Thursday, September 6, 2012

Secondhand September: Braving the World of Cast-Offs

Hey all, this is Kari! Welcome to Secondhand September!
This shirt is a Goodwill find I altered to fit.
I shop at Goodwill for a myriad of reasons, but one of them is because it forces creativity. Retail stores, by definition, need to present an image, a "look," and we go to those stores because we want to "get that look." Goodwill, on the other hand, merely presents you with a jumble of raw materials, and to be successful there, you must have a well-developed and completely independent sense of your own style.
One of our THREE neighborhood Goodwill stores -- this one's close enough to walk to!
But, no matter how well you know what you like, walking into a thrift store can be intimidating and disorienting. So to start this series off, here are a few pointers on braving the world of cast-offs:
  1. Adjust your expectations from retail stores: Go in expecting the store to be disheveled and minimally organized. Brace for the disappointment of not finding your size or your color -- or not finding anything at all.
  2. Have an idea of what you're looking for, then skim: If you know yourself, you'll know if a style piece is "you" when you see it. Have a "skim list" when you walk in, such as "red pumps," or "sweaters for fall," or "kelly green." You can tune in to these items and tune everything else out.
  3. Have some vision: Maybe you find a shirt that doesn't fit, but the pattern is beautiful. Could you modify it by sewing it, or layer it, or wear a belt with it? Think creatively about pieces, and maybe consider learning a few basic tailoring skills.
  4. Don't force it: If the shoes are a half size too big, or the color isn't just right, don't buy it just because it would be a killer deal. This is another area where you may be tempted to compromise on your personal style for sake of the price -- don't do it.  
  5. Still read the tags: I discovered I'd scored a Moreno wool sweater a few days ago... after it shrunk in the wash. Our area is wealthy, and the donations are sometimes of surprisingly good materials -- so read the tags.
  6. Shop your style, not by brand: If you're a brand loyalist, you'll never be a successful thrifter. In our area, you'll find everything from Louis Vuitton to Coach to J.Crew to Ann Taylor to H&M to Old Navy to Merona to that-souvenir-sweatshirt-that-should-have-stayed-in-South-Carolina. If you love it, get it, even if it's not a brand you usually wear.  
  7. Drop in frequently: First, because Goodwill receives new products every few days. Going frequently to skim is the best strategy. I recommend thrifting close to home for this reason. Second, because of deals! The Goodwills in my area run specials on different days or parts of days. On Tuesdays, all clothes are always 25% off, except accessories and shoes. Other times, things like shoes are on sale...
The $5 boots.
I usually pop in to my local Goodwill stores on Tuesdays because of the standing "25% off all clothing" deal. This Tuesday I had my skim list in mind: riding boots, duck boots, a gray cable knit sweater, and a few specific colors, including pale pink. Since I had two pairs of shoes on my skim list, I skimmed the shoe rack first -- there were a pair of leather riding boots AND a pair of duck boots! I tried them both on. The duck boots were a hair too big, and were not as tall as I'd hoped for. They weren't perfect, so I left them. The riding boots, however, were perfect. They were simple and embellished, but had just the right cowboy design touches to make them unique and enable them to swing between my classic and bohemian tastes. They were marked at $9 (for comparison, a similar pair I've been stalking for years has never dropped below $250). It was a no-brainer. While I continued browsing, the store announced that shoes would be 2 for $10 for the next 30 minutes, so I went back and grabbed a pair of T-strap sandals I had been on the fence about. No matter how you do the math, I was getting a deal. I spent $12 that day for two pairs of shoes and a pale pink T-shirt!

You can see how I applied some of my tips on this trip: I was able to find what I wanted because I knew what I wanted, and went in looking for it. I didn't compromise. I didn't ignore perfection when I saw it. Knowing my personal style let me do these things confidently, without regretting what I bought or didn't buy. Knowing yourself and your style is essential to successful thrifting.

If you haven't given your personal style much thought, I recommend you do! The Twenty Ninth is a great community of fashion-interested people in which to do so.


  1. Cute boots! Such a great find!

    1. I know, right?! When she told me/showed them to me, I was amazed and even a little jealous, I'll admit it.