Custom Search

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sentimental Education, Tactile Shopping, and Second-Hand Chic

First part of title is about me and my beloved Miss Em, for whom I am providing an education in thrift shopping, which, since it's full of feeling, is sentimental. Second part is the self-explanatory title of a book.

One side advantage of being a teacher who has to stand before over 100 20-somethings three days a week is that it keeps me from lapsing into total slob-hood. Those who teach at prestigious research institutions dress in very upscale clothing. Elaine Showalter of Princeton used to write about her high-end shopping for Vogue and I saw a spread a few years ago on the fashion sense of the McGill English Department. But those of us not lucky enough to teach in the higher echelons can tend toward the dowdy.

Recently, one of my students said, "You dress a lot better than most teachers." That doesn't sound so great, but it's high praise. If I look OK at all, it is because I seldom buy anything without the permission of Miss Em, who has unerring style sense.

But when we brought our stuff to Buffalo Exchange, the tables were turned. Miss Em noticed that a much greater percentage of my stuff was taken. Most of hers was rejected. She also noticed that the uber fashionable and often pierced managers of Buffalo enjoyed yakking with me, even though I am about thirty years older than they are. One manager and I even discussed the possiblity of my being their first middle-aged employee! (No, I like my current job. But I would be good.)

So Miss Em and I discussed my history--how in the depths of graduate student poverty I found vintage clothing to sell at the Eye of Osiris, a vintage shop in Bloomington Indiana. Even though I have very few talents--I am an excellent reader and a good cook and that's about it--I was instantly successful in the vintage biz. For some reason, I immediately figured out that you find vintage and designer clothing by quality fabric. You don't look at the clothing; you first run your hands along the rack. Indeed, if you see anyone doing this at a thrift store, you will know that you are in the presence of a picker.

I promised Miss Em that I would teach her the secrets of tactile shopping. She is kind of a beginner, having refused to set foot in a thrift store for much of her childhood. (She would walk into Goodwill and ostentatiously hold her nose!) But, trust me, she is a fast learner and a person of great visual discrimination.

But what if you don't have a mom like me to help you undergo your rite of passage into tactile shopping? There is a book that tells you very clearly how to evaluate clothing for fine fabric and fine construction.

I mentioned this book, which I had borrowed from a former friend many years ago and whose title I had forgotten, in a post a while back. I googled "consignment shopping guide," and amazingly the book came up: Second-Hand Chic by Christa Weil. Even more amazing, there was a copy in my library system and I am reading the book with great pleasure. This is a 10 year old book! It is a testament to its timeless information on fabric quality and clothing construction that it is still in print. The sections on how to shop second-hand are dated, of course, because the book has nary a mention of on-line shopping. But the rest of the book is excellent.

Check it out, if you have a chance.


Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

I love a thrift shop!! I go to lots of coctail parties with Prince for British Airways and am a member of my town's local business association. People always ask me the same thing...."Wow where did you get that outfit..,,you always look like a million dollars"! And you know what Frugal Scholar.....I proudly tell them at the thrift store. I'm not entirely sure they believe me!! Well, you know what "they" say, one mans trash....
I find designer clothing at a pennies at a store here that gives it's profit to battered women. Two birds with one stone :)
Thanks for the congrats about the baby.....I wasn't ready but I guess life was.
You inspire me and I'm sure that you look beautiful every day :)

Steady On
Reggie Girl

sallymandy said...

Oooh, I like that. Just because I'm on a thrift shopping hiatus doesn't mean I can't study up for when the hiatus is over.

I don't exactly run my hands along the racks, but I do know how to tell good fabric, and that's often what makes me buy something at a thrift store. Even if the piece doesn't necessarily work, maybe I can use the fabric for something.

I love that you have a Buffalo Exchange where you are. I went to college in Tucson where the first one opened, and it was my mainstay during college.

Loved this post. Thanks!

Duchesse said...

So great you're passing on your knowledge! I shop for fabric quality for NEW items as well. My 'holy trinity' is fabric quality, construction quality, and fit.

McGill English dept. looks so good because they are in Montreal, IMO the most style-conscious city in North America. Even if it's the simplest tee and jeans, it's worn with flare- the French influence is strong there.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Reggie--Your thrift shops sound so good! And you get to fly for free. Lucky you.

@sallymandy--I'll try to provide a study guide. Think of all the good stuff that will be waiting for you.

@Duchesse--So true. It's amazing how badly-constructed some very expensive stuff is. You should take a look at that spread. Believe it or not, it was featured on the McGill website a few years ago. Love Montreal!

Funny about Money said...

That's really interesting. I'll have to try that: my trouble with shopping in general and with shopping in low-price stores in specific is that all I can see is the green-&-purple polka dots. Maybe NOT LOOKING is the trick (at first, anyway).

We have a Buffalo Exchange here. A friend used to do business with them all the time. They're very picky about clothing being in season--if you bring winter clothes as spring is rolling in, they'll reject the stuff. So it may not have been the style and quality of Miss Em's offerings as much as the staff's estimate of how well the outfits would sell at that time of year.