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Monday, June 22, 2015

Second Hand Shopping: Reality Check

The great Janice of the great Viviennefiles has a new goal: to buy only secondhand for the next year. I got so excited by this that I kept returning to read the comments and left several myself. At last, something in which I have expertise!

Along with tales of fabulous finds (cashmere and more)I detected a bit of anxiety amongst the commenters: can you really find great stuff at thrift stores?

My answer: it depends where you live. I myself have thrifted in various places. Right now, I live in a small town with a tiny affluent population, a mid-sized middle class, and a large very poor population. Surprisingly nice things show up on occasion and the prices are very low. There is little competition for the things I look for.

I once lived in a small town with a small college. The town had been decimated by unemployment. I dutifully wandered over to the Salvation Army once a week for a year and found perhaps two items. That may be stretching it.

When we visit relatives in affluent Northern California, I have seen great things, usually clutched by others. There are lines of what look like bonafide hippies circa 1971 lined up outside a tiny thrift shop in Marin. When it opens, they rush in; within minutes, the stock is decimated. 

So--to oversimplify--what you find depends on the population and the competition. There are zillions of other people shopping, many with more expertise than you possess. A large proportion of the shoppers are shopping for a living. They know what they are doing. Many go every day. One of my thrift friends is an expert in jewelry: she laments the fact that she can no longer find Danish silver to sell on Ebay.

If you try a few times and find mostly ugly overpriced stuff...well, that is the way it is most places. I am lucky because I buy things for my whole family: my chances of success are higher than if I were shopping for just me. And I'm mostly looking for quotidien stuff: a colander for Frugal Son, some books to read, etc.

Recently, I have discovered the joys of on-line second hand: not terribly cheap, but reasonable. My favorite so far is Poshmark. Check it out. (Since I wrote this I've noted that some of the on-line resale sites have really raised their prices. On Poshmark and Tradesy, the seller sets the price. Twice Clothing, in particular, seems to have really jacked up its prices).

In the more than 30 years I've been thrifting, I've found a vintage Gucci bag, a pair of Chanel loafers, and a single Hermes scarf. That's one status item every ten years. My best find this year: a set of Sferra sheets (no cases).

Shopping in bad thrift stores is time-consuming and depressing. If the pickings are always slim, it's not you. 


Anonymous said...

That's the way I find it : depressing ! But a friend of mine who lives in a quite affluent town far away from Paris finds extraordinary items at incredible prices when she goes to the equivalent of garage sales. The sellers are families who just want to get rid of stuff while not necessarily making money. My friend is always elegant and yet she gets dressed mostly that way !

sharon thach said...

garage/moving sales are often good for non-fashion items. We walk several miles most mornings and during the season have found some good things as we stroll by--patio furniture, espresso machine, unused tablecloths and placemats and goods for starting out child's home. When in grad school and dependent on finding a few things, I found the thrifts depressing and mostly unrewarding. Maybe four things that became useful and used.

Tami said...

We moved to a large city and have dozens of thrift shops at every level of value. While our family is putting two kids through college, I have enjoyed the hunt of things needed and not needed. My kids and husband now enjoy thrifting as well. I have found things like a Christian Dior cardigan that has full embroidery on it for $6, and a bluemarine sweater for $4. Paintings for $6. I love my Crate and Barrel king quilt for $12. I could go on and on. There are limits such as shoes and undies, but I look at it as fun.

Shelley said...

Last I was in Oklahoma City I dropped into a couple of thrift shops recommended by a former work colleague. I've never seen so much garbage in my life. I couldn't believe they bothered to put it on clothes hangers!

Here in Britain there are public statistics called indices of deprivation. I use them to identify the most affluent areas near where I'm going to visit, ie in Edinburgh, Manchester and Chester, as well as near where I live - Newcastle. Those seem to be the best areas in which to shop, though there are no guarantees. This weekend we'll be visiting Alderley Edge, where I'm told Manchester United footballers live. I'm not holding my breath but it seems worth a shot.

I'm excited about Janice's goal - though I'm aiming to buy two NEW things this year, to hopefully look a bit more current. Haven't decided at what price point I'll be aiming, probably mid-range. Wish me luck I don't make any too-expensive mistakes!