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A Rare Skill

I do know how to take a compliment.
But it still kinda-sorta bugs me when people say anything about my thrifting habits. "You find the most amazing stuff! You must have some sort of Midas touch when it comes to the junk stores!" "I just can't go to thrift stores--not like you do. I never find anything good." "You must really love your stores."

Admittedly, I am showing them Chanel shoes and Tod's purses and Bally briefcases, which is amazing stuff, to be sure--that's why I'm showing it to them. But if I had a true 'Midas Touch,' I sure as hell wouldn't be using it trying to remove set-in wine stains and sweater pills. I'd be raking in money investing in real estate and have someone else shop at Saks for me so that I could donate amazing stuff for some alternate universe version of me to find.

As for the second comment, it's true: You can't find anything good in thrift stores if you don't go to thrift stores. And, quite possibly, even if you go, you won't find anything good because a) you won't believe there's anything good in there anyway, or you wouldn't know good if it bit you in the face; b) sometimes there isn't anything good in there or c) I got there before you and I already have all the good stuff.
So--don't go. We don't need people in there saying [loudly] that $19.99 for a fake Coach purse is still worth it because you'd pay at least $25 retail from some shifty-eyed pirate with the flimsy street booth and, anyway it's "for a good cause." Please. Just stay at home and shop online for overpriced stuff that looks like vintage stuff in the Sundance catalog. Amateur.
It's just that I catch more than a little undertone of "ick" to it-- as in: "I just think going to thrift stores and the people who go to thrift stores are icky." "Poor people are icky." But here's the thing: truly poor people don't generally shop at the Goodwill. Though they really should--instead of throwing away their money on Walmart brands and over-priced, new crap from Hollister or Buckle--stuff that won't hold up to multiple washings or years of wear, made with cheap, often environmentally toxic, quick-fading dyes by exploited labor working in appalling conditions so they really don't give a shit if the cut of those jeans makes you look fat or not.

The third one, and its patronizing, slightly contemptuous ilk, is the real puzzler--one that makes me question my own life philosophy. But as it turns out, no--I do not, in fact, love haunting massive, institutional thrift stores. I do not like scanning acres of fugly poly blend blazers and tired rayon dresses on the off-chance I'll find the odd vintage Pucci or John Rochas skirt. I look at these places much as a miner views bare rock shafts--a potential source, nothing more. In fact, we often refer to our thrifting activity with terms like "running the traps," or "striking a vein," as in: "I hit a vein of vintage Lilly," or "I found a Gucci purse just as I was leaving and I had to go back to see if I'd overlooked the vein or if it ran any deeper." (Meaning, the person who donates a Gucci purse probably donated at least several more items with it and probably of the same retail price-point. Rarely would a Gucci purse donor have a closet full of mediocre Liz Claiborne schlock.) And I do hate when I have to go back. I have a method and a system that is fast and fairly reliable but not foolproof. And, as much as the gambler in me always wonders if this will be the day that the vintage Hermes Birkin bag shows up among the fake Prada totes and Jaclyn Smith shit, I can't spend an entire day at the Goodwill.

I really don't want to. I possess an odd, and oftentimes helpful little skill that I picked up slowly and begrudgingly over a lifetime of being dragged to garage sales, auctions, flea markets, antique shows and salvage sites. Being sent headfirst into dumpsters or sent out in the dark of night to collect truckloads of old paving bricks being torn out of city streets, On solitary hunts for costumes for upstart theater productions. It has given me an eye for quality and a sensibility of thriftiness and it's helping make up--and even exceed--my previous income since the economy in general, and the publishing industry in particular, got turned on its collective head, but I don't feel entirely comfortable giving up on those other creative talents, either. And, if I spend three hours at the GW, and another three cleaning, ironing, shaving off pills and another three organizing, photographing, and whatever else--well, the days just fly by, don't they?

I do notice the stories that come to me on my solitary hunts: Someone paid retail for that? Why? What did they see in it that I am obviously missing?? What exactly IS that stain?? Was this person trying to hide the evidence of her shopping addiction? When the person died, were her children just so anxious to be rid of her, they didn't even look at all those custom made vintage Chanel suits? But one still has to sit and write those stories down for them to count. And writing them well takes a bit more time than most people expect. And then, there's my own art projects, textile projects, children, husband, pets and gardening. And then there's personal hygiene. There's so much I want to do that doesn't include the smell of cheap fabric sizing, mothballs and B.O.

Still. I do understand they're compliments of sorts--the kind of admiration or maybe revolted fascination one has for well-paid, expert divers that go into sewage treatment tanks and come out with big clumps of gold and diamond rings. If they want to buy these things--these amazing things, I am unaffected by their puzzled and disappointed expressions when I ask 2-3 times more than I paid for it, not considering for even a moment the the gas burned, the water, stain removers and shoe polish used, to say nothing of the hours spent re-sewing buttons, repairing delicate nicks in patent leather, removing ink smudges from purse linings.
Otherwise, I simply say, "Yes, it is amazing, isn't it?"











One pair of shoes=12 photos

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