Monday, March 14, 2011

Thrift shops

Some of you think, thrift shops, and roll your eyes, thinking of people who dress like bag ladies. That just shows you're letting stereotypes get in the way.

My mother let us wear hand-me-downs as play clothes when we were kids but was always very uncomfortable with the idea of us wearing them, even nice ones, for school or church. I never cared but knew that my mother had grown up appallingly poor.***  To her, wearing second-hand clothes in public was a sign you were poor, something she was scared of. We were a respectable middle-class family, and that image was important to her.

However, she had a friend whose husband built up a prosperous business. Mildly wealthy by the standards of the early 80s, but they continued to live about the same as always. However, she always dressed beautifully in designer clothes, and one day she asked my mother to go shopping with her. My mother loved to shop (shopping, as in looking, should have been an Olympic sport in her mind), so she was delighted.

And then, her friend let her in on her secret-resale shops. They lived in a major city with a large entertainment industry, and many of those people would buy designer clothes, even originals, wear them briefly, then sell them. I think my mother was in shock that her wealthy friend wore SECOND HAND CLOTHES. Then she thought about the fact that her friend was always so perfectly dressed and took a closer look at the clothes on the racks, all of which looked as if they hadn't been worn more than once or twice. And she realized that for the first time, SHE could afford to own clothes that looked that good.

My mother's entire outlook on "second hand" changed, all because someone she admired showed her that this was "respectable" and that even the wealthy did it. More, there was a bit of a thrill in the idea she might be wearing something a big name had worn. Now, the clothes they were looking at still weren't cheap, but the $40 she might have paid for a quality designer dress in a resale shop was no more than she'd have paid for a new one in a department store, and she got a much better quality product.

Now, I shop the real bargain stores, but you'd be surprised at the quality of clothes that sometimes show up in them. I have a name brand cotton sweater I bought almost 10 years ago that still looks almost new... for less than $5. It takes a lot of sorting through the racks, though, and you won't find good things on every trip. Yard sales are another source. And if you know how to make even minor alterations to clothes, your options are even wider. My daughters have both gone off to conventions and interviews in clothes we bought this way and remarked later that they were at least as well dressed as anyone else.

***And for anyone who thinks, yeah, U.S. poor, must mean they had to make do with one car and no steak on Sunday, I'm talking Appalachian subsistence farm, so poor that my grandfather finally got an INDOOR FLUSH toilet in about 1976. They did have one tap with running water in the kitchen. A few electric lights, but a wood stove for heat. They still didn't have a telephone in 1980 when he died. I have vivid memories of trekking out to the outhouse at 1 AM with a flashlight...


Ami said...

Eric used to really be bothered that I took the kids to Goodwill for their clothes. (Me, too... almost everything I've worn for the past 20 years has been from a thrift shop.)

He called me one day while I was shopping with Lyssa at Goodwill. He'd called the house first and gotten Matt on the phone. Matt told him where we were.

And the first thing out of his mouth after I said hello was, "We can't afford to buy clothing for our daughter?"

And after a brief conversation, we hung up.

We talked at great length later. And I understood that he'd grown up dirt poor and that thrift stores and hand me downs were a source of shame for him.

For me, thrift stores were a way to make our budget stretch and for us to get better quality than we might otherwise be able to afford.

Oh, and quantity, too.

$6.99 each for four pairs of jeans is about the price of one brand new pair. I can live with that.

Now he brags to everyone about how much money I save by shopping there.


Dawnfire said...

A lot like my mother, though she never reached the point of bragging about it. My kids do, though.