Monday, May 18, 2009

Dead Air Guide to yard sale and thrift store clothes shopping

At left, Miracle Hill Ministries thrift store in west Greenville, SC. On the dressing room walls, they have Bible verses from Romans, so you can be spiritually edified while you shop.

I found two lovely summer dresses here on Saturday, as well as a hand-painted candle-holder and like-new flannel Carhartt shirt. Total spent: $6.

There were several young women (from the shelter, I assume) folding clothes and cleaning glassware in the front of the store, while singing old Baptist hymns in high, soft, sweet soprano harmonies. An unexpected bonus and pleasure.



~*~



This guide focuses on clothing, since it's something everyone needs, and it's my particular area of expertise. This is a recession, and this advice might help a few folks out there who don't know where to start.

This guide was decades in the making! ;)


...

:: Flea markets

Flea markets are often an ongoing enterprise, and participants are just like store-owners: they need profits to pay for the space. For this reason, I avoid flea markets for clothes shopping, since the quality tends to be poor and the prices too high for what is offered. However, flea markets as a social event are a lot of fun, and one can always find some delightful, odd or strange thing for very cheap, that you can't find anywhere else. But if you are out for a bargain in a hurry (i.e. child needs school clothes; you just got a new job), this isn't something you can count on.

:: Thrift stores

The very best bet if you need something RIGHT NOW. The best, most high-profile, second-hand stores (Goodwill and Salvation Army) have already sorted everything for you by gender, size and type of garment (jeans, skirts, etc.) Other thrift stores do not employ any labor to do this, and you might actually get clothing by the pound or for something like a quarter-a-piece. Mission stores such as Society of St Vincent de Paul or Miracle Hill routinely offer stuff at 50 cents a pop. The problem with some of these stores is that you will have to dig, and nothing is pre-sorted. It can be very time-consuming, but if you know what you want, you can dive in and find it.

:: Church/Organizational/Fund-raising rummage sales

Church and/or other organizational yard/garage/rummage sales (i.e. Cancer Society, Humane Society, etc) are by far, some of the very BEST places to find used clothing, as well as a variety of other goods. The problem is that they are sporadic and seasonal, and you have to hunt them down anew every year. (A group may only have ONE yard sale, and then never have another one--or perhaps only every five years or something.) Local newspapers are the primary places to find these great sales, which tend to be concentrated in the spring and summer (due to the "spring cleaning" ritual). So, keep in mind that you are buying for the whole year, a situation which can bring its own set of problems (size changes, unforeseen need for certain types of clothing, lack of storage space, etc). But I heartily advise "stocking up" if at all possible.

This clothing has usually been accumulated over many years, by lots of people, and there will likely be an abundance of sizes and styles to choose from. However, if you're picky, look at the organization or church conducting the rummage sale. If you want pricey designer clothes, go to the rich Episcopalians or the annual Rolling-in-Dough Country Club rummage sale... but if you want funkier clothes, you might want to check Local College Animal Rights organization, or equivalent. The type of group it is, the neighborhood it is in, the class of people in the group, all of these factors are a way to gauge what the donated items will probably be, as well as their cost. This also involves some knowledge of where you live, and the general demographics of the area. Consider carefully your ideal taste in clothing, and who else might have it, then look for the sale that those people are having.

This stuff is usually priced to move quickly, often by volunteers who have no clue of the value of, for instance, designer labels or handmade items. (Sometimes, you can also find beautiful quilts and afghans that have been stored in attics for generations.) If clothing is cheap, get creative and branch out. It won't hurt to grab something for 50 cents. I can't tell you how many times I have purchased some strange or quirky old dress, blouse or skirt, and didn't wear it until (seriously) 10 years later, when it was suddenly funky, antique and back in fashion. If you like it and it costs virtually nothing, grab it, and screw fashion, which changes on a dime anyway.

The issue here is storage space, which for some of us is at a premium.

:: Yard sales

Community yard sales ("multi-family") are very good, and can be almost as good as churches or large organizations. But one-family yard sales are often a bust, since there will usually only be a few sizes in the family. All the men's clothes will be one or two sizes, and all the women's clothes will be one or two sizes. Ditto, the general type, colors and styles of the clothing. (Since mom tends to buy for the whole family, you will notice a profusion of mom's favorite colors in everyone's clothes. And her favorites may not be yours.) However, children's clothing may span many sizes, since children grow quickly. If there is more than one child, and/or an accumulation over many years, you could be in luck.

I once attended a yard sale put on by a children's dance studio, and struck paydirt. My kid wore that stuff for eons; I bought garbage-bags full.

:: Estate sales

These are sales conducted in homes in which someone has recently died. I love them because I am preternaturally nosy and I love snooping through an old, unoccupied house, just because.

Most of the stuff in the house will be tagged, and the prices tend to run higher-than-usual because the people managing the sale get a cut of net-profits. The clothing will likely be very old, and if you are lucky, you can score some old Doris Day coat from the 50s or 60s (I have two!) or something similar you have always wanted. Keep in mind that certain fabrics fall apart like dried newspaper after a certain period of time (depending on how they have been stored), so don't forget to check those seams! For funkiness, estate sales can be especially wonderful.

If you aren't into vintage clothing, estate sales can be a bust for the reasons stated above. The deceased individual was probably only ONE size and favored only a few general styles of clothing. If you aren't that size and don't like those styles... well, that's that. However, if they were very wealthy and/or stored a lifetime of clothing, you may find several sizes and several eras represented, and unexpected treasures await! Old bridal/evening gowns, collections of coats and jackets, bizarre and wonderful costume jewelery, and other fascinating cast-offs that are notably absent at other second-hand sales, will be at an estate sale.

Check the neighborhood, take a good look at the house before entering. If they are obviously rich, everything will either be very high-priced, or very cheap. There tends to be no in-between. Most common: the furniture and collectibles have high price tags, but the clothes will be in an untouched heap, 3-5 bucks a piece or something like that. Sometimes, they will charge you by the grocery bag, say, $3 a bag. (If so, it is worth it to have a look at the blankets, quilts, pillows and other fabric items hanging around, especially in a wealthy home.) The gowns and such will usually be set aside and tagged separately, but not always. Be sure to look at everything.

Old estate sales also specialize in novelty items like old scarves, handkerchiefs, gloves, hats, belts, and the various forgotten accessories of a lifetime. Things never worn and put aside (particularly if affluent) are everywhere, and you could unknowingly walk into a gold mine. Always be prepared!


:: General guidelines

::Know what you want and know what you need. (Two different things, as the Rolling Stones reminded us.) If you need jeans, learn to train your eye on the clothes heap and see only denim... likewise, wool sweaters, silk blouses or whatever it is. Examine the sizes of your sleeves and such, in your own closet, before you leave your house. I am able to pull out an appropriate size from a clothes heap, even with only a partial view of a sleeve, collar, or pants leg. (Yes, it's a gift!) Likewise, I can easily differentiate silk from glossy rayon impersonations. If there is something you particularly LIKE (silk, wool, floral patterns, tartan, tie-dye, frilly dresses, leather, old scarves), train your eye to pick it out of a huge pile. Make a game of it, like a treasure hunt, since that's really what it is.

::There is a good reason people do not want used underwear, bras and shoes, aside from the general "yuck" factor. They tend to be IMPRINTED with the butt, boobs or sole of the original wearer, in a way other, looser garments are not. Don't bother with any of these items, unless they are obviously new, and sometimes they are. Slips can be worn, but not usually bras. And sometimes, tight shirts or jeans will obviously have been owned by someone with a very different chest/butt size than you have, and have already been "molded" to the previous owner. Hold the garment up and look for any telltale stretching or wear-patterns.

::Sizes on used clothing tags often mean NOTHING, unfortunately, because the clothing has already been washed and possibly shrunk...maybe severely. In fact, that is one of the main reasons people get rid of stuff, so it is a given. Learn to eyeball stuff--again, start with clothes you already own. Most folks get it all wrong at first; we inevitably over/underestimate the shape and sizes of our butts, thighs, shoulders. All pride must be put on the back burner (and if you are shopping in thrift stores, you are already ahead of the game on THAT score!)... All of us can get prissy about sizes: "I won't wear a 16!" --even if it has clearly shrunk to a 9. If it looks good, the hell with the size. I once found a fantastic designer dress, which the label informed me was... MATERNITY. A MATERNITY DRESS. But it had shrunk so much, no one would ever know this. But I didn't want to be teased about it (or start pregnancy rumors!) if someone should see it, so what did I do? I cut out the label that said MATERNITY. Yes, this will work on a 16, too. Your little secret!

:: Trying on

Ideally, you should be wearing a loose-fitting t-shirt or even a tank top, so that you can slide clothing on over it and do an informal trying-on session...yes, right there in the front lawn of the yard sale if you have to. It's your money, don't be ashamed--you'd do it in a fancy store, right? Do it there, too. (Remember: They tried it on before THEY bought it.)

Some thrift stores offer fitting rooms, but of course, yard/garage/church sales never do. Be prepared for where you are going and dress accordingly.

:: Inspect

It is not uncommon to locate (at long last!) the coat or pants you always wanted, only to find: missing buttons; dilapidated zippers; torn hems; seams ready to fall apart; nasty stains. Can you repair it? WILL you repair it? Buttons are easy, but zippers are something else again. Cost/benefit analysis: is it worth taking it to someone who knows how to fix it, if you can't? If it is stained: will the stain come out? Try to figure out what the stain IS, and you might be able to salvage it. Ask yourself if it's worth it to take the chance... a $10 jacket, no. A 50 cent blouse, yes.

Also, some stains, located in certain anatomical areas, are simply unacceptable (to me, maybe not to you). Ask yourself, if the stain doesn't come out, can it be hidden? Remember, coffee, grass and blood (most common stains) often will NOT come out.

I once found the most beautiful handmade aqua sweater with a small yellow stain. I gambled that it was mustard, and then I wondered: why would someone get rid of such a lovely garment, when mustard stains can usually come out? Do not second-guess the rich in this way; they are spoiled. They regularly throw things out rather than fuss with them. (The stain came out in the first washing; it became one of my favorite things to wear for years.)

Another reason people get rid of clothes is because the tag proclaims "dry clean only"--which is usually nonsense. (However, you do take the risk that it will shrink if you defy the order!) Lots of fabric-softener before hanging it up to dry (avoid dryers) will usually do the trick... I do not believe in ironing, a time-tested method of enslaving women.

::Preparation

In the south, yard sales are usually early Saturday mornings, when volunteers and kids can help out, avoiding the heat of the day. The early bird gets the worm, and all like that; if I can get up early on a Saturday, so can you! The great stuff might be gone by the time you get there, so make it a priority to be one of the first customers. In the north and west, sales tend to start at a more decent hour, and can last all day long. But the early-bird advice still holds.

People like me are staking out the sales, and if you want to beat us to the bargains, get there first!

Go to the ATM and get cash. These operations do not usually take credit or checks. Yard sales run by churches and individuals will invariably be cash only. Get a map (or Google maps) and carefully plan your route. A good idea is to concentrate on a different neighborhood every week during spring, or just target the neighborhood you have chosen. Buy a newspaper or find the classifieds for your local newspaper online. Free weekly "thrift" newspapers will often carry a lot MORE ads, since the advertising rates are much cheaper. (Estate sales will sometimes be in a separate advertising section, so be sure to check there, too.)

Train your eye to see the signs shouting YARD SALE! GARAGE SALE! I have a radar for these signs, and I always notice them... but I have observed that some people just don't see them. It's an ingrained habit, and you need to train yourself, as you would for red and green traffic lights.


~*~

As you can probably tell by now, this is a hobby of mine. I do it for the overall fun and satisfaction of the treasure-hunt, as well as for economic reasons. I often wear things I could never afford to buy new.

And on a political level, I also believe that one of the most horrific manifestations of modern capitalism is RAMPANT WASTE, and recycling clothing is as crucial as recycling everything else.

19 comments:

La Lubu said...

Great guide, Daisy.

I've given up on thrift stores around here (for adult clothing); where I live it seems that anything worth wearing goes to the consignment shops (which aren't any cheaper than Target or KMart). Even there, it's seldom I see anything that isn't too big for me (not that I'm tiny, it's just that practically everybody else is a great big strapping midwestern farmgirl!).

Garage sales are the place to be in central Illinois if you're an adult woman under size 8. Especially those neighborhood garage sales. People bring out the better stuff when it's on display for the neighbors to see! ;-)Unless you're looking for T-shirts. Great selection of T-shirts at the Salvation Army and Goodwill. Blue jeans? Fuggetabout it. No one gets rid of blue jeans here, except for children's sizes. You wear blue jeans until they fall off, then turn 'em into cutoffs. When they're too worn to be cutoffs, you wash the car with the scraps.

I hear the search for used clothing is more productive in college towns.

I agree that wastefulness is a hallmark of capitalism. I tend to buy my clothing new (mostly online) and just wear it forever rather than buy used, though. I'm usually too busy on Saturdays to go garage-sale-ing. It's always more of a thrill to find something cool at a garage sale though----it's usually one of a kind, and there's this yesss! feeling from finding something that looks nice and fits (with new, it's a given to find something that looks nice and fits)!

Mama Moretti said...

"I do not believe in ironing, a time-tested method of enslaving women."

I knew there was a reason I loved you!

John Powers said...

Miracle Hill brings back memories from 40 years ago :-) It was nice for a kid, I rarely had a dollar, but often 50 cents. I remember getting records. Once my mother bought something that got strapped to the roof with ties. I really loved the wide loud ties, many really nice. Back then a blue blazer was what boys wore. My mother didn't like my wearing a blue chambray shirt to a dance, but I loved the effect with a loud tie from Miracle Hill. there's a fine line between embarrassment about wearing used clothing to accepting that's where you'll find the best.

I'm so happy you mentioned handmade items. These are often under-valued, yet in use well-made handmade clothing is a joy.

Zucchini Breath said...

Awesome guide! Thanks!

geopunk said...

This is a fantastic guide. :)

I generally only buy new clothing if I can't find what I need at a thrift store. Finding used "nicer" clothes that fit and aren't too worn out (for an interview/work/wedding/whatever) is a bit trickier, unfortunately. But perseverance pays off, if you've got the time.

CrackerLilo said...

Oh, this is cool! Thank you! Wish I had this in my twenties. One day I'll have to reciprocate with a guide to salvaging furniture. ("Just give up on anything upholstered with cloth. No, seriously, walk on by. What you want is wood and metal...")

The bra/underwear thing is why, last time we donated, my wife and I bought a few brand-new--tags and wrappers on--and tossed them in. The woman accepting our bags squealed and hugged us! It's going to be a tradition now!

@ La Lubu: Regarding wastefulness, I'm always glad my wife can sew, so we can extend the lives of our clothes.

Renee said...

WOOT!
I totally love this post. I aman avid garage sale shopper as well as second hand and thrift store. My adage is why buy new when you can buy used for so much less. I have gotten some great deals over the years and don't remember the last time I bought a new clothing item other than underwear. I would ad to the garage sale commentary: Check your local paper the night before for listing and make a plan as to which you will visit. Start with the furthest from home and work your way back. You can get some great deals. Oh Daisy if you are willing I would love to cross post this on my blog. Please e-mail me at womanistmusings at gmail.com to let me know if it would be alright. In these tight times people need all the help that they can get.

Doc Anchovy said...

About 75% of what I currently "own" came from thrift stores. I consider the patronizing of such stores to be the pinnacle of recycling.

I partially subsidized my income for the better part of 20 years by being a "picker". That is, buying and reselling goods gleaned from said stores.

My personal favorites were: Deseret Industries (a Utah thing)and Value Village ( a West Coast thing). I also tend to favor smaller stores, such as local Humane Society thrift stores and storefronts that benefit charities that otherwise would have far less funding to operate with.

sheila said...

Well, aren't YOU a bundle of useful information today?

My girls loooooove the thift stores! I've found that when they work and earn their own money...and use it to shop...they seem to find bargains everywhere. lol.

I've found a ton of useful stuff there myself.

yellowdog granny said...

i hit all of them...i call the thrift stores' used shit stores'...

SnowdropExplodes said...

because I'm unemployed I rely on finding cheap stuff where I can, so I have a regular tour of the thrift stores where I live (charity shops, as they're called over here) and often find great stuff. A huge amount of the books on my shelf or "to read" list are also gleaned from such sources (I have hoovered up a lot of "Women's Press" titles that way). I also got my copy of "A Dialectic of Sex" from the local hospital's fundraising sale, which also often has some really useful electronic stuff (my telephone, record player, personal stereo and electronic typewriter cost between them the equivalent of about $20!)

Being male, there's not so many options for me in other people's castaways, and being significantly large in waist, there's even less - but by keeping my eyes open I still manage to find some great bargains.

And of course, thrift shops are where I got most of my crossdressing outfits too!

Rootietoot said...

I love shopping estate sales for things like picture frames and glassware. Everyone I know collects something vintage, and estate sales are awesome for that.

And Goodwill! Oh my. A $150 Pendleton wool bathrobe (how did I know it was $150? the tags were still on it!) for $5. Paydirt!

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debonairdebacles said...

Great read! My mother always instilled in me that things should be bought new. She said she'd rather wear $2 new pants than used designer pants. I don't think the intention behind it was a matter of capitalism wastefulness, but more so immigrant pride.

I take great joy in sorting gently used/worn items for donation to the local Salvatation Army store or Cystic Fibrosis clothing drive. Makes me feel a little less guilty about my next shopping trip!

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Yeap this guide is really informative. i have some more places one of them like used golf balls sale.

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