Monday, November 28, 2011

Hard Times--The Thrift Store

With the economy such as it is, I've been meditating on what "hard times" means to me, to others, how it's changed me, and what I've learned. This will be another series of posts.

I feel I must preface this by saying that this is a comparison only. We are blessed in countless ways, and are not truly facing eviction, starvation, etc. I don't want this to come off as privileged whining. I'm comparing my current situation with my past situation. And to me, it's hard.

The Thrift Store
The thrift store was always someplace I donated to. I always felt good knowing that the things I was done with could be used by someone else, and, in the meantime, make some money for a worthy charity. In high school, the hip kids shopped at thrift stores for funky vintage clothes and prom dresses. I never thought I'd actually one day be purchasing the majority of my regular clothes at the thrift store. When I had my daughter, I gained weight and my body changed a lot. In addition, I cut back my hours at work, and no longer had the extra money available to buy a whole new wardrobe. I got by on jeans and nice tees for a while, and sometimes I bought a new outfit from my savings account. But did you ever notice that when you're schlubbing around in jeans all the time you feel sort of....schlubby? I didn't feel proud and good at work. I wanted to look professional again.

It was my daughter who showed me the way. I had always figured thrift store clothes were there for a reason; unattractive, out of style, damaged, etc. But when we went in to drop things off, she made a beeline for the children's rack and begged to try on clothes. We spent less than $20 and left with a bag of clothes (plus she liked one outfit so much she wanted to wear it home). I try to see lessons when they slap me in the face, so I told her we could buy a treat at the candy store because we had money left over. Once I got those clothes home and washed them and mixed them in with her other things, I couldn't quite remember which ones came from the thrift store and which were bought new.

Soon Maggie was begging to go to the thrift store to look around. And since she's so grown up, she told me "Mama you look at the grown up clothes and I'll look at the kids clothes". Light bulb! I paged through the racks and found a few things, and took them to try on. I wasn't expecting much. But I found two nice ribbed sweaters and a comfy skirt for only a few bucks apiece. I also found a nice pair of shoes that looked a LOT like a pair I used to have but had outgrown. (My feet grew a whole size too).

When I'd buy new clothes, I would always put them all out on the bed and revel in the thrill of shopping and saving and making new outfits. These weren't like that. I folded them up and put them in the drawer with my other things. Except for the one I put on. And I felt nice and pretty and professional. I also wasn't worried that they would shrink in the wash since they had already been washed. And best of all, I didn't have to worry about the credit card bill that would be showing up, because there wasn't one.

A few weeks later, I saw a sign outside my daughter's preschool about a clothing swap. I briefly thought about donating and then moved on. Later that week, I saw an article about the swap in the local paper. The article mentioned that it was for everyone; even people who just wanted to use the money for clothes for something else. It suddenly hit me that I could GO to the sale, not just donate. This event is a wonderful thing--it is totally free. You show up, they hand you a bag, and if you fill that one, they give you another. You take all you need. I went with the idea of picking up some clothes for Maggie. I found a few, but the kids' clothes were very picked over. I decided to peruse the adult tables.

About an hour later I was struggling out the door with two huge bags. My haul included jeans and two skirts for Maggie, a never-worn Speedo swimsuit, 5 pairs of work slacks, 2 blouses, a sweater, and I'm certain some other things I've forgotten. I went home and looked at it all. I felt so grateful for these women holding this event. None of the clothes quite fit as is, but because they were free I was not afraid to try to alter them.

I learned that when you have a pair of pants with darts and a large overlapping tab at the waistband, you can remove the waistband, open the darts, and reapply the waistband such that it doesn't overlap, giving you an extra 1-3 inches in the waist. I have learned that with a pair of pants that have an unyielding strip of ribbon inside the waist, the ribbon can be removed. I have learned that when the pants just plain don't fit, they can be taken apart and made into a skirt. I have learned that when the blouse has darts that are not cut, the darts can be picked out, giving you an extra 1-3 inches in the waist. I have learned that when a sweater has a collar and cuffs and a false "shirt tail" at the hem, any of these elements can be removed if you want.

I have learned that, once washed, "new" clothes look exactly the same as "thrift store" clothes.