Firsthand know-how for getting second-hand steals
Of all the possible words to follow spring, the most popular is probably cleaning. It also has the most sluggish, ugh-inducing response.
But it doesn’t have to. Here’s what spring cleaning means for you: Opportunity. And I mean opportunity for bountiful shopping.
Spring cleaning means the area’s thrift stores are likely to be stocked full of everything from kitchen ware to furniture — and, most importantly, clothing. Spring is the time of rebirth and change, and coupled with more wardrobe flexibility as temperatures rise, it’s the perfect time to spend a Saturday perusing the aisles. If none of this is reason enough, consider those tiny numbers on the price tags.
I’ve been thrift shopping since my mother told the sullen teenage version of me that I had to use my own money to buy things I wanted. Now, I proudly dodge retail prices regularly. Here are some surefire tricks and tips to get you to the level of thrift shopper extraordinaire.
Remember the setting.Managing expectations may or may not be good life advice, but it’s great thrift shopping advice. If you walk into Goodwill or Salvo (my ever-affectionate term for the Salvation Army) envisioning a department store or even Walmart’s clothing racks, you’re going to be disappointed and frustrated. A thrift shop’s racks will contain literally everything. Really. There will be designer labels and there will be 30-year-old sweaters that smell. Instead of expecting any one thing, go in with an open mind.
Take your time.
As in, allow yourself a few hours — at least two — to thoroughly comb each and every rack. I never go into a thrift store if I have anywhere else to be anytime soon because that time constraint adds stress to an otherwise joyful hunt. Patience and endurance are key to finding those hidden gems.
This is so important, I’ll say it again: Grab. Everything. The odds of finding those caramel-colored parachute pants again after passing them over are slim, especially if someone else has already nabbed them. It’s impossible to know what will work until you try it on.
Try everything on.
This is the beauty of shopping in real life instead of online. It would not be wise to hold something up and just decide it will look good, which is an easy thing to do after a long day of shopping. Even if it’s made by a brand you trust, even if it’s in your size, even if it’s love at first sight — take it for a test run. There’s a reason thrift shops have dressing rooms.
You do you.
I’m a firm believer that anybody can wear anything they like. So forget what magazines tell you about your body shape and what you should or shouldn’t wear, and go for what makes you feel confident and comfortable.
Pay attention to what you can’t change about a garment.
If you found a funky 1980s print you can totally rock, but that print is on a blazer with crazy shoulder pads that are part of the structure of the thing, you may want to pass. If you’ve found the elusive little black dress, but it’s made of a fabric that’s itchy or incredibly flammable (think polyester), you may want to pass. There are lots of ways to easily alter garments (see below), but there are some things that can’t be changed.
Try new trends.
The price is always right at a thrift store, so if you find a faux-fur vest that would push your wardrobe to the next level, embrace the chance to take a risk.
EASY WAYS TO TURN A “MAYBE” INTO A “WOW”
It happens often: Shopper finds garment; shopper loves style, shape, fabric and texture of garment; shopper finds one annoying aspect of garment; shopper leaves garment behind.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. For T-shirts, some dresses and lots of things that come with shoulder pads, there are a number of ways to fix a few commonly irritating things.
Problem: Shoulder pads
Solution: If they’re flopping around inside a blazer, jacket or shirt, and you can see where they’re attached, these can be easily removed. They’ll usually be held on by two strings, and scissors — though not the most precise tool — can get them out.
Some of the floppy shoulder pads are sewn in, usually down the middle of the pad in line with the seam that sits on top of your shoulder. These can usually be removed, but you’ll have to get a seam-ripper. Thankfully, those are only a few bucks at a craft store.
Problem: Hem is too long
Solution: Scissors are your trusty companion yet again, but go forward with caution. The golden rule is to cut small amounts at a time until you land in the right spot. You can always cut more, but you can’t un-cut.
If you don’t mind the look of a raw hemline and the fabric won’t fray (jersey knits, for example, never do), the scissors are all you’ll need. Put the garment on and place a pin where you want the hemline to be. Lay the garment flat on the floor with both side seams at the actual sides — not one exposed on top and one on the floor, or any other such jumble. Fold the bottom portion of the garment over itself at the point where you put the pin. It’s usually pretty easy to eyeball and see if the new hemline is even, but to double-check, use a ruler or tape measurer and make sure you’re cutting the same length off at every point. Pin everything in place and cut away. For jersey knits, you can create a faux hem by lightly stretching the fabric where you cut it. The fabric will roll up a little for a bit of a cleaner look.
If the raw look isn’t for you, sewing a new hem isn’t difficult. It doesn’t work well on knit fabrics, which tend to pucker, but it’s a dream for fabrics that may fray. After following all the steps above, fold the hem of the fabric underneath itself half an inch around the entire garment. Pin it in place and iron. Use a simple stitch with any needle and thread around the hem, about 3/8 inches up from the hemline.
Problem: Boxy T-shirt is boxy
Solution: Any T-shirt is fair game for fun workout attire or funky pieces paired with jeans. There are lots of ways to cut up jersey knits, cotton and cotton blends so you’re not stuck with a shapeless sack of fabric.
Opening the neckline is a quick fix that gets you feeling less constricted. Cut around the stitched seam of the collar. Be careful about cutting out too much — you’ll end up with a useless sack of fabric that falls down your arms.
Bro tanks are another sporty option. With the shirt on, note the distance between the armpit of the shirt and the middle of your ribs (women, think 2 to 3 inches below your bra). Mark that spot with a pin and take the shirt off. Fold the shirt in half, symmetrically, so the two side seams and the sleeves are lined up. Cut from the point you marked with the pin to the top of the shoulder in as straight a line as you can while still cutting the sleeves off. Cutting in too big of a swooping motion will turn the shirt into a useless sack of fabric.
For a hippie vibe, cut the bottom of the shirt into frayed pieces about 3/8 inches wide and about 3 inches long. String three to five plastic beads onto the bottom of each piece and tie a knot.