Some Tips on Shopping at Goodwill and Other Thrift Stores

I will be honest, the only thrift store I normally shop is Goodwill.   Goodwill, as a chain, is usually conveniently located, ofttimes in a place where I (probably naively) assume my car won't get looted.  The stores are kept reasonably clean - although sometimes it looks as though an army of toddlers has just marched through on the way to burn Atlanta.   In truth, that describes every Kohl's I've ever been to as well.

If I happen past a thrift store and I have time, I like to stop in those as well.   But mostly, Goodwill is my jam.

There are many reasons to love GW.   For one... they organize by items and color.   Long sleeve knits, long-sleeve sweaters, long-sleeve button-downs... short sleeves in each category... each category has its space, as do jeans, skirts, shorts, pants.   So if you are looking for something very specific, say, a white or cream long-sleeve ruffled blouse for your steampunk costume, or a black pencil skirt, it is very easy.

On the other hand... you also have to dig.    It's half the fun - and it's how you find the very best treasures.

Another reason to love GW:  you always know how much an item will be:  as of this writing, tops, sweaters, skirts are $5.75.   Dresses are $6.96, unless they're formals, in which case I think they are $9.99 or something close.   Jeans are around 7 bucks and change - but I honestly cannot recall off the top of my head.

In addition, they normally have a huge selection of books.   I don't buy print books anymore, but I have friends that do and swear by GW.  I do browse housewares, and occasionally have found the occasional fantastic kitchen/barware item that we actually needed.  If I need props for a theatrical show, or costume pieces, GW is the first place I look.   Usually the last, as well.

Every week, Goodwill has a half-off color, where all items with that color tag are 50% off.   They also do discounts for seniors, military, and firefighters and policemen, on certain days of the week.

Here are my tips for a successful shopping foray into Goodwill, or any thrift store:

1.   Use common sense, and be aware of your surroundings.   Really... this applies to everywhere you go.   I'm just gonna say it:  thrift stores, even GWs, are not usually located in the very best or safest areas of town.   Try not to carry a lot of cash.   Use a crossbody purse with sturdy straps.   Be aware of where you put your keys, especially if your keys can remotely unlock your car doors and open your trunk (again, this is something you should always be aware of).

Don't wear too much jewelry - not just because it attracts attention - but also because it can catch on clothing on the racks, and you risk damaging or losing your bracelets or rings.

2.   Have an idea of your color palette, and your wardrobe holes, going in.    It's a rare day I don't find at least three really "oh, wow!" potential wardrobe or costuming items.  I don't want to live in a theatrical warehouse or a mini-store of my own making, so I always think carefully about whether the item fits my color palette, whether it fills any gaps in my wardrobe.   I try to imagine how it can be worn, at least three ways, with what is already in my closet.  I also ask myself, "Do I already have something like this?"

Most important of all, I assess the immediacy of use: is this an item I can wear or use immediately? If not, am I willing to clean it, care for it, and store it?   Asking yourself this makes all the difference between a well-curated wardrobe, and being the featured lead-in for an episode of 'Hoarders'.

3.  Consider the context of the item you're considering.   Where will you wear it?   What will you wear it with, that you already have?  Is this a home decor item?   What will it look like in the context of your home, with your other things?   Do you need this item?   Will it enhance your life?

GW is chock full o' other people's fantasy life clothing - so keep in mind, that unless you walk the red carpet every other weekend, there are only so many velvet or beaded gowns one person can wear in a lifetime.

If you are unsure... put it back.   If there is one absolute certainty I can tell you about Goodwill, eBay, and brick-and-mortar stores... there will always be another fabulous dress, pair of shoes, bag, set of wineglasses, cute little lamp waiting for you around the corner.   This isn't the last perfect little moto jacket you'll ever encounter.   I promise!

4.   Wear close-fitting clothes when you go to the store:  Some thrift stores don't have fitting rooms, and some limit the amount of garments you can take in with you - and usually the fitting room doors auto-lock, which makes swapping out garments in your cart a sort of Russian Roulette for your own clothes and purse.   Often, I will try on jackets, blazers, and button-down shirts over what I am wearing.  If I am wearing leggings, I can pull a skirt on over those.

Wearing shoes you can easily slip on and off is also very helpful, says the girl who wore zip-up, over-the-knee boots on her last, impromptu visit.  (And a turtleneck.  Bad outfit all around for clothes-shopping).

5.  If at all possible, give yourself a couple of hours, and go through all of the racks.  Earlier this year, I spent did just that, and wound up with some beautiful finds, most of which I kept and have enjoyed.

6.  If you find a skirt you really like, go back to the tops and look for something in the same color.   Even if the skirt matches a bunch of stuff you already have, if you can find a top, in good shape, in the same color, you've got a great ensemble for dressier events.   Make sure both items are free of stains, rips, tears, and odors.

7.   Check the items you select carefully, for odors.   Certain odors are very hard to remove:  mildew, strong perfumes, and certain detergents (Gain).   I think that thrift stores also spray clothing to help deter mildew and bugs, with something that smells similar to flowery laundry detergents (Gain or Tide), or like bubble gum.   It isn't impossible to get these smells out, but it may mean soaking them for a good long time in your regular laundry detergent, or oxyclean - or a trip to the dry-cleaners.

If the fabric is nylon or polyester and it has a sweaty smell, put it back, unless you have a tried-and-true method for removing this type of smell from synthetic textiles.

8.   Check the items you select carefully for stains, rips, tears, and moth holes.   I try and find a spot with good natural light, to search.   If a garment has moth nibbles, but you looooove it anyway, take it directly to the dry-cleaner or launder it immediately.

Depending on how crafty you are, or how much you love the garment, you can sew seams, darn small holes and moth nibbles, and replace zippers and buttons - or have a seamstress do this for you.

If the sweater is cashmere and it is pilled, a disposable razor from the travel section at the drugstore, will do wonders.  Caveat:   I have only tried this with tightly-knit garments, and they've always turned out beautifully.

For stains... I've had luck with perhaps 1 in 5 stains.   Underarm stains are a no-go.   So unless it is a fantaaaaaastic piece for stage, and I know the stage lights will wash it out, I usually pass on stained garments.   If it's just dust or dirt, though, that can be laundered.

9.   Canvas bags and shoes can be cleaned with carpet cleaner.   If you Google "how to clean a Coach bag", many people have posted great video tutorials.   I have used Resolve carpet cleaner to remove stains off of Coach bags and scrub canvas espadrilles, with great success.

10.   Often, leather shoes can be brought back to life with a good polishing.  If the shoe or boot is intact, but scuffed, don't rule it out.   Again, there are many great tutorials online, demonstrating how to polish shoes.  A good shoe repair person can replace taps, and even resole leather soles, if there isn't a lot of damage.   Also, if you're lazy, and want to throw $10-20 bucks, get a pro to polish them for you.   A guy friend of mine turned up in some glorious leather shoes, and I complimented him, only to find they were the crappy shoes I'd been making of fun of for awhile ("box car hobo", I believe, were my words).  He paid $20 plus a tip to a guy, and the shoes looked uh-mazing.

I strongly advise against buying shoes with broken heels.   I did that with a gorgeous pair of Charles David pumps that I paid $5.75 for.   I thought my shoe guy could fix it (he's a genius, really)...  $40 later, the heel popped loose again, after walking six blocks.   I re-donated them and reluctantly chalked it up as a learning experience.

It is late, and my eyes are closing, so I am going to end this here!   My next article will be about shopping in consignment stores.  Much of what I've written here applies - but there are some differences.   I will talk about that next time!


A Case of The Hiccups

In a previous post, I noted that I was feeling disinclined to continue with my capsule wardrobe experiment.

That is barely the icing on the cake. 

About 2.5 weeks into this project, I felt like I just didn't want to do this anymore.   I wasn't motivated to put together an outfit or get dressed up.   My clothes weren't exciting me.   I wasn't having fun planning and documenting my outfits - which I normally love to do.   Everything felt meh, bland, blah.   The urge to shop was almost overwhelming at times.   I admit, I did give in to those urges.   I visited all my usual thrift and consignment stores, and cruised my favorite online eBay shops.    

With a few exceptions, I left (or closed the browser window) without buying anything.   


Because at the end of the day, my capsule wardrobe is perfectly suited to my needs and my tastes.   With few exceptions, I did not see anything that I felt could out-do, enhance, move my style forward, or be more useful than what is already hanging in my closet.

When I realized this, the excitement came back.

This has been my goal all along - this elusive concept of a perfect wardrobe. To have actually reached this why I am continuing this experiment.

So with these feelings and experiences under my belt,  I sat and picked apart why I was feeling the way I was.

The big overwhelming reason?   I have gained about eight pounds since we wrapped up our WONDERLAND show in late June.   I have gone from a size 0-2, to 4's feeling snug.   Some of those lovely things in my capsule do not fit properly now - or even at all.

This didn't happen overnight.   And it happened because, as in so many things in life (shopping), I said 'what the hell', and ordered that drink (usually around 250-300 calories), or that amazing dessert (don't want to think about those caloreies) at the end of the meal.   I bought the candy or the snacks at the store.  I have not been eating a salad for lunch 4-5 days of the week as I used to.

And I have not been swimming or doing any dedicated cardio, currently

So now I am working to take that weight back off.   By breaking off the bad habits, and resuming the good ones.

I haven't been sitting around, mind you.   Things have picked up lately, and I've been working hard, trying to meet deadlines, keep my online eBay store going, and plugging away at acting, dance technique, singing, and writing.    There's just a lot I want to do, and I'm having to work at time management.

So chalk some of this up to stress, and just having better things to do - things that I love.   It means less attention to give my clothes.   Which is the entire point.

The third reason, is that, when I looked at the outfits I've worn the past two weeks, the color palette looks flat depressing.  What looked perfect in the summer is just drab in fall lighting.  I'm going to cut these dusty olive pieces.  I'm keeping the grays - the gray leather jacket, the silver bodysuit, etc. and add some more color via accessories.   I'm going to pair the grays with richer colors, and clear, brighter colors, via scarves, jewelry, belts, and shoes.

This makes me excited again, just thinking about what I can do!

So how about you?   Do you ever find yourself unhappy with your wardrobe?   How do you turn it around?

The Case For Shopping Secondhand

I started this post intending to write a guide for secondhand shopping (thrift, consignment, eBay). I quickly realized there is a lot to say on this subject.

Instead, I am going to write a weekly series,  outlining general tips for finding wonderful, unique, and jaw-dropping wardrobe items, outside of traditional retail venues, as well as more specialized tips on secondhand venues.  I am also planning a post on what I like to call "TLC Salvaging" for secondhand clothes and shoes.

Today I am going to talk about the "why" of secondhand shopping.

People often compliment me on my outfit, or a particular pair of shoes. This is almost always followed by, "where did you get it?!?"

My friends inevitably know my answer, and will chime in. People I don't know, aka, strangers, will stand there, in slack-jawed amazement. Because about 95% of the time, the answer is:

1. eBay
2. Goodwill
3. <fill-in-the-name> "upscale" consignment store.

And I frequently hear the same response, whether the object of adoration is my Tom Ford tassel pumps (eBay), or one of my collection of buttery-soft leather skirts (consignment) or my favorite, avant-garde Tahari jacket that looks like something Thiery Mugler designed (Goodwill)...

"I could never shop there". This is almost ALWAYS the response, to which I reply "Why not?"

This is inevitably The Reason:  Secondhand clothes are disgusting and filthy, and for poor people, and I'm better than that.  Although nobody ever uses such baldly clear language, tip-toe-ing around this implied snobbery instead.  In truth, I don't judge.  If second-hand isn't your thing, it isn't your thing.

But Know Ye This: if you believe The Reason, you are missing out on some uh-mazing things out there.

So let me give you some food for thought, about The Reason..

1. All clothing, whether retail or second-hand, is potentially filthy and disgusting. "Brand new" doesn't guarantee that the person who sewed it, or tried it on before you, hasn't had sex without showering that morning, or just came over from the gym after a sweaty workout, or ate a plate of buffalo wings and licked their fingers clean, or stopped to wash their hands after using the toilet - and then handled your "brand new" garment that you cut the tags off and wore before washing.  Chances are, in your lifetime, you have bought a "brand new" garment previously handled by someone who meets some or all of these criteria.

2. Shopping second-hand doesn't make you a poor person. Buying things you cannot afford, whatever the price, will, however, will make you a poorer person.   Shopping secondhand makes you a person who wants to pay less money, or find something not available in retail stores.

3.  To my knowledge, nobody ever became a more noble human be ing, or even "better than that", because they went to the mall to buy their new dress. 

Here are the reasons I shop secondhand:

1.   I could never afford my little collection of Italian designer pieces, if I had paid full retail.
Not even close. I have a cropped Missoni cardigan in Caribbean blues and greens. I have a Roberto Cavalli skirt (currently in my fall capsule wardrobe) that has a divinely celestial print. My Versace boots and bag? From Goodwill and eBay, respectively.  I have several skirts and tops by Dolce & kGabbana, Armani, and Gucci, that I paid a fraction of the original retail for,. All found in thrift and consignment stores. Nearly all of these pieces appeared unworn.  A few appear to have been worn once.

Secondhand stores are full of the expensive mistakes of others: hand-crafted Italian leather shoes that pinched after an hour of wear.   Upscale clothing that no longer fit after the baby came.  Fancy designer pieces bought and hoarded for a fantasy life that never happened.  Gorgeous, glorious items that are never reached for, inevitably corralled and dropped off at a consignment store, donated, or listed online.

2.  If I paid full retail for a thousand-dollar pair of shoes or bag, I would be a nervous wreck about actually wearing them.  But because I paid a fraction of the price, I'm all like, "Hell yeah, I'm wearing those Cavalli pumps on the uneven downtown sidewalks and decorative cobblestones in this pouring rain".

Actually.. No. I don't wear any fancy shoes in the pouring rain. But you get my drift.

3.  I'm less inclined to dry-clean a second-hand garment. Especially if I paid less than $10 for it. Which is great for the environment, and even better for my wallet.  I carefully hand-or delicate-wash used dry-clean items, and I can objectively say that 9 out of 10 items turn out great.

It seems to me that buying second-hand should, in theory, have less impact on the environment.  I don't know it this happens in real life.  My guess is that there will always be people stepping up to buy cheap fast fashion that I take a pass on.

4.  Buying secondhand instead of new saves me money that I can use towards other things I love. If I dressed the way I like to, but paid retail, I would not be able to afford dance classes, and acting lessons.

5.  When I walk into the room, I know I'm not going to see anyone else in the same outfit.  And I rarely see someone in an outfit I like better than what I have one.

And that, my friends, is the real magic of secondhand shopping:  having one-of-a-kind pieces you love, that you wear fearlessly.

The Great Pretender.

I admit it...I am a fraud.

Let me tell you how I spent my evening...

I am in Las Vegas this week, staying in a veeeeeeery nice suite at one of the better resort/casinos. We are here because JC has a software networking conference, where a bunch of mega-intelligent tech people bandy about terms like "cloud-based solutions" and "interface innovations".

I dunno, it's all Geek to me.

Tonight, JC had some shindig to attend, and I wasn't invited.  So I took a long hot bath, dolled up a bit, and sallied forth to get some dinner, en route to window-shopping at The Crystals.

I went to a little cafe overlooking the slot machines, one that offered overpriced panini, and overblown French confections made of spun sugar and cellulite. I ordered a prosciutto sandwich.  I tried to find a table where I wouldn't be on display to the entire casino, and failed.  So I proceeded to delicately tear into the messiest sandwich I have possibly ever encountered in my adult life, in front of several thousand people.

There I was, elegantly and simply dressed, in my four inch stilettos and Wolford outfit... with unruly sundried tomatoes and prosciutto slabs that refused to be cleanly bitten into, and pesto sauce making the bread slide off the innards of my sandwich with every awkward, sloppy bite.

And I could swear, every time I had to execute a "save" - i.e., grab at an oversized hunk of food threatening to escape my sandwich or escape my teeth, and land on my elegant and simple outfit...that was the exact moment a group of people would walk past on their way into the casino, and turn their heads to stare at me, as I frantically tried to shove tomato, super-stretchy mozzarella, and the toughest prosciutto, ever...all into my mouth, without making any of it making contact with
my cheeks, chin, or clothing.  This was a four-napkin sandwich.

Yes. I could have ordered my sandwich to go, taken it upstairs, then gone back out to do my window shopping, but when you have on four-inch stilettos on feet that increasingly demand two-inch wedge sandals, there is a point of no return that happens, and that point of no return is the halfway point between my suite and the elevator.

I did not have a mirror in my purse, because I can be a forgetful dumbass sometimes. Like tonight, when I picked up my lipgloss but left my compact on the bathroom counter.  So I re-applied my lipstick blindly, and smiled at people with closed lips.  I surreptitiously dug around my teeth with my tongue, trying to dislodge some very stubborn Italian ham out of my gums, while I glided through the casino, trying to pretend that stilettos haven't gotten a whole lot harder to wear, now that I am taking more advanced ballet and flamenco classes.

I did do a test run of my smile. A woman was taking pictures of her family, and I stopped and offered to take the picture for her, so she could be in it. She didn't flinch when I smiled, and let me take the picture, which leads me to believe I had sucked all the pesto off my front teeth. I took the picture, picked up the cup of coffee that I am just now mentioning that I was drinking, and set off for a few hours of window-shopping.

The coffee plays a key role in the next part of our story...

Las Vegas is a melange of hot ice and wondrous strange snow.  In any given three-minute span, it is possible to go from arctic air-conditioning, to a 90+ degree outdoor setting, and back into a place that makes you wish you'd brought your leather jacket downstairs with you.  But when you do this with piping hot coffee, four-inch stilettos, and nylon-blended fibers, anything can happen.

What happened to me was this: my body, having had a massive dose of hot caffeine in rapidly changing temperatures, could not decide whether to form goosebumps or to sweat. So it did both.

Kiki de Montparnasse. Can we just make this the place where I live, please?

As I stood in Kiki di Montparnasse, admiring this store that so perfectly sums up my style aesthetic, I gradually became aware that my bare arms and legs had massive goosebumps, giving my pale and chilly skin a little texture. But underneath the Wolford garments, my underarms and thighs were trickling sweat. I managed to get out of the store before a bead of sweat trickled down the back of my leg. I discreetly brushed it away while pretending to daintily adjust my shoe.

Tom Ford, aka, Fashion Mecca

Never one to admit defeat, I finished off my coffee before going into Tom Ford to smell their fragrances.  I had another attack of cold sweats, as my body tried to decide whether it needed to cool down or warm up.  I hoped the sales staff wasn't noticing my legs, lightly glistening with sweat, while trying to decide whether Tobacco Oud or Plum Japonais was going to be my new scent this Christmas.

Not long after that, my body figured out which way it wanted to react (it decided I was freezing) and a dispatch was sent to my feet, instructing them to rebel in their fancy shoes - which of course they did.  So I glided back to the resort and got upstairs (I limped on the inside, believe me).   I stepped off the elevator and started down the first of several passages to our suite.

You know, ever since I was little, I have always awanted to be one of those flawless, elegant women.  I desperately wanted to be Eleanor Parker as the Baroness Schraeder: calm, cool, collected, unruffled.

"I'm better than you, bitches".

Sometimes, I almost pull it off.

But the truth is, I am a fraud. I am a pretender.   I can style myself as the modern-day Audrey-as-Holly-Golightly. The reality is, I am Carol Burnett, swishing down the circular staircase with the curtain rod still in my dress.

 I think this photo says it all.

It was a long trek back to the suite, too long to glide effortlessly.  Ever seen 'The Shining'?  Remember that long hallway that streeeeeetches and never seems to end? About twenty feet off the elevator I realized I was in one of those hallways, so I peeled my shoes off my feet, taking some valuable toe-skin with them, and limped back to the room. I took off my makeup, pulled on some socks and collapsed on the bed, still in my elegant outfit. And uniformly freezing my arse off, while I rummaged through samples of Tom Ford scents.  I may be the Great Pretender, but damned if I am not going to be the most elegantly dressed, deliciously perfumed fraud there is!

So if you will excuse me now, I am going to go change into all of my lounging clothes, and curl up with some Stephen King.

I'll try for Baroness Schrader tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

Viva Las Vegas! What I'm packing for my trip.

We are headed to Vegas!   JC has a software convention, and we're also going to visit family while we're out there.   Planned activities include sight-seeing, socializing, shopping, sitting by the pool, eating my face off fine dining, and going to see Thunder From Down Under

I may even gamble. I set a budget of $25, because it's not really my thing.   I meant to do this the last time I visited, about four years ago... and forgot.  

Yes.   I forgot to gamble in Vegas.  I am that person: The Luna Lovegood of Vacation.

Here is what I am planning to pack.   Not pictured:  an additional pair of shorts, a striped Breton top, two swimsuits, and lounge/exercise wear.   Because the temperatures will be above 90F most of the time we are there, I dipped into storage and retrieved two pairs of shorts from the summer, and the striped top.

This may change up a bit - but this is more-or-less what I'm packing.   I'm going to wear a pair of dark skinnies on the plane, probably one of these tops, the nude ballerinas, and a jacket TBA from my capsule.

I always worry that my travel wardrobe won't be versatile enough.   I started playing with Stylebook to see what I could put together.   Phew!   Crisis averted.  By the last collage, I was getting lazy...

I am definitely not a 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas', kind of girl.   Mostly because I'm not that much of an adventurer.   So I'll update you on the good, the bad, and the ugly, as the week progresses.

Have a great week!

Four Weeks Into a Capsule Wardrobe

I am nearly a third of the way through, of my very first capsule wardrobe experiment.   I cannot believe it has been a whole month!

Currently, my capsule is at 51 pieces.   Only 49 are pictured here. 


I really, really love my wardrobe!  

Here is what changed in the past four weeks:

1)  The Off-White Trench Jacket (seen in past posts) is gone.   It had a tendency to move around and needed continual re-adjusting.   Damn near drove me nuts.   So it's cut.

2)  I bought an olive zip cardigan.   I wore it twice.   Then I cut it.   I bought it because I've been wearing my black zip cardi a lot this fall, and it's starting to really show the love.   Olive is a favorite color... in the spring and summer.   When the natural light is long and strong.   In the shifting fall light, this sweater looks really drab, and I was starting to feel the drabness in my spirit.   This sweater has been moved to my dance/exercise gear for the time being, because it really is comfortable and cute.

3)  I pulled a pair of jeans and a skirt from storage:   I've gained weight this summer, and that trend continued well into September.   I am working to get it back off now, but in the meantime, I've been feeling the need for some pieces that aren't quite so snug!

4.   I bought three new tops:   a white, long-sleeve crop top, a black long-sleeve mockneck, and a black halter-neck, sleeveless top. 

I have no regrets about these purchases.   One of the wonderful things about working with a capsule wardrobe is that I have a clearer 'vision' for my style, and these three pieces move me forward in a direction that makes me feel gorgeous.   

All of that being said... I have to come clean about something.   The capsule wardrobe experience hasn't been all cake and jam.   There have been moments that I have been disinclined to continue, and I had to sort through the 'why' of it all.   I will talk about this in my next post, because I have a feeling it's something that a lot of us go experience to some degree.

Overall, I am very happy with how my experiment is proceeding, and I have already started mapping out my winter capsule!

On to you... are you currently doing a capsule wardrobe?   Thinking about doing one?   What is holding you back?

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