Looking for a Come-Up


Growing up in Chicago, going to thrift stores was common practice among my friends and I. We have always found a certain level of pride in responding to a clothing-related compliment with the information that said item cost less than CTA bus fare. We love the thrill of the hunt and the luck involved in potentially finding something fabulous. When faced with a free day with a friend and a question of how to kill the time, the answer is often hitting up our neighborhood Village Discount. One such summer afternoon found a friend and I combing the racks, and we struck gold. Literally. As in gold floral pants. I paused for a moment, drinking in their effulgence. They were bold, different, and unlike any pants I had ever owned before. The tag even said they were my size. It seemed like fate.

However, despite my instant attraction to their lustrous fabric, I hesitated. Would I really ever wear them? Would I be so bold? Were they actually ugly, and I was just too enraptured by their iridescent swirls to notice? How did I feel about wearing what looked like upholstery which would potentially give me the appearance of a shinier, sluttier von Trapp child? These pants clearly required further contemplation. But, at 3 bucks I deemed them intriguing enough to be worth the cost of froyo, so they were added to my cart.


The lack of fitting rooms makes ascertaining the true fit of an item a bit difficult, but once I got home and was able to put them on without pants on underneath, I saw that my prediction of a perfect fit had miraculously come true. I was officially in love. They seemed to be well-constructed and the material seemed to be high quality. The tag said Etcetera, a brand I was not familiar with, so some Google investigation seemed in order. Turns out, my three-dollar beauties would probably retail for a good 150.

Those pants had essentially entered the list of items I would take with me if my house caught fire, but would I have paid 150 bucks for them? They weren’t exactly everyday wear, and my status as a college student makes impractical 150 dollar clothing purchases a little unrealistic.

And this is where we find the true beauty of the thrift store. Obviously no one wants a closet cluttered with heaps of old, crappy clothing you never wear, but you also want to have options. Taking risks in fashion is what keeps it fresh, and what keeps people excited about the industry.  However, not everyone can afford to take an expensive risk in clothing. A good thrift store certainly has some of the most curious assemblages of fabric ever crafted by a sewing machine, but there are also hidden gems. And sometimes things you aren’t quite sure which category it falls into. A 3 dollar price tag makes it a bit more feasible to take it home and play around with it, and see which side you decide it falls on.

The ability to dress well shouldn’t just be reserved for those with wads of cash to drop on clothes. Believe you me, I have seen some hideous, and some extremely dull ensembles that cost as much as a car. Having money certainly doesn’t mean you have style and having style doesn’t mean you have cash to drop on clothes. Thrift stores help reconcile this disparity by granting those with lower credit limits access to some interesting and some quality pieces.


Despite the obvious financial benefits, thrifting is not an admission of poverty. It can be a conscious choice. Thrift stores reduce the environmental impact of adding new items to ones wardrobe by recycling previously made goods. They also open up an array of clothing that you just can’t get in malls (for better or worse). Sure, it’s a mission to look at every skirt in the aisle hoping to find even one that you would consider wearing. But when you do find that one skirt, it’s not going to be one from Zara that everyone has and everyone thinks is so unique. You’ll find a garment imbibed with personality because it has a story beyond just your own. The work is often worth the reward. And just maybe, if you’re lucky, you could find some gold paisley pants of your own.


PS-there’s a TED talk on this very notion. She goes to more extremes than do, and dresses in a way I never would, but she makes some interesting points. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYwvyjIDk80

Top: Thrifted, Pants(!): Thrifted, Sandals: Cole Haan, Necklace: No idea