Thursday, April 17, 2008


Don’t you wrinkle your nose at us. Some of the best stuff in our closets came from thrift stores. In fact, just about every designer label article in CHEAPIOSITY's closet came from thrift stores. Many pieces came with their original tags attached too. You’d be surprised how many compulsive shoppers shop for the thrill of the hunt and donate unworn designer duds. Trends rarely last more than a season; paying full price for a trend is wasteful. The really fashion-forward folks donate trends the moment the rest of us Muggles hear of them. You can usually find the latest fashions for a couple of dollars at good thrift stores well before the department stores have consigned those trends to their discount racks..

If you’re vigilant and cautious, you can find incredible bargains. Oh sure, there’s a lot of junk too, and very few thrift stores have changing rooms so clothes-buying can be a bit of a gamble. Arm yourself with a tape measure and promise yourself you’ll donate back anything that doesn’t truly flatter you.

For sewers and crafters, it’s well worth buying clothing for the unique buttons or trim. When you’re buying a jacket or pants for only a couple of bucks, you can easily afford a trip to the tailor to customize the fit. Some enterprising souls thrift shop for quality and vintage items and resell on eBay or at their own yard sales at huge profits.

Our favorite thrift stores dry clean and launder items before adding them to the floor. (Still, we make a habit of washing everything before we wear, just to be safe.) The better thrift stores don’t display or sell items with obvious defects; therefore, stains, flaws or tears may be harder to see. Examine your purchases carefully; most thrift stores have a no-returns policy.

Really good thrift stores arrange garments by color or by size and category, making it a pleasure to shop. Other less well-run establishments present more of a challenge, but you may appreciate your brilliant finds even more if they’re hidden in piles of unspeakable rubbish.

The thrift stores we avoid tend to smell like a junior high school locker room on a very bad day. Sometimes, in a pinch, we’ll proceed there with caution, but we carry hand washing gel in our car, and everything we buy gets thrown in the washer as soon as we get home. Chewing gum helps us cope with the odors while in the store.

Look for sale days; many stores make major markdowns one day a week. Our favorite store discounts their oldest merchandise (easy to spot by the price tag color) 60% on Sundays and 40% every day. Our second favorite store discounts everything in the store 50% on Wednesday mornings. These policy insures a rapid turnover.

Wooden furniture is an excellent buy; upholstered items can be a bit more risky. Shop for picture frames; you can always discard the “art.” Look at the bones, not the surface of wooden items. A lick of paint or stain can work wonders, and a little carpenter's glue can tighten a wiggly joint.

Appliances, unless they are sealed in their original packaging, probably aren’t worth the gamble. We have purchased all kinds of iffy items: linens, pillows, hats, stuffed toys. We simply machine wash them in warm water and dry them in the dryer; if they survive, we know they’re clean enough to display and use.

Donate your own used clothing and household goods once they’re no longer in heavy rotation. It’s the right thing to do, and it will help you declutter, making room for more thrift shop finds.

Yard sales and flea markets can be terrific places to browse and bargain-hunt. Sadly, in these Antiques-Roadshow-savvy days, it gets harder and harder to find real treasures, but real bargains are literally around the corner every weekend. You can always try to negotiate, but remember: There is a limit. Fifteen years ago, we ran a garage sale of our own. Men’s shirts were all marked two for a dollar, and someone asked if we could “do better.” At that point in the story, our memory gets a bit blurry, but we vaguely recall garments flying and voices rising. Even for CHEAPIOSITY, two shirts for a dollar is cheap enough.

FYI: Here's another terrific article about secondhand shopping for you to read.

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