Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where to Thrift

Oh, hello pink Theory chunky pumps. Yes, I will buy you for $4.
After my first blog post about thrifting, I received a question about good thrifting locations. Of course, I am very well-acquainted with the thrift stores in my area and I know their sale days (50% clothes on Wednesdays at the Salvation Army) and which store is best for home-goods, books, clothing, accessories, etc.
How I love bright vintage sheets. My grandmother had some just like this!
Very Wes Anderson wall decoration.
However, my very specific recommendations wouldn't be of much use to those living even 60 miles from my locale. Therefore, I have constructed a list of where to generally look for good thrifting opportunities. I have lived in many different areas in the past 7 or so years, so I have had experience with good and bad thrifting and I have noticed some themes:

1. Urban areas aren't always best. 

You would think that thrifting would be amazing in cities like New York, right? Wrong-o. I would love for someone to correct me on this (give me a store name, street address, and nearby subway stop!), but I have found thrifting in NYC  (Manhattan)  to be horrible. My biggest gripe? The price. Way, way too expensive.

I think I know the reason for this. Hipsters. Do not thrift where cool people thrift. They grab all the good stuff and drive up the prices. I like to thrift in areas where customers are predominantly moms looking for a good deal on kid's clothes and older men and women checking out books and baskets. I saw a hipster at my local, most frequented thrift store-once. I sighed when I spotted him and prayed that he wasn't indicative of a coming influx of straight-leg-jean-wearing-artfully-ruffled-hair-sporting-The XX-listening cool people. Shudder. It was a disaster. He swiped a robin egg blue vintage suitcase that I had my eye on ($2.00!). I was planning on using it for under the sofa quirky storage. He was probably planning on bringing it back from whence he came (probably NYC...probably Brooklyn) and poking people on the subway with its slightly cumbersome angles. I hope I never see him again. I like to be the only person looking out for somewhat wacko vintage finds and I don't want to compete with anyone cooler than me (it is terribly hard not to be cooler than me).

2. Sometimes urban is okay.

Hey, I know I just dissed NYC for thrifting and implied that urban areas are a no-go. However, I want to officially explain an exception. The culture of some cities does not foster hipsters and focuses on the new and the flashy. These cities are more materialistic with an emphasis on of-this-season fashion and style. If you see more than one billboard advertising plastic surgery in a one square mile area (bonus points for if the board shows before and after pics with lots of skin), it is very likely that you are in one of these cities.

Miami, I am looking at you!

I briefly lived in Miami a couple of years ago. I cannot say that I much cared for this city. While I was happy to leave it behind, I get a lump in my throat when I recall the thrifting.
Hipsters don't seem to exist in Miami. I think they might melt in intense sunlight. Therefore, there is not too much competition. Also, there is a large elderly population in South Florida in general, so that adds beautifully to the vintage stock. People in this type of urban setting seem to get rid of a lot of really nice, new, and high-end apparel items. Additionally, you have groups of people not originally from outside the United States that donate even cooler gear (my favorite thrift store in Miami-Dade County broadcast their announcements in Spanish, Creole, and English). I don't know if LA is like this (I often associate Miami with LA, but maybe that is just a side effect of the Kardashians), but if you come across a flashy urban area and you don't notice anyone wearing old-school Ray Bans, throwback kicks, and fabulously worn t-shirts, go look for a thrift store.

Honduran leather boots that I must guard with my life from my sister.
Classy sassy.

3. Rural is meh. 

I like in a relatively rural area. If you go one direction from my house, you reach a small city. If you go another, you get to the deep rural Amish country. I'm talking hitching posts at the grocery store here. I absolutely love the charms of the rural life. It's beautiful, there are neat farms (even one Amish farm that raises camels for infant milk research at a big hospital!), and great produce. However, thrifting in these really rural areas is a real bust.

I think people who work off the land and raise animals tend to keep their clothes until they wear out and do not donate much. When you were a kid, school clothes would become play clothes after you wore them out. I think for people who do more physical activities like animal raising and crop farming, the same process applies: they just turn their nice clothes into work clothes and then wear them until they are ready for the rag bag. This economical and practical policy may benefit the original clothes owner, but it does not make for happy thrifting.

If you want cool shopping when you are in a rural area, go check out farm stands and Amish markets instead. You can get fabulous produce, meats, cheeses, breads, desserts, and soap. Now that's what I call shopping locally!

4. Your best bet are small or mid-size cities. 

For the best thrifting, go check out mid-size or small cities. Large towns can even work, especially if there is a really high-end college or hospital in the area. These places have more supply than rural and less demand than urban. I like to look for the places that are the dumping grounds for "ladies who lunch." You can usually get some lovely conservative items here. I see a lot of Talbots and nice leather shoes. You can also search for the stores that get the most donations from older people to find vintage and retro pieces.

Pretty and on-trend.
I love kids' books!
I always keep an eye out for Pendelton wool. 
Oh my god, Cher! This dress makes me feel quite "clueless."

Whew! That was a long post. Of course, I am joking about my disdain for hipsters. I own throwback Ray Bans, TOMS, and a couple 50/50 Hanes t-shirts, so I cannot cast stones. I just like being the big fish.

When it comes down to it, successful thrifting really depends on consistency. You have to go often and accept the hit or miss nature of the hunt. Thrifting isn't like walking into the Gap. It takes time and patience. You won't always find something that works and it can be really frustrating. But, oh, when you do get that awesome, unique item for a steal, the thrill is totally worth it.

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