If you love clothes as much as I do, and you don’t have, you know, a steady income, thrift stores are a godsend. I started shopping secondhand in high school and have never looked back. Even during the times—few as they were—when I’ve made decent coin, I still bought my duds at the Sally Ann, Goodwill, Value Village, MCC, etc. I buy almost entirely vintage clothing, and though there are lots of vintage clothing shops in Vancouver, I prefer thrift stores: the prices are generally way lower, and the thrill of the hunt much greater. I can’t imagine going back to retail, except if I’m buying, for obvious reasons, underwear and socks.
It’s funny. My parents, who grew up during the Depression, instilled me with their values of thrift and frugality, but at the same time, buying things secondhand came with a real stigma for that generation. Only the poorest people had to resort to it. Like letting your lawn go brown, showing your neighbours you couldn’t afford to buy new was like screaming out that you somehow lacked moral fibre. Weird, I know.
Thankfully, those days are past. While there are many people who still stick their noses up at the idea of buying secondhand clothes (I know, I know, some of these clothes do come with mysterious odours and even more mysterious stains. I once bought a pair of shorts at Value Village, only to find out once I got them home that the crotch was a sick shade of browny-yellow… I’ll stop here.), there are sound reasons for buying used:
- Made in Canada: Believe it or not, there was a time when our clothes were manufactured here, and not in China. This may be just a personal bias, but I believe these clothes are better made. Considering that some of the stuff I’ve found is from the ‘50s and earlier, I may be right.
- Quality: At thrift stores I’ve found beautiful, well-made winter coats of 100 per cent wool. Most of the coats I’ve found are from, I believe, the ‘60s. Despite being 40-some-odd years old, they’ve held their shape, the stitching is intact, the pockets aren’t blown out, and the fabric looks new.
- One-of-a-kind duds: Buying vintage means you’ll never show up at the office party wearing the same dress as your co-worker. Enough said.
- Classic pieces: If you like trendy clothes, then continue shopping at H&M and Le Chateau. But if you love classic pieces, like sweater sets, pillbox hats, A-line skirts and wool capes, head for the Goodwill. Many of the pieces I find are so simple, well made and classy, they’ll never go out of style. I have vintage skirts and blouses I bought years ago that I’ll continue wearing till they fall apart (if they ever do).
- Price, obviously: I visited my financial advisor recently and he asked me to fill out a form regarding my spending. Beside “clothing budget” I put “$20 a month.” It’s true. I go into thrift stores at least once or twice a week and often come out with a skirt, a pair of boots, etc. But the impact this has on my bank account is laughable. Plus, my closet is stuffed. I always have something to wear.
- The environmental angle: I’ve mentioned my huge, overwhelming sense of eco-guilt before. By buying secondhand threads, you eliminate the anxiety that wells up (at least for me) when buying anything new. After all, the clothes are already out there. And you don’t even need to feel guilty if you buy something and only wear it for a month. Just donate it back to the thrift store where some other fashionista will undoubtably scoop it up.
Photos: mohair coat, $15 at the SPCA thrift store; same price for the campus boots, bought at St. Vincent de Paul (I had to stretch the boots a good half size, but it was worth it)