At this point, my wardrobe is almost entirely handmade + thrifted garments with a few bought-new stragglers holding on from the old days. In thinking about it this morning (while at the thrift store) I realized that I haven’t bought a new garment in probably about three years — and had been buying new garments sparingly for three years before that! I still don’t buy new clothes, though I ogle plenty of thoughtful small batch brands. I think the sewing gets in the way — I love the challenge, I always think, “ I could sew that.” The curse (and blessing!) of catching the self-drafting bug. But before I learned to sew, I thrifted all my clothes. This began as a financial choice. In college, I didn’t have money for new clothes and I still loved to shop, so I became a regular at my local thrift stores. I found that it really thrilled me — the hunt is always my favorite part of shopping and thrifting gives some new and satisfying obstacles and variables. I found some wonderful clothes at the thrift stores I went to in college. I loved my closet. I was so proud of the things I had found, and happy to be enjoying a slower and more thoughtful way of choosing what to buy. I learned quickly (the hard way) not to buy anything at the thrift store that wasn’t exactly right. There really isn’t space for “almost” in thrifted clothes (or any clothes for that matter) because the almost clothes would languish in the bottom of my drawer while the same ten pieces were worn over and over. I’m a fairly obsessive person by nature, so I settle into capsules pretty naturally. I learned what I liked, slowly and surely, by methodically pushing clothes hangers across the rack and touching fabrics, over and over, seeing what felt nice. No fancy merchandising to trick me into thinking I loved something, no trendy look. Just clothes, simple, present, lots of them to look through, to fill my brain for a while. To make some reflexive choices — not this, not this, yes this. It’s almost meditative, the working your way down the thrift store rack. i don’t really understand the people who dip in and out, who look at one garment, and another three feet away. What about all the ones in between? There’s no way to know what you’re really dealing with unless you touch every garment, check the whole row, your size and the size above. Maybe this is my obsession working its way back in, but I found that most of my true thrifted treasures came from deep in the rack, something I never would have noticed if I only saw the edge of the sleeve.
I still don’t have money for new clothes. I’d love to support some of the small batch labels I love to follow, but as a small batch label myself I hardly have enough money to buy fabric to sew with. Thrifting is a wonderful way to scratch the shopping itch without driving the market toward new, new, always new, to take care of my own budget, still tiny in my mid-twenties, and to give myself a wonderful challenge to rest my brain in for an afternoon. What treasure will I find in these racks? Maybe nothing, maybe something.
Over the years, i’ve developed a few personal rules for thrifting. They are as follows:
Look at the thrift store mostly for the sorts of clothes I don’t make often. This means knit garments in cotton and wool, complicated pants, button down shirts, coats, and shoes.
Favor natural fibers and well-made clothing. I steer clear of notoriously low-quality fast fashion brands, even at the thrift store. I like clothes that are hard-wearing and worth mending when they tear.
Pull LOTS of clothes off the rack, really anything that catches my eye. When I go through the racks at the store I go into almost a meditative state and don’t make too many decisions other than “I like this” or “I don’t like this.” The scrutinizing happens in the dressing room.
Be very picky. Once I’m in the dressing room, the scrutiny begins. I will only buy something if it’s GREAT. No almost-clothes for me because I know I won’t wear them. It doesn’t bother me to do small alterations or mends — I’ve been known to buy clothes that are a little too big if I know I can take them in. It’s more about whether I really love it or not, and if it fills a known wardrobe hole. I try to avoid redundancy. Obviously there’s a lot of wiggle room there, but I usually go with the adage, “when you know you know.” I know when I love something. If something’s a “maybe” that almost always means I won’t buy it.
Gather inspiration. At the thrift store you see and touch a TON of clothes. I try to pay attention to what I like and don’t like. In the dressing room, I look at garment construction and take mental notes (or even physical notes sometimes! — lots of pictures on my phones of the insides of clothes!) If there’s something I pulled off the rack there must be something I liked about it. What was it? The fabric, the cut, the details? All of this becomes data for my designer brain. I go to the thrift store to shop, yes, but also to gather ideas and see how lots of clothes look on my body, how different fabrics drape and move. It’s research!
Are you into thrifting? I’d love to talk about it! Leave a comment or send me an email. Feels like a fun companion conversation to me-made may.