Hey! We're going shopping! I am so excited! Check it out, the Hospice Store has a 1/2 price rack out front -there's bound to be something interesting on there.here, with interior pictures). It's a clean, bright and organized store, run by volunteers, and they have racks of stuff at thrift prices, as well as boutique items. It's all worth a browse, since sometimes they miss an obscure designer name or there's no label, but we'll get to that shortly.
I'm going to take you along on my shopping trip to some of my favourite downtown Victoria thrift stores. I only really took pictures in one of them (the one with the pounding loud music), as I was a bit nervous that the staff in the other stores would kick me out. However, I'll be sharing some tips to help you find the best stuff available at thrift stores.
Tip #1: Dress for shopping. If you're going thrift shopping, you have to dress properly.
Be prepared to take all of your clothes off and redress about 5-7 times. I like to try things on when I have about 6-8 items that I'm carrying around (that's when it starts to become a workout!). Most thrift stores have a "limit" number for try-ons too, so you might have to do several rounds. I have been known to do a partial try-on in front of a mirror instead of waiting for a room in some stores.
And have some respect for the clothes you are trying on: no lipstick, no snaggy jewelry.
here back in March 2013, also for a shopping trip and also with these same easy-on/easy-off boots.
Cape of Good Hope*) by Smoking Lily. I last wore it here in October 2013 with a mix of pinks.
*linking 'cause I love
The boots are good for walking - my solo shopping trips are usually walking to and from town, then hitting a bunch of stores. They need to last for at least 6 hours. I last wore them here (3rd outfit) in early December 2013, with my other Smoking Lily cape/skirt.
Dressing for shopping means that you also need to consider your outerwear.
The scarf is a Smoking Lily silk one that I got as a wedding shower gift, oh, 18 years ago. I like fingerless gloves (mine are 100% wool, made in Canada) for shopping in cold weather, especially in the mornings, when the shops are not always fully heated.
A cross-body bag is a must for hands-free shopping. I can also put small purchases, like a thin blouse, slips or jewelry into the bag for security, and it fits my own reusable nylon shopping bag and my scarf/gloves when I need to have them off. This one is leather, was made in Italy and was thrifted for under $20.
Sweater (Club Monaco, thrifted), skirt/cape (Smoking Lily, thrifted), boots (Miz Mooz), necklace (2024, The Bay), necklace (locally-made), earrings (vintage).
Tip #2: Go For the Good Stuff: In most thrift stores, the jeans all look the same, the sweaters will always be pilled, have stains and be moth-eaten, and t-shirts will always be a little too worn. Yes, these are sweeping statements, and although sometimes there are gems in each group, they are for the diehard I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world-to-shop thrifter. Most of the time, I skip those areas.
What is the good stuff? These are the categories where you're going to find real scores:
- Jackets and blazers
- Blouses (i.e. not knits)
- Belts, purses, scarves and accessories
Designer, hand-made, high-end fabric and detailed clothing is what you can find in these areas. Don't have time to do them all? Just do shoes, purses, belts, scarves and accessories - 15 minutes and you're done.
The following pictures are some of the items that I picked out at The Patch, a store in Victoria that sells vintage and bulk purchasing clothing. You can find new things here, but it's all that cheap plastic crap that lasts 3 wears. The gold at this store is in the vintage.
Tip #3: Colour, Pattern, Texture, Shine: I always scout the good stuff sections of the store for "at a glance" things that catch my eye. I look for colour, pattern, texture and shine (the magic 4 from "What Not to Wear"!). Here's a few from my first go-through of the non-vintage section of The Patch.
|That blue dress on the front fit really weird.|
Colour: I like bright, saturated colour. I look for consistency of colour in a garment; no fading, either from wear or from being on a display (faded shoulders). Working from one end in a section, when I see a colour I like in a long line of clothes on a rack, I pull it out. I can quickly go through a rack in about 5 minutes, just by ignoring say, baby blue (a colour I loathe and that looks awful on me), or any other colour I don't wear much. I tend to skip black for this reason. Too much the same!
Pattern: I look for classic patterns, like the paisley and the floral in the above picture. I avoid dated prints (some of those 80s ones, and some of the gawdawful 90s florals, for example), unless they are awesomely kitschy (like my Spanish ladies dress).
Texture: I am all about how a garment feels. Touch a piece of clothing and then look at the label to see what it's made of. I look for cotton, wool, cashmere, viscose (a plant fibre), silk, and of course, leather and suede! I'm all right with polyesters that are good quality (some feel comparable to silk), and vintage polyesters and nylons. Modern fabrics feel very scratchy and rough to the touch. You can actually train your fingers to recognize "real" fabric by continually touching clothes when you shop. I can actually run my fingers along a rack and pull out the best quality items just by feeling them.
Shine: Well, I'm a crow! I like things that are shiny or details like beading or embroidery. But shine doesn't have to mean actual light-reflecting qualities; it can be just that little big of bling on a skirt or jacket, like some fringe, a bit of lace or a zipper trim. I will pull out shiny or blinged-up things and check them out, just in case they are really cool. I've found some good items this way.
Tip #4: Examine Before You Try On: Take each garment and give it a thorough once-over. Check stress points: bottoms of zippers, tops of slits, waist buttons/hooks, pocket corners and hems. You're looking for rips, popped seams, physical wear and missing pieces. Check the lining inside, especially around the waistband, the armholes and at the bottom of zippers - this is often ripped.
Put back the damaged stuff. No matter how awesome the piece is, unless you are a good sewer, have a good tailor and are willing to pay more money to get the item fixed up, or have an amazing drycleaner who can get those stubborn vintage stains out (of course, that also costs money), put it back. I have none of those abilities or staff, so if there's damage, that's a done deal for me.
So following these tips above, it's time to try some things on. Here's what I picked at the Patch, and here's how I look at each item.
I found this awesome Fendi jacket by feel. I checked the label: yup, 100% cashmere.
It was too tight on me, unfortunately, and I didn't love it enough to pay $39.99. It was a little Kermit-y.
Another item that I'd grabbed was this gorgeous cotton red denim Ralph Lauren jacket.
I love the floral pattern on this blouse, which is why it stuck out from the masses of other floral blouses.
I spotted this jacket because of the zipper detail. I liked the look of the collar, so I gave it a whirl.
Sometimes I try stuff on for "sh*ts and giggles" - this vintage 80s Le Chateau jacket was so delightfully retro, I had to try it.
I actually tried this dress on during a previous visit to the Patch about a month ago.I was surprised to see it still there. Must try on again.
Now, no judgement here! I know I have a penchant for leather, thank you. Am I really going to put a full-length black leather skirt BACK ON THE RACK? Duh, no! This was a Danier, of course, and it's one of their Made in Canada line. It was soft like buttah.
Tip #5: Pose It and Move It: Why not view yourself in as flattering a pose as you can muster? I know the lighting sucks, and it's cramped and you're sweaty. Put your arm on your hip, stick your leg out, and stand up straight. If your room doesn't have its own mirror, come out and walk towards another mirror. Don't stand like you're facing the firing squad; most of your life in your clothes is spent moving around, so see how the clothes move.
If you think you might be sitting in the item (eg. in a cab/car/bus, at a desk, at a restaurant), then sit in it. I know, seems obvious, but wouldn't you rather find out now that that cute skirt is way too short for the office? Or that you can only take baby steps in that vintage pencil skirt?
Also, when moving around, do your usual arm motions that you might do; there's no need to do a squat or a cartwheel, but check the reach you have. It would suck to rip a blouse or jacket because you had to grab the loop hanger on the bus one morning. It would also suck to rip the slit in a skirt because you took too long a stride in it.
Tip #6: Construction Matters: Notice that not a single item that I've tried on is a knit? Knits, even good quality ones, don't have any construction and have very few seams, and seams are what give a garment shape. They can make or break an item. Seams around the torso can make your waist look tiny, and seams around the bust can enhance your shape. Seams should lay flat, not bunch, not be stretched and in places that flatter your body.
You'll have noticed that I haven't said a word about sizes.
Tip #7: Ignore Sizes: Unless it looks like it would fit a toddler or it would swim on you, if it is a good quality item, TRY IT ON. I don't go into a thrift store looking for my size, like you would in a mall store or a chain. I look for the best quality I can find, regardless of size.
Sizing is whack. Back in the 80s there was a big shift in sizing: suddenly a size 10 was a size 6. Vanity sizing! Plus there's European sizing, and some designers use letters (I have an Andres Courreges skirt in size B). Sometimes the scale is 0-1-2-3-4, where a 2 is actually a medium (0 = extra small, 4 = extra large, etc.).
The size is just a number, so don't pass on an amazing item because of that number. I wear anywhere from an XS to an XXL (in the same brand sometimes), from a 2 to a 14, and from a 32 to a 42. My shoe size is anywhere from an 8 to a 10, and from a 39 to a 41. All manufacturers' sizing varies - there is no standard.
Tip #8: Look at Accessories: Shoes, belts, scarves, gloves, hats, purses and jewelry are often overlooked, but as mentioned earlier, if you don't have a lot of time (or you are new to thrifting), you can find some great items and not spend too long (good for short attention spans, or those easily overwhelmed).
Shoes: Condition, materials (I prefer leather), quality and size. I'll generally try on every pair of shoes that looks nice, within a size or two of my usual size 9.5. If they aren't perfect, I don't buy 'em.
Purses: I walk along the purse wall and squeeze all the bags, every single one. I'm looking for leather, of course. I always notice how icky faux leather gets after a few years. Bleck. If I find leather, I check the handles for cracking, and then I check the lining for wear and tear. I'm very fussy about purses. They have to be perfect.
Belts: Again, I look for leather. I run my hand through the belts, feeling for softness. There are many vintage 80s leather belts out there that are hard as rock - I avoid those ones. Sometimes I see a good metal belt too, and I always like a nice wrap belt, in leather or fabric.
Scarves: I feel for silk, touching each scarf. I like a strong pattern or contrasting colours, and I look for hand-rolled edges.
Hats: I feel for fur, felt and wool. I check the condition of the hat-band and lining if any. I like an unusual shape and of course, it has to fit perfectly.
Gloves: leather, wool or cashmere lining. If they are evening gloves, fit and condition (no rips or stains) are paramount. I have big hands, so I don't find gloves very often, but because of that, when I do find gloves they are frequently new.
Jewelry: I look for real metal (silver and copper, primarily), leather and bold vintage pieces. I don't find too much, but once in a while, something just leaps out at you. I check all clasps, and inspect for glue, repairs and makers' stamps.
Last Word: Prices: This isn't a tip, really, but sometimes the thrill of finding something really cheap can trip you up. Even if it's a leather skirt for $7.50, try not to let the price alone convince you to buy it. Consider how much you will actually wear it, but truly, it has to fit and be special - you should love all your clothes!
I spent a total of $135 on 8 items on my shopping trip, with prices ranging from $39 to $2.50 per item. My budget was $150 (although I always allow for that magical item - you never know when you're going to run across a pair of Fluevogs!).
Here's what I brought home with me: the red wool dress:
Of course I got the grey lace-print dress! Isn't it fabulous?
I had to get this blouse:
Yeah, I got the velvet dress:
Behold the glory of the velvet dress:
Who can't resist a beautiful leather skirt? *hand up* Me, that's who.
I did get the leather gloves:
As well as The Patch, I went to the St. Vincent de Paul, but there wasn't anything good today. I also stopped in at the Beacon Avenue Thrift Store (where I found my vintage burgundy wool suit recently), but no luck there either. I stopped in at the WIN Warehouse Store (where I ran into the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow), but by then it was getting late, and I just did the shoes and accessories and peeked at the vintage.
I had actually popped into the Hospice Store on the way to town, then picked up my purchases on the way home (thank you, ladies!).
Did someone say something about a $7.50 leather skirt? That wasn't me!
This sweater is a good example of sizing: this is labelled a medium, but it's made in Hong Kong, so it's quite small.
I can't resist a lovely rayon-silk scarf in autumn tones.
I really don't need any new coats, especially any new leather coats, but I loved how this vintage 70s one fit.
My dear friend Ella Love was performing on Saturday night at the Burlesque Explosion, so a gang of 8 of us went out for dinner, then to the show. A grand time was had by all, and I actually made the last bus home (without falling off of it).
I wore the velvet dress. I liked the contrast to all of the burlesque performers' states of undress (and there was much undressing by men too!), but that the vintage-y look of it complimented many of the performers' "street" looks. Ah, costumey people are my favourites.
This dress needs a name! Suggestions welcome.
Dress (vintage, handmade), shoes (Guess), necklace (Grandma J's, vintage 60s), cuff (vintage 60s, Mom's), jade ring (vintage 70s, Mom's), glass bangle (thrifted), spinner ring (Twang & Pearl), read gold hoops (gift from L).
I want to share some of the beautiful construction detail of this dress. Very little of it is machine-sewn - a lot of it is hand-stitched.
This is the inside of the neck:
The top of each slit (one of those areas where I always check for wear):
For a dress that has no stretch (in the long-ago Days Before Spandex), a long slim sleeve means that special construction is required. This is near my wrist.
Well, I hope you enjoyed our little shopping trip! Happy weekend, all, and happy thrifting.