PHOTOGRAPHER John Michaels
I grew up in a family full of fashionable women. We all coveted each other's wardrobes and hoped and prayed that a sister, mother, aunt, or grandmother would decide that her wardrobe was too full, and that it was time to clean out the closet. This was a happy day for all of the recipients but often these events were few and far between.
Thrift shopper taking a break.
Finding new clothes for the season was always a miserable venture with the hideous, generic styles that one would find at the department stores. We wanted embroidery, jacquard, beads, silk! So we finally got wise, and started heading to the thrift stores at the beginning of every season.
The thrift store was a wonderful place full of possibilities and treasures to be found. Okay, the musty smell always made me sneeze, but my discomfort would quickly melt away once the excitement of the hunt took over.
But the prize items were not always easy to find. There are tricks to shopping second hand. Many people find their first few experiences disappointing. I remember the first time I went with my older sister and could not find a thing, while she walked off with cocktail dresses and mink trimmed coats! "Thrift store shopping is a skill. Not everyone has it." she told me. Through the years, I have learned this skill, and I will pass on some tips to my readers on how to acquire it:
Searching for skirts today.
1. Always go to the thrift store with what you're searching for in mind. Thrift stores can be huge and daunting: if you don't know what you are looking for, how will you ever find it?
2. Check the labels. I recommend making sure the fabric content are natural fibers. And if you can find designer name labels, once on the garments are better than the hanger appeal would suggest.
3. Look for original price tags. This is oddly common. There are actually people out there who buy things, never wear them, and send them to the thrift store untouched! Shocking, but I'm always happy to take it.
4. Try on everything and anything that looks vaguely interesting. What may look like a mess on a hanger could be art in motion - think COMME des GARCONS.
Trying our finds on in front of the public mirror.
5. Wear under-dressing that you don't feel shy about showing. Leggings and a snug t-shirt under your street clothes always works well. Make sure you can feel comfortable stripping in front of the public mirror, which usually functions as the dressing room.
Admiring each other's finds.
6. Try on the "old lady" clothes. If it looks like something that your grandmother would have worn, chances are the tailoring is immaculate. Most clothes used to be tailored to be form-fitting and flattering. Old school design houses such as Balenciaga, Prada, and Lanvin still use the classical tailoring methods. But the companies that produce the clothing that reaches the majority of shoppers have now given up on tailored fits, and instead try to fit every garment to all body shapes. So try on some of those older styles, especially if you're trying to achieve a more polished or sophisticated look.
Trying on "PETITES".
7. If you're thin, try petite - this used to refer to anyone with a delicate frame. The vintage version is not the same fit as the Ann Taylor petite of today.
8. Check for damage. Stains, holes, broken zippers and missing buttons can render a great garment unwearable. Some stains you can remove, and if the garment is really good you can even make minor repairs.
A goat coat we found at a thrift store while traveling in Argentina.
Photo by Toshi Yano
9. Seek out-of-the-way thrift stores; visit thrift stores while on vacation or in other countries. Remote location thrift stores usually carry amazing varieties of vintage. What you find in different cities, climates, and cultures will bring a whole new flavor to your wardrobe.
A basket of the finds of the day.
Once you've found all of your new treasures, you get them home and, well, quite frankly, they smell like a thrift store. While some things can be washed in the laundry to get the smell out, many of the choice tailored goods require dry cleaning... I don't do that. How many times have I sent items to the cleaners only to get them back two inches shorter than when I dropped them off? I also have no intention of paying someone to coat my clothes in the toxic chemicals that are used in standard dry cleaning . While new Eco-cleaners keep appearing, I am wary of their "GREEN" techniques. And the expense of those Green Cleaners is astronomical!
So I have devised my own methods of dealing with this dilemma. I like to call it "home dry cleaning". Here's how I do it: I make a sprayable solution of strained lemon juice, white vinegar, and water and put it in a spray bottle. Then, I thoroughly spray down every garment, inside and out, on a hanger in my shower. On stains, I have found sprinkling baking soda on the spot and then spraying it with my cleaning solution will lift the stains; then, I pat the excess off with a cloth.
The cleaning airing out on the line.
To finish, I hang it all out on the line to dry in the sun and breeze. All of this seems to remove the funk from the thrift store, and I usually don't have to iron anything when it's been drying on the line. Readers, let me know if you have any great tips for home, non-toxic dry cleaning. Enjoy your new-found treasures. I hope they last you all a long time!