30 September 2009

Confessions of a thrift store shopaholic

They were diamonds in the rough, but once they were rubbed to a shine, their dazzle was brilliant.
This past Saturday, I went shopping for a new pair of dress shoes. After search several thrift stores, I found them – although they weren’t quite “foot worthy” yet. Whoever had last owned them had apparently not known how to take care of leather, and the exterior was caked with snow salt. The interior, however, was in good shape, and the leather foot liner bore a more important mark of quality – the words “Cole Haan.” A little while later, after I’d cleaned the interior and exterior, and polished the black leather with several coats of polish, the shoes gleamed like new. The best part? This pair of shoes originally retailed for $130 – and I bought them for $2.99.
I’m addicted to thrift shopping. To me, there’s no better present in the world than going into a thrift store and having someone say, as my friend Becky did on my 24th birthday, “Here’s $20. Buy whatever you want.” I don’t remember what I bought that night – but I remember being on top of the world, feeling like the entire store was mine for the asking. It basically was – Savers in those days was the type of place where you could find jeans for $5, and shirts for even less. Hell, you could find pretty much anything there – like Russian army jackboots, World War II leather flying trousers, and the metal detector I bought could attest to. It was like having access to the ultimate garage sale; open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
You see, a good thrift store is like the beach where cultural detritus washes up after the consumer storm that created it has died down. Want to know what was really popular 5-10 years ago? Go to Goodwill. You’ll find plenty of copies of “The DaVinci Code,” George Foreman grills, and Backstreets Boys dolls (not that I’ve looked for the latter). It’s all of the stuff that people wanted when it was new, but get rid of after a few years, when the novelty is gone and they’ve moved on. In a way, I’m a forager, going through the cast-offs of a consumer-based economy, where “more” is always better. This has changed with the economic downturn – as people are no longer just getting rid of perfectly good designer clothing simply because they can – but there are still good things to be found.
I don’t know how I ended up like this. My parents always bought me nice, new things when I was growing up. I never wanted for clothes. As I grew older, I developed a fascination with thrift stores, simply because I enjoyed the mystery of them. I never knew what I was going to find, and I loved that. By the time I met my wife, I was addicted. My wife, however, took my game up a notch, telling me that she never paid more than $5 for a shirt and $10 for a pair of pants. My jaw dropped. How did she do it? Years later, I’ve learned her secrets, and then some. I’ve learned how to clean pretty much any stain out of a garment. I’ve learned that leather is a forgiving material always open to the possibility of a resurrection. I’ve learned how to hem my own trousers, and do my own dry cleaning at home. I’ve learned how to do more with less, because on a journalist’s salary, I don’t have much of a choice.
I’ve got this down to a science. Yesterday morning, I walked into the officer wearing a pair of wool dress pants ($1, church yard sale), a blue dress shirt ($1, church yard sale), a lamb’s wool v-neck Gap sweater ($6, Unique) and my new shoes. I looked like a million bucks, but had spent under $10. The confidence that comes with looking good on a budget, however, is priceless.

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