Saturday, July 18, 2009

What's your favorite department store?

Mine is now known as... the thrift store.

When I was a teenager, I passed a secondhand clothing store on my walk home from school. I would stop in two or three days a week and browse. Since I was a kid, I had the time to really dig through the racks and see what good stuff was there. I didn't buy all of my clothes there, but I know some really memorable, key pieces of my grunge-era attire (a gray shirt embroidered with dragonflies and some 70's-era Gap flare-leg cords stand out) were all secondhand. My friends and I also made the trek to a hip clothing store in Cambridge, MA called The Garment District- mostly everything there was secondhand (or vintage, as various hip people are more inclined to call it.) They had (and still do) a section called "Dollar a pound" where you could load up garbage bags full of random clothes and pay $1 per pound for it. The clothes we got there were generally nothing pretty, but my friends and I liked it that way, and you can get away with rips and funky colors and pants that you need a belt to hold up when you're fifteen years old.

Well, as time went on my taste in clothes became more and more expensive (and as I became an adult, I no longer needed to express my individuality with "funky vintage fashion". ) When I tried to be "cheap," I'd buy clothes at discount stores like Walmart or Target, but I noticed they didn't fit well and didn't hold up in the wash. I tended to buy things on clearance at mall stores (I walked into Express, The Limited, or The Gap and made a beeline for the back) or I shopped at places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Ross.

Recently, a thift store opened up in my town. It hasn't occurred to me to shop at a secondhand store, not for years. For one thing, I just don't have time to pore through racks and racks of stuff to find something I might like. And for another, I guess I thought that buying secondhand clothes were for people that had serious money troubles, who couldn't otherwise afford clothes.

But this store is very enticing- for one thing, it's laid out in such a way that shopping is very easy. All the different types of clothes are sorted by size and color. So if I need a skirt, I can quickly glance through all the skirts in my size and see if a color or pattern stands out. I tend to check the garment over quickly for signs of wear, and then I check the label. If the item of clothing is a quality brand, it seems basically unworn, and I like it, I will try it on. If I try it on and I like it, and I have enough money in my budget, I will buy it.

This past spring, I spent $32 on clothes for work: 2 jackets, a short-sleeved sweater, a skirt, and a pair of capri pants. Some of these items still had the original tags on them. Some of them came from pricey stores like Ann Taylor. I got more compliments on things I bought from the thrift store than anything else I... oh, wait, I didn't buy clothes anywhere else but the thrift store (well, that's not 100% true- I bought a few tank tops and T shirts for layering at Kohl's when they were on sale for 2.99 and 3.99 each.) But it's true that I found clothes that were great quality, very unique, and very cheap. And I was happy.

The thrift store has been a great place to buy books (my kids love to read and often beg to buy books- with 99 cent books I can let them do that) and household items (I've gotten baking pans and a bread machine there- the bread machine was only 7.99!)

I went there a couple of weeks ago and glanced through their shoes. (Again, their shoes are arranged by color and size- very easy to shop.) I got a pair of Skecher's for 4.99 and cute shearling winter boots for 6.99 (I searched high and low for boots last winter- I could not find a pair of boots I liked for less than $70.)

The funny thing was, I told my mother about my shoe purchases- which were probably not 100% frugal since they were total impulse buys and I didn't desperately need these things. (But if I'm doing impulse buying at the thrift store, I'm not going to do too much damage to my budget.) So for my birthday last week, she gave me a $50 giftcard to Famous Footwear- maybe she is worried about my ability to afford proper shoes? Well, $50 should go pretty far when I hit the clearance rack- just walk straight to the back! And maybe I will be able to convert my mom to the joys of thrift store shopping, too.

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