It’s time to celebrate yet another unofficial holiday that many folks like me appreciate: Second-hand Wardrobe Day. One of my not so guilty pleasures is to troll second-hand shops and thrift stores. Perhaps the pleasure is a sublimation of my innate primal hunting instinct. Instead of exploiting the animal kingdom, I make a killing at bargain stores.
I’ve long rationalized second-hand shopping by believing that I’m being ecologically friendly and am engaging in recycling. Second-hand clothing isn’t the only category that has brought many benefits to my life. In addition to certain power tools and collectable vases, my trusty car is a previously owned, “gently used” sedan. My house has been owned by others, too. So giving things a second life is second nature.
I’ve long been somewhat of a “clothes horse” but have not always had the budget to afford shopping at boutiques or exclusive men’s stores. That doesn’t mean I’m restricted to buying holey, worn out jeans, gym shorts, logo tee-shirts, and threadbare sweaters. Truth be told, with a careful eye, a person can pick up like-new garments. Sometimes the original hang tag is still attached. A good time to shop for new, previously owned clothing is after the holiday season. People who receive clothes that don’t fit or they don’t like, donate their Christmas presents to thrift stores.
Every thrifter has a story or two about an amazing find they discovered at a second-hand shop or thrift store. In my case, one of the best finds was a fine business suit that I found at Goodwill. I had originally stopped at the store to browse sport coats for fall. During the search, the suit appeared. The fabric was of excellent quality, and the hang tags had been stashed into one of the pockets of the trousers. The wool, charcoal-grey, Brooks Brothers suit looked like it should fit me, too. I asked my friend Jonathan, who worked at the store, to open a fitting room for me. Voilà! The trousers were only slightly too long and the jacket was nearly perfect. I paid pennies on the dollar for the suit then had it tailored. When wearing the suit, I feel like a million bucks.
The temptation to over supply one’s wardrobe is ever-present if you catch the second-hand bug, but it is smart to only purchase what you will actually wear and enjoy. When you can buy an authentic Polo shirt for the same extremely low price as a generic knockoff, it’s tempting to stock up. I have limited home storage space, so this has helped to restrain my buying habits. It’s also helpful to remember that these garments will need to be laundered and maintained.
Speaking of laundering, it’s quite important to choose machine washable clothing. Before wearing second-hand clothes, they should be washed. Who knows what dirt and germs lurk in a used shirt? Picking up a rash is a cost you certainly don’t want to pay. In the case of dry-clean only garments, do so only if there are no other options…my Brooks Brothers suit is one example of this. Otherwise, I avoid dry clean only and hand wash only garments like the plague.
There is one hard-fast rule I recommend to everyone who wants to explore the world of second-hand garments: avoid the shoe racks at all costs. Shoes that have been worn by someone else have wear-patterns in the soles. They also harbor mysterious micro-organisms that may be difficult or impossible to cure. Even if the shoes appear new, they most likely are not. A good rule of thumb is to always buy the best-fitting new shoes your budget will allow. Foot problems are expensive to remedy, especially if you already have problematic feet.
Anyway, even if your wardrobe is not all second-hand garments, it’s fun to spark up your look, inexpensively, with a few second-hand pieces. Just be careful of going overboard and mindlessly shopping. I’ve been there and done that.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes journalist and novelist, Chuck Palahniuk. “Portland in particular is a cheap enough place to live that you can still develop your passion – painting, writing, music. People seem less status-conscious. Even wealthy people buy second-hand clothes and look a little bit homeless.”