Thursday, April 15, 2010

Heavy Thrifting: Because THRIFTIN' Ain't Easy

what i wore

What I Wore: Vintage 1980s navy blue pussycat bow blouse with white Swiss polka dots (thrifted); black sweater vest (thrifted); vintage mid century rhinestone scatter pins (estate finds)

I had the great pleasure of meeting Melissa of PurpleDeer Vintage earlier this week for a leisurely afternoon of caffeine-fueled thrifting in her new cross-bay home of Berkeley, CA. As I usually thrift alone, it was nice to have a like-minded soul with whom I could klatsch and to whom I could go for confirmation on what Nina Garcia would call 'my taste level.' Though we didn't get to talk much about our thrifting technique (and, yes, as with any sport, there is a technique to this game), we did seem to observe many of the same basic thrifting principles (e.g., 'hoard now, edit later'). Below are some of my own strategies for effective thrifting. Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section.

PS: Sorry about the bad puns in the title. I'm weak.

purple deer

Pictured Above: PurpleDeer demonstrates thrifting rule #1 ~ Be nice to the people who run the shops (especially if they're vested with the power to adjust prices)

Huzzah's Guide to Thrifting For Success:

Do take your garments off the hangers before getting to the register
This ensures that busy and/or merely careless cashiers don't accidentally damage your garments in their rush to keep the line moving. It also helps to mitigate the ill will of the customers who had the bad fortune of queuing behind you.

Don't reveal that you are a vintage dealer/seller
At many smaller, independent thrift shops, you may find that prices are negotiable; once the employees learn that you are a dealer, they are not. (This rule does not apply at estate sales, of course, where dealers constitute the majority of the customer base.)

Do pay careful attention to items at the ends of racks
This is where other savvy ragpickers have likely left the pieces from their haul that they ultimately decided against. Keep in mind that most thrifters are shopping for themselves and therefore often cast off otherwise amazing pieces because of fit. As a dealer, you're not limited by your girth.

Don't edit your hoard in a dark corner of the store
Find a window and preferably a flat surface on which to lay out your garments and inspect them for stains and structural integrity. Use this time, also, to consider the marked prices of the garments and whether you can turn a profit on them. If haggling is an option, determine the highest price you're willing to pay for a piece, and mentally prepare yourself to say something a bit smarmy like "What's the best price you can give me on X?"

Do include a 'sniff test' in your final edit
Moth balls and cigarette smoke will soon become the bane of your existence if you're sourcing garments that reek of these smells. Though it is possible to remove them from many fabrics, it requires additional time and effort that will eventually become unsustainable. Since your sniffer will need to be in good order for the test, avoid wearing excessive perfumes or deodorants on your thrifting expeditions.

Don't leave your haul sitting in a bag once you get home
It's tempting, after a long day at the racks, to throw your overstuffed bag of goodies into a corner until you're ready to deal with them again. (After all, you did just spend a great deal of time inspecting each and every piece.) But keep in mind that the less time your garments spend bunched up in a bag, the less time they have to wrinkle and the less steaming you'll ultimately have to do before the photoshoot. This strategy also helps to prevent the spread of any latent odors among your haul. (There's nothing worse than pulling out a forgotten bag of garments that now all smell like a pack of Marlboro Reds because of one rotten apple that escaped your attention at the store.)

Do keep in mind that you're working when you're thrifting
Have a plan of attack, and perhaps even an intended route, when you enter a shop. As a thrifter, you know that there's nothing more annoying than those shoppers who start perusing a section right next to you when you're clearly 'working' a rack. Don't be one of those erratic shoppers who bounces from shiny object to shiny object, and don't let them stop your forward momentum to paw at an item in your path. Shoot them a stern yet civil "I'm trying to work here" look and they'll usually gallop off to another reflecting pool.

Do remember to bring wet naps or hand sanitizer with you
Though I don't understand the origin of the mysterious black soot that seems to coat every hanger in every thrift store, I know that I am powerless against it.


From Lauren: Don't assume that a garment's previous owner stuck to 'dry clean only'...or didn't, as the case may be

From Mother Midnight & Empress Jade: Don't forget to check the armpits and groin areas of the garments lest you end up with some funky items in your otherwise sanitary domicile

From Robyn: Do hold garments up to the light to check for inconspicuous holes, paying special attention to garments with wild prints that might distract the eye away from such imperfections

From Paige: Do ensure that moths don't destroy your knits by subjecting the critters to two extremes, freezing and electric heat drying


Purple Deer said...

Soon, again! That flea market won't know what hit them in May.

I'm big on kissing booty at the's worked a lot for me. "Oh no price...You can have it for free." (SMILES)

Lauren Bordelon said...

This is more for a buyer/owner than reseller, but:
Don't assume that a garment's previous owner stuck to Dry Clean Only...or didn't stick to Dry Clean Only.

When I started thrifting in college, I assumed those who were getting rid of DCO clothing probably didn't DCO them. Boy was I wrong. A couple ruined blazers later, and I learned to walk my stuff to the neighborhood cleaner.

So in other words: Do stick to the tag's rules. No tags? Play it safe and professionally / dry clean it.

Was out west in ya'll cities a few years back for a librarians' conference. Reminds me so much of my hometown of New Orleans.

Mother Midnight Vintage said...

my most important rule: don't forget to check the pits and crotch... i know it's gross - but it's even worse when you buy it and then it's in YOUR HOME!!
then what the hell do you do with it?! nasty.

sarah louise said...

Just based on the twitter and Etsy convos I've had with Melissa that picture seems so her, haha. I love blogger meetups!

Robyn said...

Haha. I loved reading this. I do SO many of these things. I always figure people think that I am crazy, but I have my technique. I also do this thing with dresses that have distracting prints. I hold them up in front of me (kind of like the way a little girl lifts her skirt above her head) so that I am practically inside the skirt. In front of a light this illuminates stains and holes in a heartbeat... I hope that made sense.

Paige said...

I freeze and then throw stuff in the dryer after I thrift, because the two extremes kill clothing moths, which would totally ruin my life, but im kind of paranoid.

Midwest Darling

Empress Jade Vintage said...

I agree with Mother Midnight about pits and crotch. As a long time vintage seller I have made my share of buying mistakes and I am super careful in what I buy now.

- Hold items up to a light. Backlighting will often reveal tiny pinholes and thin spots.
- Feel around inside boots and shoes and between coat linings. If you detect any crumbling or "devil dust" run away... it's toxic!
- I am super leery of touching any kind of fur, I give them a good look before I run my hand over them. There is nothing more disgusting than touching a manky rotten pelt.
- Get to know the staff; sometimes you can swing a deal or have them put aside certain types of merch for their favorite customers.

XOXO Empress

Teresa said...

You met Melissa! How lovely! This thrifting guide is really nifty! Thank you for sharing! :)

Karen/Small Earth Vintage said...

How fun! Hey, is that top rhinestone-covered pin a penguin? Because it looks a lot like the little pin I found on a recent thrift trip.

I wish I had something to add here, but you and the other commenters have it covered. I always have a plan of attack when I enter a thrift, and woe to she who gets in my way. (Cart blockers--those who block your passage down an aisle with their cart--are my nemesis.) It helps ensure that I cover everything I want to look at.

HUzzah! Vintage said...

behold the small-scale power of cooperative action! so many good tips!

melissa ~ clear out some closet space because the AFM is on for the 2nd.

lauren ~ excellent point. I'm guilty of having made the same mistake (and of relinquishing DCO garments to Goodwill because I was too lazy or broke to DC them). PS: librarian conference in the Bay Area?! Librarians have ALL the fun.

mother midnight ~ what do you do with it? why, sell it on ebay, of course.

SL ~ this was my FIRST, and so much fun!

robyn ~ i've brought many a crazy print home only to discover i'd been too mesmerized to notice a major problem with the piece. usually I just keep them for myself at that point, so it works out ok ;)

paige ~ such an interesting idea (though I'd have to get a dryer and MOS DEF a freezer dedicated exclusively to the moth kill since I can't help but imagine them escaping from the bag and breeding on my food before flying off to that big moth heaven in the sky.

empress jade ~ this reminds me of my well-intentioned but never followed through with plans to bring latex gloves with me. reaching my virginal hand inside the deep dark well of a mysterious boot is never an attractive option.

teresa ~ nice to meet you, and, yes, Melissa is lovely!

karen ~ i WISH the green pin were a penguin! it's actually a pineapple (not unlike the red one in my shop). also, can't believe you have the luxury of a shopping cart at your spots! perhaps that's the difference between thrifting in a big city where space is a commodity.

alexkeller said...

i have to have a cart so i can put everything into it and then go to some spot and decide on things. and i just don't have the patience to clothes shop or shoe shop at thrifts - which is why i love you all!

vintage urban renewal said...

Don't be afraid of thrifting through bins where they charge you per pound. I don't know who sorts these into bins as opposed to selling them in their thrift store, but I have found better things in the bins for far less money. Downfall is, there are no carts, no dressing rooms, no mirrors and no returns. I was also laughing because I do almost exactly the same checking of items as described but would add -DON"T FORGET TO CHECK THE ZIPPERS AND BUTTONS.

Lisa said...

Thank you for your insightful hints. Have committed them to memory.

TheMillersHouse said...

I have always taken the hangers off before handing the items to the cashier out of common courtesy.

Being nice. A given. And it has produced great results with freebies. SCORE!

Definitely a lesson learned: Check zippers, stains, buttons, etc in bright light before purchasing your item.