The Beginnings of the Thrift Life

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

The thrift life started calling my name sometime around middle school, much to my mother's dismay. My mother found it very distasteful to wear someone else's discarded clothing items. I saw no problem with it.

My mom was actually very good at keeping her tongue, but she was the queen of the "look of distaste." We called it The Look. And it made a loud statement silently. She would look at my finds, which I would unfurl with glee, and she would give me The Look. It wasn't disgust, and it wasn't approval, but sort of a pert, brief disapproval with a hint of smile. To be fair, it was often fairly good natured. I have come to appreciate her look as a form of acceptance without tacit agreement.

Which reminds me...There is a concept in France, particularly referring to French fashion I believe (i know--I just dived off a cliff here--) called "epater les bourgeois.'' Loosely translated "epater les bourgeois" is to "shock the matrons"--the staid, respectable older women who are always appropriately dressed and whom may raise an eyebrow at your (since we're going French, so I'm just going with it:) "gauche" fashion choice. To receive a raised eyebrow (or in my case, The Look) is the ultimate commendation, the highest form of praise and therefore something to be pursued. We must at this point recognize I read this in a book called French Fashion, written by a veritable Frenchwoman, Veronique Vienne, which I picked up at my local Express store as an impressionable fourteen-year-old. It was a bible of sorts for me. And the foundation of all that I deemed to be fashionable. Even still. I digress.

I would like to point out that I was NOT a super stylish young teen, except in my imagination. I was pretty chubby and would save these mystical finds for a Friday night in my room. But that was enough for me. I was also obsessed with fashion magazines and all of the #early90s Supermodels. I looked for the chain belts like in the Chanel ads. I wore v-neck sweaters backwards. I still was happy to prance in front of my own mirror in my fashions and feel amazing. And that is what mattered more.

At the time, the only thrift shop I knew was The Salvation Army--and my trips were precious. I was too young to drive at that time, and my mom was NOT IMPRESSED with the idea, so visits to the Salv were not frequent. I was obsessed with the oddball finds that horrified my mom. I bought vintage dresses to wear to the Mall, which we all know was like the apex of existence as a middle schooler in a pretty small town. I found vintage tee shirts, purses and bags. I found joy in giving a new life to old stuff.

I also loved the Army/Navy Surplus in my hometown. That was like entering another world, in which I felt like a complete badass. Yeah, I said it. I loved the toughness of the gear, the connection to the military. I just flat-out thought the stuff was super cool. Inexplicable to my family, I understand, but now and then they indulged me. I had a navy-issue pea coat in college (and Steve Madden clunky black boots--do you remember those?? They were tremendous), and it was fantastic. I had an ammo case retrofitted as a lock box, and a medic bag as a handbag (which I still use, FYI).

One of my best finds was a 1970's long black crepe column dress which I bought at age 14 (at which my mother rolled her eyes), but I didn't actually wear it until age 18 for my senior prom. It was a halter style with a heavy embroidered lace cutout around the midsection, holding the halter top to the ankle-length straight skirt. We had to add a thigh-high slit so I could walk more easily. It was really cool.

Always key--knowing how to incorporate these finds into your wardrobe, but NOT look like you only shop in charity shops. There is a necessary boldness to wear weird things, but you can learn to balance the look with more typical pieces, unless "costume" is your intent. Which is totally cool, too....There are plenty of utterly ordinary, typical clothes you can buy used, but I always have more fun hunting down the unusual. It's the best feeling to find great vintage at a thrift shop or charity shop and know that these items are still relevant. Or not to care whether they are, and wear them happily anyway.

It is a labor of love, and always hit-or-miss. No guarantees to find that special something, but you know it when you see it. For that reason, every thrift trip is an adventure.

When did you start thrifting? Did you come to it on your own, or did someone in your life influence you? Drop me a message--I want to hear your story, too.

xo, Ann Marie

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