Arts & Culture

Popping Tags

It’s selfishness that nearly prevented me from explaining all the reasons I’m addicted to thrift shopping, until I realized that, thanks to Macklemore’s chart-topping single Thrift Shop, the cat’s out of the bag.

Despite the fact thrift shopping has emerged lately as the hipster thing to do, I seriously urge, if you haven’t already, to shed your preconceptions and give it a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Thrift shopping forces a sense of creativity that might otherwise be overwhelmed by the fluorescent-lit backdrop of your standard retail shop, where racks are hung with boring facsimiles and “distressed” items are sold as new. Granted, I buy plenty of items new, particularly the closet staples. What thrift shopping offers, however, is the ability to define your tastes – an honest chance to figure out what you actually like, what flatters and what feels good.

It’s also an opportunity to be adventuresome. Items I may have otherwise overlooked at a regular shop are skeptically taken to the change room because, heck, it’s $4.00! More often than not, these items shape up to be some of my most-coveted pieces.

There’s a strange competitiveness when it comes to thrifting. Inwardly, I am viciously territorial, claiming the aisle as my own, challenging anyone who dares enter opposite to meet me in the middle (which, in actuality, results in us carefully stepping around each other with muttered, “sorry, pardon me” and, “woops, ‘scuse me”). There’s nothing I loathe more than having the person at the other end of the aisle triumphantly retrieve an item that should’ve been mine (keep in mind such unsaid rules are exempt on Saturdays, when thrift shops morph into hubs of mayhem).

Needless to say, the payoff, when it happens, is exhilarating. One of my favourite post-thrifting activities is to tally up what-I-spent versus what-I-would’ve-paid-new (this also happens to be the perfect case-in-point should you have a spouse who complains about your shopping habits).

And when it comes to indecision, there’s no better way. Buying clothes (anything) new is an arduous process for me. I will pace a store worriedly, deliberating over my choices, working out cost-benefit analyses in my head until I can come to a satisfactory decision. By its very nature, thrifting relieves the agony of indecision – if I’m ever struggling too deeply with “the right choice”, I can often resolve the problem by giving in to both options (‘cause hey, I can afford it) or letting go of the seeming inferior choice, trusting it’s the bringer of someone else’s joy.

There’s also the most obvious advantage of thrift shopping: the feel-good factor. Most of the thrift shops I know put their revenue towards some sort of charitable cause within the community. And if you pride yourself on your efforts to live sustainably, thrifting definitely warrants your consideration. Items that might normally be sent to the landfill are given a second lease on life, and in turn, you get to spend more of hard-earned dollars on other things that are important to you.

Bearing all this in mind, it’s also worth keeping in mind that there’s a right way to thrift shop. Stay tuned for Part II on how to become a thrift-shopping virtuoso.

There are some useful things to keep in mind if you really want to make thrift shopping worth your while. Firstly, expect to put in some effort to find the good stuff. There’s no such thing as too thorough, which means checking the whole rack, reading all the spines and flipping through every album. Dedicate some time for a proper inspection – I like to pick a few shops within proximity and spend an afternoon meticulously combing through each one.

By all means, put out to the universe what you’re looking for – it’s uncanny how many times I’ve hunted for something specific and come home with exactly that. More often than not, however, I favour the potential of what I might find, eliminating cause for disappointment. Must-have items can be bought new. Books on 70s interior houseboat design or sock monkey reclamation, on the other hand, are what dreams are made of.

The weekends tend to be busiest time for thrift shops, so I try going on weekdays, when possible, particularly Friday evenings, when the shops are more or less vacant and the possibilities are endless (Salvation Army now stays open until 8:00 p.m. on Fridays). Shops can also become pretty picked over after a busy Saturday (especially when the weather’s crap), so it’s typically not worthwhile to thrift on Saturdays unless an early start is possible.

When it comes to clothing, it’s crucial to have a quick look-over right away to see if there are any noticeable flaws, then check once more when trying the item on. Way too many times I’ve been so preoccupied with having found the ultimate score that I failed to notice a giant rip or oily stain until I got it home (thrift shops often have strict return policies, so avoid removing tags if you’re ever unsure).

I also regularly buy out-of-season when thrifting – the fact no one is buying sweaters in July means a better chance of my finding something good. Likewise, I build a collection of tank tops during the winter months that I look forward to wearing come summer. As for shoes, a lot of people are skeeved out by the thought of wearing secondhand footwear (“passin’ up on those moccasins, someone else been walking in them”). The thing is, people are habitually buying and donating shoes they’ve never worn, and so there’s a good chance of your finding something fabulous for a fraction of what you’d pay new – my favourite pair of boots, in fact, are a Salvation Army find!

Thrift shops also happen to be a book lover’s bonanza. Prices for books are typically low, with titles ranging from the mainstream to the totally obscure (I was recently excited to find, for example, “The Medicine Woman’s Guide to Being in Business for Yourself”). Buying books inexpensively means being able to lend them to friends without fretting about their return, nor feeling guilty about creasing pages and highlighting text. And when it comes time to purge my bookshelves, I’m able to turn over the castoffs to a used bookstore, earning myself a modest credit for –what else– more books!

Finally, I always take some time in any thrift shop to check out the collection of curios. Thrift shops are perfect if you need new pots for your houseplants or a replacement for your busted teapot, and chances are you’re bound to find something way more unique than you would buying new. It can also be fun to uplift your living space by hunting for fresh items in thrift shops. The key is to envision a space for the item in your home. Clutter can build up fast, so if you refuse to leave without the new mug you don’t technically need, plan to get rid of something in lieu in order to make the space. Be sure, as well, to check things over carefully just as you would an article of clothing, as some items are more likely to be donated due to damage or missing components.

Sure, thrift shopping requires an open mind, a bit of effort and a little creativity. But that’s exactly what makes it, in the words of Macklemore, so fucking awesome.