Archive for the 'Thrifting' Category

Real fashion. Real people. Real lives.

January 28, 2009

Lately, at a certain point in the afternoon, when I’ve got the pigs slopped, the hay baled, the chickens plucked and the chores done, I take a few minutes and review the latest postings to wardrobe remix, a little Flickr site that I stumbled upon a few months ago.

WR is dedicated to all those of us who daily crawl out of bed, limp to our mirrors and scratch our heads in frustration. It is how real women of all ages and sizes use whatever is in their closets, cupboards and drawers to express themselves. (I think it was Isaac Mizrahi who said that fashion is, after all, a form of entertainment.) It has few rules — age 16+, total body shots, including shoes, the poster needs to say where the individual pieces come from, no collages or multiple shots — so the fashion combinations are at times crazy bizarre unique. And yet I’ve found this site to be more interesting and inspiring than any fashion magazine I’ve ever read.

It’s real people wearing real clothes, and many of their favorites are from thrift stores, discount outlets and relatives’ closets. Asian girls revel in their odd (to me, anyway) combinations of prints, Australian women incur deep seasonal jealousy by wearing sundresses and flip flops, European women demonstrate the best in Euro-style, collegiate fashionistas contort themselves in fashion-model stances — and they are surrounded by punk rockers, hippie chicks, thrift-store junkies and middle-aged fashion veterans.

There’s a teacher in Australia whose students must surely wait by the door everyday to see what wild and wonderful combination of colors, prints and jewelry she’ll be sporting. A punk chick seems to change her Day-Glo hair color weekly, with aplomb. A farm wife in Iowa wears thrift-store treasures that make her life look anything but ordinary. A woman in the Midwest with a terrific knack for layering has a link to her blog, where she meditates on fashion and its place in history, psychology and popular culture.

These are just women living their lives. Most are pretty, but not model-beautiful, and their wardrobes wouldn’t make it on the pages of InStyle or Vogue. Yet to me they are so compelling, so REAL.

Along with the fashion parade is a glimpse into the homes of these clothes horses. Hopefully I’m not being too voyeuristic, but I’m actually somehow comforted by the normalcy of most of their living arrangements, with their couches, floor coverings, knick-knacks, spouses/housemates and pets. The living quarters seen in the margins of their photos are sometimes cluttered with evidence of their lives, REAL lives. Their spaces don’t look like TV or magazine sets, but are areas where real people live real, interesting and sometimes messy existences.

Sometimes for the college-age women, it’s a single room or even a communal bathroom that forms the background, while other models stand on wooden floors in front of doors, interesting art or overflowing bookcases. (I’d love to be able to read some of the titles.) Some of them even have messy, overgrown yards — I can relate! One of my favorite backdrops belongs to an chick who poses in front of her flat, standing on a doormat that reads “Next Time Bring a Warrant.” (Needless to say, her sense of style has ATTITUDE.)

If you look at the site, you might initially think I’m nuts. (“She actually went out of the house looking like THAT?”) But scroll through a few photos and you’ll likely find someone whose personal flair and style sense make her look like someone you’d like to know. (“Her” is probably incorrect, as there are a few brave males who post as well.)

Maybe I watch too much TV and read too many magazines. Perhaps I’ve overdosed on air-brushed perfection. Apparently I have finally realized that, for example, Oprah’s guests (and the Queen of TV herself) have been primped and corseted and fussed over within an inch of their very lives before they set foot on her set, and that they bear little resemblance to whatever it is that crawls out of their individual beds in the morning. Whatever the cause, I find that I have a deep unrelenting hunger for whatever is really REAL, and wardrobe remix seems to help satisfy some of that craving.


Thrifting: A small act of charity for a bleak time

October 7, 2008

So you say you want to help those who have been hit hard by the economic downturn? Here’s a start: Clean out your closets. Really.

An article at today says:

The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries International, the nation’s two largest charitable resale organizations, report year-to-date sales increases of 6 percent to 15 percent…

“We’re seeing a lot more middle-class and upper-class customers we haven’t seen before,” [said one store manager]. “Without even asking, you can just look in the parking lot (at their cars).”

The surge in thrift store sales has its downside, though. The Salvation Army reports a dangerous decline in donations. Just as consumers are now more likely to buy secondhand goods, they are also less likely to get rid of their used clothing or furniture.

A couple of women’s organizations in my area regularly conduct clothing drives for displaced homemakers who need suits, jackets and dresses for job interviews, but those are some of the very items that consumers are holding onto:

“We rely heavily on consumer culture,” said [Salvation Army] spokeswoman Melissa Temme. “People are finding that the couch can last a little longer. The suit, while it may not be perfect for this year’s fashion, is fine.”

So, my darlings out there in the Blogosphere, I challenge you to take a few minutes this week and divest yourself of some of those jackets and skirts and coats and shoes that — admit it — just aren’t going to work anymore. In my experience, articles of clothing that are a size 12 and above are particularly welcome.

It’s just a little something, a mere mitzvah, but I guarantee it will make you feel better.

Thrifting: My clothes take a Caribbean vacation

September 26, 2008

Who knew? Apparently trading in secondhand clothing is big business outside of the U.S.:

When thrifty shoppers in Boston and Miami pick through secondhand shirts at local Salvation Army outlets or estate sales, they are as likely to meet Haitians as hipsters. Some of the immigrants will simply be collecting clothes to mail back to family in Port-au-Prince, but others are part of a large global network trading in used American goods.

The demand for pepe — used materials of all kinds from overseas — is huge in places like Haiti, which has developed its own sort of raggedy capitalism:

Pepe is sold on virtually every street corner in Haiti, yet it isn’t a free-for-all. Some vendors purchase goods by the bales for resale. Usually they have an agreement with an American charity shop, which sorts the items before making the sale. (Coats, for example, go to countries with colder climates.) Other dealers rely on relatives and friends in the United States and run off-the-books enterprises. One person combs the thrift stores for certain items, and another returns to Haiti several times a year to make the exchange. Some sellers specialize in a certain kinds of goods—just soccer jerseys, just sneakers, just bikinis.

Although I knew that my local charity shop ships items overseas to other benevolent outlets, I had no idea that some of my old tee-shirts and skirts might be being restyled for a Caribbean market. It has occurred to me that, were I more clever with my sewing machine — which sits covered with clothes-to-be-mended somewhere in the laundry room — I might be able to give some of my cast-offs a second life.

Instead, like my mother-in-law, I stack the old Singer with tattered clothes until the pile gets so high — and then I bundle them off to Goodwill. The road to my closet is paved with good intentions.

If you’re interested, a pair of New York filmmakers has recently released a documentary, Secondhand (Pepe), describing the path your shoes take from your closet to the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Project Goodwill: Thrifting hits Washington runways

September 22, 2008

It just had to happen: As Congress and the White House grapple with solutions to the biggest financial meltdown since 1929, big-spending Washingtonians have discovered what we common folk in the hinterlands have known for years: There are bargains to be had at your nearby Goodwill. The Washington Post’s report — complete with a photo gallery — on a runway show at the French Embassy describes an event-for-our-times that, while it didn’t have Heidi Klum, was turning heads — and changing minds:

[W]ell-heeled Washingtonians were discovering that it’s still possible to look fabulous without a Wall Street severance package, a realization that’s sinking in across the country.

Goodwill has seen a 6 percent jump in sales nationwide as the economy has worsened in the past year. A recent survey of about 200 thrift stores found that more than half enjoyed sales jumps averaging 30 percent…

About 70 outfits, pulled from local Goodwill stores by Alexandria designer Tu-Anh Nguyen, were shown on the runway. Then they were returned to racks and wheeled out of the dressing rooms.

The tony crowd then descended on the racks in a scene that almost resembled bridal-gown markdown day at Filene’s Basement. Hey, ladies, settle down! There’s plenty of good stuff out there, as I have observed previously. It just requires patience and a discriminating eye.

And for some, maybe swallowing some pride. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of that in the coming days.

It’s not easy being green

June 9, 2008

I’ve been thinking dark, brooding thoughts about the dwindling availability of natural resources (like, you know, gasoline) and the attendant rise in prices of just about everything. In light of my recent post on making the best of the recession, I’ve decided to make a list of my green — and not-so-green — behaviors:

My good deeds:

Read the rest of this entry »

The upside of the recession

May 26, 2008

Meghan Daum, writing in the LATimes, has managed to find a bright side to the growing recession, with its flattened house market and $4/gallon gas prices: home repairmen who come immediately, and California’s empty freeways.

Sure, things are going to get ugly very soon. Layoffs will increase, the housing market will go from dismal to awful, and pretending to be in a sci-fi movie set in the future (admit it, you’ve tried it!) will no longer be an effective coping mechanism for the trauma of filling up at the pump. But for the moment, I can’t help but feel that this recession — or at least the evanescent moment before it kicks into high gear — offers a kind of coziness you rarely feel in a booming economy.

Daum, whom I’ve blogged about before, compares the current crisis to her four bucolic years when, after nearly bankrupting herself trying to live in NYC, she moved to Omaha, where she was lucky to make $12,000 a year. Read the rest of this entry »


April 4, 2008

images-11.jpeg With the economy in the tank, perhaps it is time for me to blog on one of my favorite topics: thrifting.

When we moved to Chicago, I became a trailing spouse holed up in the top floor of a Victorian three-flat with two manic little boys and little money. I met a great woman, Susan, at church, who always seemed to have it all together. Like me, she was a refugee from the West, but seemed to have this whole Chicago big-city thing figured out, and she and her two children always looked smashing.

“So,” I asked her hesitantly one day, “Where do you buy your clothes?” I was expecting her to name Marshall Fields (RIP, sigh…) or some other pricey place, but I was surprised. “Amvets!” she said cheerily, and proceeded to take me shopping with her. Read the rest of this entry »