Raised on a thrifty budget, since i was a child. I was once ashamed to wear hand-me-down dresses from my older cousins, once i even inherited a bathing suit from my mother’s coworker’s wife, this bathing suit was so big and stretched out by the time i salvaged it, that my mother had to put a scrunchie around the straps just to make it stay on, except when I’d jump in the water, the elastic would stretch and my hand-me-down bathing suit would often fall off. When we’d shop at a store for something that was brand new, i could only every chose from the clearance rack, and most times we’d go to Little India in London for all my birthday dresses. I used to look like a Hindi Cuban but my mother didn’t care, dresses in Little India were cheap and negotiable. My shoes were always AT LEAST two sizes too big (not exaggerating), stuffed with cotton balls on the toe cap just so that they would last me for years to come; as my feet grew, the cotton balls were slowly removed and i literally grew into them. I remember I went to a really poor public school, still everyone else in my class seemed to have cooler stuff than me. Katie Bowman in my seventh grade class wore all the new outfits from C&A and I would so wish her mom would kidnap me and take me on a shopping spree, but that never happened.
Ironically, as an adult, when i came into my own money, I could have indulged in new fashionable haute couture, obsessing with the next trend as a way to repudiate the shame from years of financial hardship that forced my family to become frugal; but instead, I grew into a very low maintenance, thrifty young lady. Still to this day, I buy most of my clothes at thrift stores, flea markets and vintage shops. I will bargain, negotiate, inspect garments for tears, tarnishes, stains, rips, broken zippers, and use all of those as bargaining chips in pleading my case for a lower price.
There’s Lot’s of “Vintage” shops out there, how do you know which are the GOOD ones?
Smell: How does it smell once you walk inside. The smell is a good indicator of how much the shop owner cares about their inventory. The really passionate sellers LOVE the garments so much, they get washed and steamed, so when you walk into a store, it should smells clean and bounty fresh. If it smells like someone’s dirty yoga pants after a Bikram class, then that’s the first sign for you (the customer) to tread lightly, touch carefully, try on- ONLY if you must! and be sure to wash your hands after you leave.
Sight: Read the labels. the legitimate vintage shops will have garments with authentic old labels, worn out, washed out, fading; this is a good sign. Some stores however, will try to pass off H&M crap or Forever 21 junk that may appear to be vintage and they will just cut the tag off the item as to confuse the customer. This is gangsta! (and not in a good way). So if you see cut out tags, missing sizes this can be questionable. Also some stores try to pass off cheap Halloween costumes as authentic vintage apparel. Look at the inseams and stitches and you will be able to tell quality from shit. A store that also takes pride in their items will often mend broken zippers, holes, tears, etc. so look out for these too as you sift through the merchandize. It is ok to pay $40 for a piece that has been dry-cleaned/steamed, mended, and cared for, but don’t pay $40 for a smelly H&M dress you could have gotten for $10 on clearance two seasons ago!
Touch: After the store has passed the smell and sight test, make sure you touch the garments, first to feel the texture; close your eyes, does it feel like expensive quality fabric? or cheap and synthetic fibers such as acrylic, polyester and nylon? You want to put things on your body that are loving and natural to it, and if you ABSOLUTELY must have that polyester dress, then you shouldn’t pay more than it’s worth…which is…not very much!
Try it ON: So it passed all the above! Now it’s time to try it on. Even if it looks a bit too big or too small, don’t trust the sizing, people had different body shapes back then, and sizes are arbitrary anyways, so don’t be discouraged if the dress says Small and you are a Medium, or if it says Large and you are an Extra Small. TRY IT ON ANYWAY! You may be pleasantly surprised. Also if you really find a dress or garment that works for you, that is good quality material, exotic or unique textile and design; etc. even if it is a little too big you can always take it to a tailor to adjust it for your body type, and it may still be cheaper than buying a dress at Anthropologie which are ultimately generic and boring since anyone can buy them, yours will be ONE of a kind and fitted to your measurements! But it is important that it passes all other tests first, because if it is made out of cheap fabric, it may not be alterable, it may fray, or fall apart, or cost more to fix than the garment may actually be worth, so make sure it passes all tests first.
Leave It Alone: Part of being a thrifty shopper is leaving your finds alone. It’s almost as if you are gambling with the universe in a sense. Ok, so sometimes when you find something you love, you just snatch it up right there and then; but MOST times, even if you really like an item (especially if it will need alterations, and fixes), you want to try it on and leave it in the store for a day or two. Maybe ask the employee to hold it for you, and if they won’t hold it, then leave it to chance. I find that Vintage buying can be very impulsive. We see something we like and we don’t think it exists anywhere else so we wanna get it and are willing to pay high price for it. This is silly, the person selling it should be just as lucky to get rid of it, as you are to own it (if not more!). NEGOTIATE! To you it’s the dress of a lifetime, you can see yourself walking through Paris in it with faux fur and Jackie O sunglasses, but THEY (the store owners/employees) don’t know this. Play it down, and don’t play it interested. Leave the garment for a few days and say you will think about it. If they don’t want to hold it, ask for a discount there and then, and if they refuse just walk away; if it is meant for you, it will be there when you come back 48 hours later. Many times, you will also realize that you forgot all about it, and change your mind. When this happens, as a courtesy I will call the store and tell them to take it off hold. But Vintage Shops aren’t like regular shops, once you buy it, you OWN it and there is no refunds, returns or exchanges, so waiting two days is a good way to be sure and not disparage your cash, plus it gives the store owner an incentive to offer you a discount or some sort of deal. I NEVER pay full price (as marked) for USED garments. These are only worth the value we give them, ultimately they are OLD, just cause we are in LOVE with them, doesn’t make them more valuable, so if you are willing to pay $80 for it, that’s what you’ll pay, but if you offer $50 and come back in two days, you may just get what you bargained for!