't afford to pay full retail - 'champagne taste on a generic beer budget'. Now that I'm older & can afford to pay somewhat higher prices - why would I? Like you, I love the thrill of the hunt, finding the unexpected treasure, cultivating my own style. I enjoy the fact that I won't look like everyone else when I leave the house. But it takes time - you must check your expectations at the door - be willing to try on something even if it's not in what you think your size is, especially if it is a brand you are not familiar with. Know what's in your closet - you may be looking for a top but come across a fabulous bag or purse. Especially drooling over your mom's Coach belt, your sister's Botkier bag & your jacket & wedges!
    Because of thrift/consignment shopping I had the joy of seeing a vintage Chanel black wool boucle suit in person. It was ridiculously small so wasn't able to try it on but did get to fondle it for a bit! The beauty of the lining, finished seams, chain weighting down the hems, darts to provide shaping, the sturdiness of the buttons, the gorgeous buttonholes - details that are a lost art in the age of mass-produced, throw away clothing.

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    1. Exactly. It kind of ruins you for high street shopping when you see how well put-together some of these vintage pieces can be. I am constantly underwhelmed by what I see being sold in retail outlets. Even a lot of the high-end ones have sold their souls to the Rayon Devil.

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    2. Rayon Devil - indeed. And sub-standard construction is no longer limited to low-end brands. Every brand is looking to cut corners. Something as simple as not topstitching a waistband translates into vast savings in manufacturing costs. I would love to have a girlfriend or 2 to thrift with locally but my girlfriends think I've lost my mind to shop like this. They just want to go to the mall, get something & go home. These are the same women that compliment my outfits. If they ask where I got something, they just shake their head when I tell them. They see thrifting as something that 'poor' people do. It's a shame! Well, it leave more treasures for us to find!

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    3. Exactly.But as you say, more for the rest of us. Some of the best pieces I have ever owned came secondhand. As for a thrift friend....next time you're in Scotland, look me up!

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  4. I got a Michael Kors silk suit for $12. That was when I was in the Junior League and had to volunteer at the thrift shop. It wasn't so bad, though, because I got first look at the merchandise.

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    1. I am a huge fan of taking the things that I find secondhand, like your suit, and tailoring it to fit properly. I got a beautiful black wool Armani jacket this way.

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  5. My baby sister and I are the queens of thrift in our family--we even got our mom into it. She used to be of the go to the store type, but decided it was better to recycle good stuff. We sew and can make up the best outfits with what we thrift! My sister especially loves to collect jewelry and thrift is the best way to do it. Do you have a favorite store to go to?

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    1. The jury is still out here in the UK, because my town is very small and i have not yet experienced the full-throttle thrift buzz the way I do when I am in the states. When I visit my parents in Wisconsin, there is a place called Savers that is good. When I visit my sis in Minneapolis, there are SCORES of good consignment and thrift places, too numerous to name. I used to love Goodwill in Rochester, NY when I was in grad school. It was affordable retail therapy for poor students.

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  6. Love the jacket! I'm such a sucker for a great jacket and would already have a closet full if I was able to wear them under my ugly pharmacist white coat.

    styleinmiddle.blogspot.com

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  7. I live in NZ and have been searching for a pair of urban outfitters wonder wedges in size 39 online for over a year with no luck - and there you have a pair although not sure what size you are....lucky you!! :)

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  8. I just did a post on that 'thrift gene' yesterday. Looked through google and found your post. Here's mine if you're interested. Great to find you! http://www.storiedvintage.com/i-inherited-the-thrift-gene-from-my-father/

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