Sunday, May 17, 2009


Why did I ever stop shopping at secondhand stores for clothes?

I survived on thrift stores for a long time. By the time I was 20, at least half of the items in my closet and most of my favorites were from secondhand stores. I may have depended on them too heavily: I think ideally one should have 20 - 30% secondhand stuff, only because inevitably the secondhand stuff I come home with tends to be a bit on the outlandish side and you have to mix the outlandish with more conventional basics to really set them off.

This is what I realized I missed about second hand shopping: it is to retail store shopping as hand-to-hand combat is to machine gun warfare. There is no other size or different color. You have to understand fabrics. 100% polyester will smell like someone's armpits and if not, it will smell like your own soon enough. 50-50 poly cotton blend t-shirts, on the other hand, will be thin and soft and hang great. Not everything has tags, so you have to be able to feel the difference between fabrics. Acetate lining or silk lining? It matters. Sometimes the store smells bad. But if you walk out with a Hill Street Blues shirt that strangers then ask to buy off you about once every year, it's worth it. You will never find good jeans (so don't waste time looking). You should be able to tell the difference between good cutting and shitty cutting, hopefully without trying it on. Sometimes the best finds are in the scarf section and the belt section. It can help your retail shopping too: one look at the state of the 100% cotton sweaters and you will never buy one new again.

Also, these clothes have history. Some people are creeped out by the idea of dead people's clothes, but I like to think of the people who wore the clothes before, what they did in them, if they loved that sweater or jacket as much as I do.

Permit me a brief philosophical sidebar to say: I love clothes so much. I love how they make people look different, how they make people move differently and feel differently about themselves. I love color and texture and putting things together that shouldn't go but do. It's possible this is a result of a couple of years of wearing uniforms for school and work, but I love waking up and deciding how I feel and dressing towards that. Because then I get to wear how I feel all day. I loved that speech in Devil Wears Prada where Nigel says:

Don't you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it.

When I started realizing how often I moved house, I began taking pictures of my bedroom before packing, to remember. I also take pictures of my closet, to remember the clothes I had at that point in my life. I love seeing the closet of a close friend for the first time: all those garments that you know from knowing that person hanging there.

To that end, a huge Goodwill opened down the street last weekend. The suede coat with the fur collar (recycled fur is okay, right?) was $10. The blazer was $6. The moment of trying both of these things on was the best possible moment of thrift store shopping: finding something interesting and gorgeous and well-made and trying it on, having it fit perfectly and know it's now become of part of you.

No comments: