One of Viviennestyle's commenters lamented the lack of thrift shops in her European home. I left a brief comment about my observations in France, where I was lucky enough--owing to perhaps over-extreme frugality--to spend some weeks this summer and the one before. Unlike in the USA and in Great Britain, where there is an established tradition of charity shops, France seems to boast only the occasional uber-pricy designer resale store, snobbier than any retail environment I have ever experienced.
In Paris I witnessed an amazing eco-system. On our evening walks, we would see people assiduously going through garbage cans. Some had little wheelie carts in which they amassed food. One sight from this past summer: an old woman with a full cart, sitting on a stoop, shelling beans. I noticed that people often waited till dusk to put out their garbage, carefully laying nice clothing and linens at the top. I walked by a wonderful trove (this is what I mentioned in my comment chez Vivienne) containing a lined classic wool skirt, a vintage Persian lamb jacket, and a pair of Doc Martens. This stuff was so nice that I sent Mr FS out to make sure it had been taken before the trucks came: he reported that all was gone!
We also saw interesting furniture. Mr FS lamented the fact that he could not transport a great wooden door for one of his art projects. We saw an ecstatic-looking Parisian fellow--decidedly middle-class--carrying one of those circular tables with two leaves that you put against the wall. It seemed like good wood. It was missing a leaf, but it would still make a snazzy addition to a small apartment. We also saw tons of Ikea-type pressboard, but these often did not survive a night in the rain. Lots of baby equipment too.
And, of course, books. There was a giant box of books outside the Aloha Hostel right down the street from us--perhaps left by travelers? A woman and her son pulled out a lot of books. Then Mr FS and I had a look: many academic books on feminism (in French). It was about to rain, so we took a few and kept them safe. We then left them on the doorstep of the used bookstore around the corner. According to a used bookstore owner here, this is a common practice: much of his stock was gifted by kind people who hoped for a good home for their books.
I guess Mr FS and I participated in the ecosystem by moving those books. We also saw the ecosystem at work on our visit to Nimes. There we saw an ad hoc street sale where zillions of families had wares on the sidewalk. Some of these looked like established marketers, but others looked rather unofficial, e.g. the fellow with stacks and stacks of clothing and a sign that said 2 items for a euro. I spied a Max Mara blazer and some nice sweaters. I have a feeling that the piles of stuff came courtesy of the trash.
We did see some giant metal receptacles in Paris where you could deposit used clothing for charity. Of course, being French, the rules were strict: the clothing had to be freshly laundered, neatly folded, and put into a certain kind of plastic bag (i.e. not a garbage bag). No wonder people left their things on the garbage cans!
Oh, the Vuitton bag. Yes, it is authentic. I got it from the sidewalk. Someone left it. There was nothing in it, save an invitation to a private fashion show. Perhaps the original owner left the bag so that it could be filled with some of the wares left atop the garbage can next to it. Readers, I took it. It is my souvenir. It is, of course, a shopping bag.
It now sits in my study filled with student work from last semester. It is a big and sturdy bag. I love it.