Longtime readers have probably heard this story before; while a youth in Seattle, 1997-ish to be sort of exact, I worked at the Shop N’ Save Thrift Store in Ballard. Razed a few years later and replaced by a Safeway, Shop N’ Save is no more but in the year I worked there it was pretty common for me to come home at the end of a shift with an industrial sized garbage bag stuffed full of vintage cheongsams, perfectly worn tees from the 70’s & 80’s, homewares from the 60’s, and LP’s galore. The price I paid for these gigantic bags? Usually $2 – $3. This was when things were regularly marked at .39 cents and every day saw certain colored tags at 50 – 75% off. Plus I got an extra 30% off for being an employee. I know, I was incredibly spoiled.
After leaving Shop N’ Save for a video + record store up the street, I decided I was done with thrifting. I wanted new clothes, ones that didn’t smell weird or have moth holes in them. Again, long time readers will know where that lead – to me racking up debt as I bought trendy fast fashion that I usually hated by the time I got it home. After more than a decade of that, my year-long shopping ban, and my year of not buying anything made in China / India / Etc., I decided it was time to give thrifting another go.
My first trip was disastrous: the prices straight up shocked me and the inventory was more last season’s Forever 21 than the awesome 60’s knitwear gems I was accustomed to. That’s when I decided to enlist the help of thrifting maven and vintage goddess, Hillary Boles aka Tannerann Vintage –
Isn’t she a cutie?
Hitting up thrift shops a few times a week to keep her shop stocked, Hillary graciously agreed to let me tag along with her recently. Our first stop was the infamous Bins which is basically Goodwill’s version of outlet shopping. At The Bins, literal bins are wheeled out throughout the day, filled with all kinds of goodies – and lots more junk. Though the bins are sort of organized by clothing, home goods, electronics, etc. you’ll still find random things mixed in. I’ve heard horror stories of people digging through clothes just to be sliced up by food processor blades buried underneath – and even worse tales of clothing caked in excrement. Not knowing what to expect when we arrived fifteen minutes before opening, I saw throngs of people already milling around the entrance. My anxiety started to kick in and I wondered if we were going to join them and have to fight our way inside, Black Friday style, but Hillary calmly waited in her van until a few minutes after the doors opened. Taking a cue from her, we sauntered inside cooly and she explained the set up, mentioning that I shouldn’t be offended by some of the more aggressive shoppers who might push my shopping cart out of the way or bump into me. Grateful for the tip, as normally that stuff would offend me, we made our way to the clothing bins and started digging.
Here’s where I should mention that I had a goal in mind for the day and that was to score some fall-ready items, specifically an oversized black sweater, an oversized white button-up shirt, sweaters in general, and maybe a raincoat. Also, maybe some of those high-waisted mom jeans everyone looks so amazing in. Right away, I picked up an oversized black sweater from H&M and held it up to myself. It seemed like a fit so into the cart it went. Next, I spotted my favorite cartoon characters, Adventure Time’s Finn & Jake, emblazoned on some monstrously fleecy pajama pants. I held them up and they too seemed like a fit so they joined my sweater in the cart. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t buy new but at $1.69 per pound, why not? We kept digging for another half hour, but besides some cool but threadbare Egyptian motif pillow cases I decided against, I didn’t find anything else. Still, I’d already found one of the items on my list so I was happy.
Next we drove out to the Red, White, and Blue Thrift Store in Gladstone. I’d heard of it before amongst my die-hard thrifting friends but never, ever make it out to places like Gladstone on my own. Overall, we spent an hour there and I hit the mother load. I found a boxy vintage white cotton/linen button-up in the men’s section. I found a super soft + fuzzy cropped cobalt blue sweater that reminded me of Cookie Monster. Hillary found an amazing vintage Saks Fifth Avenue knit dress that I swooped up when she decided to pass on it. I found a rain parka from the Woolrich spring 2015 line that looked brand new – in fact, when Woolrich sent me their spring catalog earlier this year I found myself totally coveting that exact parka but at $200 I knew it would probably never be mine. Well, thank you, Universe! I also found a pair of white leather stacked heel pumps and a large white plant pot.
Feeling totally pumped, we headed back to Portland and hit up the Goodwill on NE Broadway. I found a few items there but sadly, none of them fit so I left empty-handed though after the the major luck I had at Red, White, and Blue I was more than ok with that. In the end, I got my black sweater (which ended up being a sweater dress, even better!), my over-sized white button-up, another sweater, and a rain parka. In all, here’s my haul –
Photos + styling by Hillary Boles
Overall, I spent $60. Not bad for ticking off so many items from my fall wardrobe wish list! The vintage dress was by far the biggest splurge at $20. I went back and forth on it but in the end I decided to go for it because being wool, it’s crazy warm and therefore perfect for a dressier winter occasion, plus it’s fully lined and even has those little snap tabs that hold your bra straps in place, and the pastel polka dots on the top half reminded me of a Twenty-Seven Names sweater from a few years back that I coveted at the time. It did have a very long and weird tie at the waist but I used a seam ripper when I got home to remove it and you’d never even know it was there. In the end, I think $20 was well worth it. The Woolrich rain parka was also a splurge at $12 but the original retail of $200 and the fact that it looks brand new made it a must-have.
Even at fast fashion retailers like H&M, Old Navy, & Forever 21, $60 will only get you 2-3 items and definitely not high quality rain parkas, linen shirts, leather shoes, and wool dresses. Thanks to Hillary, I’ve made a big dent in my fall shopping list and am again hooked on thrift shopping.
Hillary’s thrifting tips:
– Most thrift store racks are divided by color. Instead of looking through every single item on the rack, look for your favorite colors. If you hate purple, then why look through the purple section?
– Look at unexpected racks. I’m petite so sometimes children’s items fit me perfectly. Look for sweaters, denim + leather jackets, etc. in the kid’s section for hidden gems and even lower price tags. Likewise, things get messy quick in a thrift store – do a quick search in other departments for mis-hung items.
– Wear clothing that is easy to try things on over. Red, White, and Blue doesn’t have dressing rooms so we stood in front of the mirror in the back trying things over our clothes. I was sure glad I was wearing a thin t-shirt that day!
– Bring cash! Not all shops take plastic, which I learned the hard way when I was charged $2.50 by an ATM.
– Inspect items for holes, stains, etc. I did find a small hole in the crotch of my otherwise new looking Adventure Time pj pants but given the rock bottom price and minor work needed to repair, I went ahead and bought them. Same for the wool dress which needed waist ties removed. I inspected the seam beforehand to make sure removal wouldn’t damage the dress.
– I can tell you from lots of experience, thrift stores can leave you feeling a little icky. If you’re a germaphobe, definitely bring hand sanitizer, wet wipes, etc.
What do you think? Are you pumped to go thrifting? Or do you want to leave it to the professionals like Hillary? I won’t blame you if you chose the latter, there’s something to be said for letting a professional with an impeccable eye do the work for you! I think I’m 50/50 on the subject, you’ll probably catch me thrifting a few times a year and buying from vintage shops like Tannerann the rest of the time.
If that sounds like the route for you, you’re in luck since amazing Portland shop Johan will be hosting a Tannerann Vintage pop-up this Thursday – Sunday! If you’re in Portland, stop by tomorrow evening at 6pm for the kick off party to score some great finds, mingle with some cool peeps (including me!), and have a drink. I hope to see you there!
(If you’re not in Portland, don’t fret, you can shop both Tannerann Vintage and Johan online here and here.)