Skip to main content

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


Popular posts from this blog

The Lost Designer of the 80's

Claude Barthelemy seems to have been one of those if-you-needed-to-ask-you-didn't-need-to-know designers. In the '80's, he was listed as a young, hot couturier alongside go-the-distance blue chips like Karl Lagerfeld and Lanvin with his oversized sweaters, minis, leggings and fur-trimmed stoles. Exclusive stores carried his soft-edged jackets to shoppers in the know.

And then what happened? His pleated skirts, intarsia sweaters, and naughty, zippered wool catsuits still fetch high prices in vintage world and any dealer with his elegantly simple, Gallic tag on her racks raises a flutter in second-hand seekers. He designed for Barbie, for heaven's sake! But the designer himself, who seems to have cut a meteoric swath across the runways and then...?

So what's the story with this wasp-waisted pleated skirt? I wondered what else this woman could have dropped off on her Goodwill drive-by--a Chanel original? A couture Pucci? Surely someone this linked in wouldn't just h…

Meditations: Easter Sunday Mass, The Goodwill, and the Slow and Agonizing Death of the Myth of Quality Time that Couldn't Come Soon Enough.

Quality Time is horse shit.

The entire trite idea--from its insipid, pseudo-psycho-babbly-style name to its central philosophy--of "Quality Time" is horse shit.

I was an impatient, self-involved, artsy-fartsy teenager when all those insipid, pseudo-psycho-babblers started bandying the term about and I knew it was horse shit. They knew it was horse shit but they sold the stupid parenting books anyway!! EVERYBODY knew it was horse shit. But, much like the fantasy-land of politically-mandated communism, people still want to believe it can work. If you just get the right people in charge, if you can just apply the right amount of legislation and force and if we can just keep everyone from fleeing the can work! 

It will not.

It is horse shit.

People, children, animals, weather, opportunities, tides, horses, flowers, tomatoes and so on won't do something or have something or be something you want them to do or have or be simply because you designate a moment that…

5 "Thrift Store Find" DIY Craft Projects They Keep Showing, for Things You Haven't Been Able to Find at Thriftstores Since 1987.

Me love Pinterest.
I know it's all a big, fantastic lie, but like every other pretty magazine catering to our fantasies before it, it makes us feel like we can achieve the same, heavily worked-over, fantastically styled, filtered, and photo-shopped perfection in our own lives. And sometimes that's enough.

But as a professional builder of ridiculous, up-cycled things, and a veteran thrifter (I can show you the scars!), some of these Pinterest DIY are just a parade of despair, false promises and dashed hopes. There's no call for that.

1. Vintage Suitcase Crafts:

Not only is this type of vintage suitcase VERY rare at your garden variety thrift store, follow this link to see how much rather highly involved work went into it.

2. Stuff made with old "thrift store" silverware.

Here's what you'd hope to find:

Here's what you're most likely to find: Oh, this stainless steel crap will bend alright--most of it already has the scars of the church community cen…